Spatter of Memories, Fusillade of Regrets

Caleb Downey heard the sound and turned to see Edwin Howard’s head flung backwards and his body sag to drape the ground like a sack of rags. He felt the spatter of Ed’s memories on his face.

“I didn’t sign up for this,” Caleb said, knowing the men to either side of him in the Union line couldn’t hear him. Just like they never heard the .50 caliber slugs from Rebel Enfields come fetch them to Jesus. Wide-eyed, Caleb skittered back from the makeshift breastwork of a rotten hickory as more Reb bullets chopped it to tinder, let alone kindling.

“Where’re you going, Downey?” he heard Captain Mayfield yell, the flat of his sword spanking Caleb like his Pa would with a switch back in Indiana. “You get back to your position and hold this line with your squad.”

“Cap’n, I ain’t got no more squad. The last of ‘em, ‘cept for me, just lost the top of his head not three feet from my own.”

“You mean…”

“Yessir. All dead.”

“…you completely abandoned that position?”

“Only of the living, sir.”

“You get back up there and hold that post while I find some men to fill in the line.”

“I don’t think so, Cap’n.”

“What? Think of what you’re fighting for, boy. Think of the Union, Indiana, think of your family,” Mayfield said.

“I am. The feller to my right was my cousin Edwin. On the left was my brother, Charles. They never signed up for this, neither,” Caleb said.

Wrote this 250-word mini-story in response to the prompt of using the phrase “I didn’t sign up for this,” for Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads feature. Thanks, Siobhan and judge Silver James. Now, on to tomorrow. Another chance to climb into my desk chair and attempt staying there.

Keeping My Head Above

Just thought I’d write today. No theme, no depth of subject or consideration of how it might affect my life and life in general. Just write. So…

My life’s a mess, but so is human life overall. The length and breadth of it is a litany of sloppy, awkward, falling-down trial, error, failure and maybe the occasional tie. There don’t seem to be any wins. And if we think there are such Me-versus-the-Universe faux-comebacks, that’s just the House sucking you in with a blast of endorphin to keep you at the gaming table.

I guess the best times are the trials, those times where I’ve messed in the mess and have yet to fall on my face in the slop of it all. There are few times where the mess isn’t within and arm’s length of me (or you). I dance on the edge of it, splash in it, wade through it, throughout the Sphinx’s four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night quiz answer for Oedipus. His prize was the keys to “a NEW Thebes!”

And we all know how that turned out, right? 

Yes, life is messy, from its hormone-drenched origin, to its splatter-flick, camel-through-a-needle’s-eye (so I’m told and have observed) delivery, over its boot-sucking traverse of the day to day swamp, until its icky finale and ultimate disposal.

I am up to my chin in it all, with the once-distant solid ground of my evermore within sight, which sometimes feels more appealing than yet another swallow of life’s wallow. I’ve taken on a lot of its turbid wash over the past few years, sometimes nearly going under, occasionally dreaming of scuttling this leaky vessel altogether.

But here I am, taking the gamble one more day, reaching my foot into the stark paper-white unseen in hope there’s a there there to support me until tomorrow when I hold my nose and take another sodden step. That’s the risk I take. Maybe you do, as well. I’ve taken many a messy misstep, sunk into it over my head and somehow sputtered like flotsam to the surface. I’m an expert at treading, though I’m more exhausted every day.

Maybe you’ve been lucky enough (or made your own luck) to find a map to the stars’ homes, isles of dryland dreams to keep your feet unsullied at least for awhile. I applaud you, but won’t allow myself envy. That’s just more heavy ballast I don’t need. I carry enough of my own. 

So here on this page I have smeared the results of my latest fall in the marsh of human existence. I’ve wiped from my eyes the detritus I observed upon the silty bottom. Exhaled more of the miasma floating above the surface like a diaphanous warning of days to come. And I’ve spit out some of my latest gulps of failure. 

Another mess. Another chance to tread on. Another tie.

An Air Evergreen

I like to watch the pines
as they breathe in this cold air.
It’s all theirs, it would seem,
since they don’t have to share it
with their broadleaf sisters
for a few more months.
It is of a different vintage
from the vernal, summer, or
even autumnal variety stuff,
what they take in now. It seems
clearer, cleaner, a steelier ether
that tightens their needlework
about them like old letter sweaters.
Enjoy it while you can,
snark the stark maples,
oaks and poplars, standing and shivering
like under-clothed underclothes models.
Meanwhile, the pines pine not.
They just take in meditative breath
after breath, or heave their chests
in bellowing exhalations that smell
of kerosene in the raw and
Christmas pitched until Opening Day.

I’m afraid I may have clear-cut too many metaphors, analogies and the like in this little copse of evergreen reverie. For that (and that last sentence), I apologize. I’m just praying poetry is a sustainable resource in the forest of my life. Fiction? Well, that is a deciduous dilemma right now. Though I’ve scattered some acorns and whirly-seeds that I hope, with patience and gratitude, will take root and prosper.

