Five Minutes to August

“Just the bare necessities
that’s all I need,” I used to think.
I could hear the wind blowing
and leaves rustling and imagine
the walnut trees bobbing and heaving
like some portly prizefighters
as invisible hands rained body shots
and tickles on their flabby greenery.
Now I see them move left and right,
back and forth and think about
raking all those leaves come October.

It’s only five minutes to August
and I’m concerning myself with
half past Autumn.
Unless you’re Emily Dickinson,
a poet should never use
a roof and four walls as sunblock.
Sure, windows make fine frames,
but horizons gird much bigger pictures.
And you know what? Everything
encompassed beneath
the dome of the sky can be found
in one raindrop.

Two bird-shaped pieces of night
just crossed the sunny length
of the shed roof. I’ve gotta
get out there. You might say
it’s a necessity.

I’ve been stuck, stuck, stuck for weeks. Maybe months. And today I just gave up, though not like I have been giving up. I grabbed the first book of fiction I could find in that bookcase to my right, turned to page 8, transcribed the eighth sentence, and then started writing from there. It ain’t perfect, but it was a subconscious lesson I needed. And I just realized something about this book. It’s “Kafka on the Shore,” by Haruki Murakami, the first book of fiction I bought myself a decade ago to restart my reading life. And that, my friends, is what’s so magical and spooky about this writing thing. Get out. Get out of your own way. Get it out of your system. Get something close to happy.

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E Pluribus Unum


If I asked you the color of grass, you’d probably say green. And if I asked the same of the sky, you’d offer blue. But nowhere do you see all heaven or earth in just green or blue. Each is made of different hues, homogeneously stirred into something, that at a distance or a squint, we call one color or the other. Is the ocean off Cape Cod blue? Then what is it surrounding Tahiti? Do we call the sky over Raleigh a Carolina Blue? Then what of the firmament above Copenhagen, or looking down on Dresden? Is sand colored Sand? Then what of the landscape of the Kalahari, the Gobi, the Sonora, Sydney’s Bondi Beach? Look closely at all of these scoops of Earth, these swaths and swatches of land, sea and air. No, even closer. There is brown and yellow on the greens of Augusta and St. Andrew’s and Schenectady Muni. There are shades of gray, white and purple in the 360-degree frame of the sun. The agua off Málaga is aqua, but a French blue is more than just un bleu. And I celebrate this panoply mixed together into a single great spectrum. Each has its own way of reflecting the same sun under which we all exist. Together and apart. But the magic of turning primaries into secondaries into tertiaries into a prism’s wet dream makes this world so much better. Mere red, yellow and blue makes for as weak a brand of poetry as a world. The Spectrum makes us so much better. Makes for better writing, too.

E pluribus unum.

The Only Thing Left I Can Do

I suppose I’ve got nothing more to lose.
That’s the consensus of all the voices I hear,
though none come from out there with you.
I’ve been scraping along for quite a while
with this rudderless, leaky vessel,
which probably is why it’s still so busted.
I just can’t stop trying to make it go,
when I know it wants to sink in a final dip
from where it will not rise. You didn’t wreck it,
nor did any other You.
I did.

And now it’s time, I’ve made my decision.
I’m pulling it from it’s upstream fight,
because I need to make that final stretch,
with you aboard or not.
It won’t hold the sinking out
and it can’t keep the love in.
Whether anyone admits it or not,
we’re not done yet. So now
the only thing left I can do with
old, adrift broken hearts…
is mend them.

“History,” It Repeated

In Egypt’s sand they dug
until they heard the thunk
of their shovels running up against
an extraordinary chunk
of broken stone upon which
these uniformed Napoleonic fellas
could recognize some scratches
in the language of ancient Hellas.

Little did they know
this monolithic obstruction
would one day prove to be more
than a snag in the construction
of yet another monument
to the power of its Empire,
whose shelf life, as did Greece’s,
was inevitably due to expire.

But the story of the stone
these Gallic soldiers uncovered,
was how some scholars took it
and in turn discovered,
translating through two tongues.
how to read the symbols found
carved in forgotten ruins
beneath the Pharaohs’ arid ground.

In retrospect it figures,
the stone now called Rosetta
only commemorated the fifth Ptolemy
on something more than cabretta.
On it he carved narcissistic praise
for himself and (of course) no others,
and then announced nice tax breaks
for supportive big-shot brothers.

I bring this up on the anniversary
of the day those soldiers found it,
and can only think of how like now
we see connections all around it.
How so many self-absorbed leaders
will slap their own backs, yack and fritter,
not celebrating all their people,
just themselves, on stone or Twitter.

So if there’s a moral in all this,
I don’t suppose it’s any mystery,
take care what you share in the public square
if you don’t want it to become history.
It all could come back to bite your ass,
even if you’re just talking to your peeps,
‘cause just like in Egypt’s shifting sands
what’s embedded online is for keeps.

Not sure this poem about the discovery of the Rosetta Stone 220 years ago yesterday, and it’s message, needs that final verse. But I think it’s good advice for any political leader…and poet…nonetheless.

In Tennessee Whiskey Veritas

At Pete and Ginny’s cafe cum gin joint, the bar runs from the bright front window down to the shadows by the kitchen door. The light here gets progressively darker as you walk along the mahogany and brass path from our perky entrance to possible perdition, as if you’re diving deeper into the ocean.