Fading to White

Photo © Joseph Hesch, 2018

She flies closer from beyond the hill,
gliding through the snowfall
like an animated gray scale,
white to smoke to stone to black.
And once by my window, she alights
upon the the pristine page outside
and before me, a cast-off drop
and this cascade of ink. She flies off
holding some tidbit within the pincers
of her beak, only to hurry back
to bus more off this tablecloth
spread out before her. She’s cleaning up
while I am making a mess right here.
Now the crow’s gone, fading like my memory,
from black to stone to smoke to…

Hamlet and Prufrock Walk into a Peach Orchard…

My life’s grasp seldom exceeded its reach.
Most often it brought back nothing but air.
If I’d grasped it, I’d have eaten that peach,
but I’d not get a taste unless I’d dare.

Those times I stretched beyond my fingers’ tips,
you would just laugh and skip away a pace.
And so your flavor never graced these lips,
even when you’d skip back to tease my face.

I know it’s for the best I always failed,
except for these times my words caught your ear.
Like Prufrock’s Love Song, they’ll never be hailed.
I just wonder if I’ve made myself clear.

I’d still eat that peach, I’ve never forgotten,
It’s just overripe. I’ve become rotten.

Ugh. Sorry. For two years, chronic crippling depression has rotted the creative core of this once-prolific and not-half-bad writer. Whatever gifts I had, today present as useless mush. If I don’t get squared away soon, I fear you’re destined for more shoe-bottom sludge like this…or nothing. If I were you, I’d opt for the latter. Still grinding away, though. For me. For now… ~ JH

Prisoner of My Own Device

I have become a prisoner
within this body, this mind,
this world, this life.
While I know I can’t jump
into any others, I also realize
I can’t jump anymore at all.
Meanwhile, they’re all
shrinking around me, this spark
of humanity, of being.

I cannot escape from this world
that exists beneath but one roof,
population: six and one ghost;
this hobbled body that cannot
do much of what it once did;
this mind atrophied by age,
sadness, anger and fear.

I exist in whines and complaints,
poorly expressed, framed within
postage stamps or cards
I’d send only to you.
And I don’t know why I try,
since even I don’t want
to listen to me anymore either.

Soon the air will be gone,
this spark extinguished,
these silent songs choked off.
I know I’m the key to my escape,
but how can I turn
if there is no lock?

I’d tap out this message to you on the bars, but there’s no you there to listen and we’ve each forgotten our secret code anyway.

C’mon, Snow

The two feet of snow
disappeared across
the length of December,
and now Winter looks
like Autumn from my window.
The great smoother
of Man’s and Nature’s
jagged angles has ebbed
its way back into the clouds,
leaving reminders of a job
poorly done collecting leaves.
But one can’t expect perfection
when you are, indeed,
but one.
And that is the lot
of the lone gardener,
the one who wields
the rake or the pen.
Or so I’m told.

I suppose I could go out
into the cold cold afternoon
to gather the leaves
that came after I put away
my toothy tools, just as
I suppose I could sit here
with a heater at my feet
and rake words into
this biodegradable bag
of free verse. Besides,
there’s no one looking
to collect any leaves
until March. Like no one’s
inside looking at poems.
C’mon, snow.

Entangling Lines

Oh, how I wish that
you wouldn’t appear
whenever I try
to write something here
where you don’t belong,
and, in fact, bring fear.

Here you are again,
sitting there right now
inspiring these words,
and a grateful bow.
I’d ask you to go,
but I don’t know how.

I know you don’t want
being catch of the day
whenever I cast
for something to say.
But your lure’s too strong
to keep me away.

And that’s the problem.
Boy, don’t I know it!
As a fisherman
I always blow it,
I’ll cast out my line
yet you catch the poet.

I’m used to it now;
I think you are, too.
And so, once again
I’ll give you your due.
As good as I am,
I’m lost without you.

Class of ’70

I’ve lost so much from
when last we met,
chunks of life gone with a
loss of courage and of memory.
Just like last week, when I realized
I’ve lost high school
from the library where I
can pull bushels of useless facts,
yet not four years of proofing
in the fires of adolescence.
Perhaps that’s because
I never did the fire-walk
across the coals of teen desire,
not for fear of getting burnt,
but more for fear of not.

Oh, there are some scars I find
in the corners where my other
secrets lie beneath the dust,
so I know I got close a few times.
But I can’t remember when.
Maybe the scars were from acid
thrown my way by the guys
with asbestos shoes
and courage to burn.
Doesn’t matter now,
since some of them are naught
but someone else’s history
to forget.
Just like mine.

Carpe Diem

The days fly by, and I don’t really know
where they light for the night when the lights fall.
Perhaps I’m just kidding old think-too-much Joe,
maybe days just fly, not roosting at all.

They do seem more tired with each rising sun,
as if commuting all night to meet dawn.
More likely it’s just me, too tired to run
from bed to life in its race to all gone.

I’d love if a day would choose to hang out
instead of just whooshing I know not where.
We’d take it slow, detouring his old route,
keeping Sun at my house tied to a chair.

Not letting it pass me by one more time,
I’d be seizing that day, and that’s no crime.