Today, it looked like one of our regulars, Ben Frazee, was exploring the Marianas Trench of alcoholic melancholy. At the far end of the bar, Ben seemed to be sucking in darkness as much as booze, like he was hoping to suffocate — or drown — whatever lick of flame he still carried for his now-ex Kasie Dellasandro.

“Hey, Ben. What’s happening, brother? Pete been taking care of you?” I said as I came on shift. He merely raised his chin in greeting, mumbled something and then stared back into his glass, somehow deeper than the six inches of melted silica, Tennessee ethanol and frozen H2O that sat before him.

“Dude, if you looked any lower you’d be staring at the world from under those rocks,” I said.

“Does it matter? Maybe that’s what I need, a different point of view, like looking through the bottom of this glass. Even at six bucks a shot,” Ben said as he sucked down that last puddle of whiskey. Then he crunched on an ice cube and I shivered a little.

He pushed the glass toward me, saying, “Y’know? Things looked much better. Gimme another glass of enlightenment, Kenny.”

“Girl trouble?” I asked while shoveling him his Jack and Coke.

“Does it matter? All us birds perched on this mahogany are here for some sad reason, otherwise we wouldn’t start drinking at noon on a Tuesday. Now would we?”

“Well, that makes the boss glad. But even after five years of distributing liquid psychotherapy, sometimes serving the tail end of this early crowd makes me feel kinda guilty.”

“Don’t. I’m fine. We’re all fine. And no bitch will ever drive me to drink. Or that’s what SHE said. I can drive just fine on my own and if not, then there’s always Uber. Of course, then a bitch might be driving me FROM drink.” Ben, quieted for a second and then let out a laugh at his own drunk joke. But I couldn’t laugh at the poor guy.

“So maybe you might slow your roll for a while. Okay? Make me feel a little better.”

“Aw, okay, Kenny. You know, I always liked you. Straight shooter, good listener, you don’t overdo the ice , you don’t stick any fruity-ass fruit in my glass and you don’t chintz on the whiskey. You’re a saint, brother,” Ben said as he extended his hand to shake mine. When I let go, I noticed there was a ten-spot stuck to my palm. 

I told him the next one was on me, but that would be it for a while. I thought he was going to cry right there, but I wasn’t sure of the exact reason. Sometimes drunks are hard to figure out.

At my break I slipped away from the noise to call Kasie to tell her how Ben was handling their breakup.

“It doesn’t matter, baby. Don’t forget to pick up some milk on your way here after closing time. Gimme a call so I can…turn the on porch light for ya. Okay?” she said. Then hung up.

When I got back behind the bar, I noticed Ben was gone and never touched his last drink. I took a sip before I dumped it. That’s when I realized I forgot to ask Kasie what kind of milk she wanted. I decided it really didn’t matter. I’d go home to my place after work instead. 

Sometimes women are hard to figure out. Just like some drunks. Love is too. But what the hell does that matter, either?

 

What Are Friends For?

If I needed you,
would you respond to my call?
If I called to you,
would you even care at all?
If you asked me to,
would I have the gall
to stand back
and just watch you fall?

These are questions
whose answers are moot,
the responses academic,
since I gave myself the boot,
a swift kick in the teeth
or, more likely, the glute.
But what more can you expect
from a depressed old coot?

So forget all these questions,
I should’ve just kept quiet.
I’ll just bury this feeling,
lest it incite a cry-it riot.
I’m pretty sure the moral —
unspoken but clear — don’t deny it,
is if I really wanted a friend,
I’d find a dog and buy it.

This is one of those “Jump into the thicket and see what you come out with (if you can) on the other side” poems. I came out with tortured rhymes, a Freudian cleansing of the subconscious psyche and a typical Hesch ending. Glad I left out the allusion to that old Iggy Pop and the Stooges song in the final verse. (You’d had to have been there on the cusp of the ’60s-’70s to get that.)

Our Side of the Fence

“Can I touch one, Mama?” Cody asked.

“I don’t know if that would be wise,” I told her as I pushed the hair back from her eyes.

“But she’s so beautiful. Look how the wind blows her hair just like mine.”

I looked them over, watching how they moved around the enclosure and finally said, “We don’t know if we can trust how tame they are. There’s a good reason they’re behind this four-wire fence. I’ve heard the mothers can be pretty protective of their babies.”

“Pleeeze, can’t I just once? I’ll be careful,” Cody pleaded in that whiney way of hers. I noticed her edging closer to the fence, just as one of the colts ambled nearer to us.

“Cody, I said wait. You don’t know them and they don’t know you. It’s like we’re from different planets, far from home. Lord knows we are.”

I never liked it when we went on these summer trips, even when I was younger. I remember one year my cousin…

“Look, she likes me,” Cody said as she and one of the young ones reached through the fence for one another.

“Cody!” I screamed, just as the colt’s mother came running over. Both kids jumped and scratched themselves on the fence. The mare pushed her little one away favoring a cut on her floppy little white forehoof.

“See? And that’s why they keep them on the other side of the fence,” I told Cody as I licked the blood off her nose.

Here’s a tortured (and whinnied) 250-word first draft bit of flash fiction written for Cara Michaels’ #MondayMenage thingy. A triple-header of prompts here. One: that photo. Two: the phrase “far from home.” And three: The concept of Trust. Someday I’ll figure out if there’s something deeper involved in what my imagination spit out in these words. (I think there might be.) Well see, if I ever cross its fenceline for a proper revision.