Rebuilding the Sky

The sky has fallen,
in a triphammer beat
of pieces on the roof,
moving in waves
crossing and recrossing
the blacktop road.
It teaches gravity
to the hands of the leaves,
bending their wrists
and arms toward the earth.
It grays my view,
turning down its contrast
and intensity.
Everything that was up
ten minutes ago is now down,
except my eyes.
I can’t help but scan
the sky, searching
for a hint of sunlight,
even if now all is darkness.
The rain’s abating, and
light begins rebuilding day,
propping up the damaged
sky once more,
upon a rainbow’s
scaffold.

The Viewing

I never liked this tie.

I must admit, I’m sure I’ve looked better in my life, but my life ended three days ago. I have no say in how my family and the mortician presented me for final inspection by whoever is coming to, at best, say goodbye to me and console my family and, at worst, see if I managed to leave a decent looking corpse.

True, it’s only 6:00 PM, but I expected a bigger crowd. Maybe it’s the weather, rush hour traffic or extended happy hour prices or something. Denise and I were always early arrivers at the wakes we had to attend. Even for the schmucks who couldn’t die soon enough for my tastes.

Ooh, there’s old Fred Howser. Wow, Fred, time to put down the beer and Doritos. There’s room for only one in this box, buddy, and I have the lease until The Rapture. Take care of yourself and moderate some, pal. The world needs more happy drunks like you, not dead ones like me.

Uh oh, here comes a coven of ladies from the old job. Jesus, what the hell are Diane and Sally doing with Elaine and Joanie? I never got any warm vibe from them. Wish I could sit up just a little to hear what they’re saying. I was afraid of this. I’d hoped for some sort of omniscient point of view deal when I tripped on that rainbow. What fun is watching your own wake when you can’t hear what the all the people are saying about you? If I could breathe, I’d be sighing now.

The kids look pretty busted up. I guess the dead can feel guilt, even though your balance sheet for the afterlife is closed. But damn, seeing them cry like that makes me feel good as much as it makes me feel sad. Wish I had been a better Dad. I know I can’t go back to make it right, and that I was a good Dad for the most part. When you’re lying here, you’ve nothing but time to figure out when and how you could have done better. Maybe this is what they really mean when they talk about Purgatory. No fire, no pitchforks, just your soul and time to think about your shortcomings.

Oh no, here she comes. I guess Purgatory is a timeout to think about your sins, even the almosts, too.

Been a while, but she looks pretty good, at least to these closed eyes. But then I always had closed eyes for her, from the first time I saw her. She had all that crazy curly hair, angry victimhood, fierce intelligence in a man’s world and some spark that lit a flame in me I didn’t know I had. She was my red ink, my fall from grace, my weakness in the face of vows, honor and duty. Boy, was I stupid, but boy did I love her.

Okay, Rose, Joe, Jake, Marylou and Bobby, move it along. Nothing to see here but the husk of the entertainer. No more yuks, except for the fact Denise made the mortician put this tie on me. Oh, well. If it makes Denise happy. I owe her that.

Shit, now Teresa’s right there above me. Wow, real tears. I remember how I joked that when I died I expected her to get a gussied up for my wake and then throw herself across my body, shuddering in wracking sobs. Damn, she did wear a dress. If she throws herself atop me now that I’m dead, I’ll be so pissed. No, she’s kissing her fingers and touching my cheek. Well, I’ll be damned. Perhaps. Probably.

Well, last call, I guess. Funny how time moves when you’re not counting it anymore. Bounces around and then you can sit somewhere in the past for who knows how long. There was that bender in ’78 that was like that. I guess I’ll get used to it.

Hi, Denise. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to support you tonight. It really is all I’ve ever wanted to do. You’ve been my rock, my touchstone, my soul mate, my savior. Don’t know how you can look at me with such pride. You finally got me sober and some drunk plows into me. Sorry I never made it home with your ice cream. This time I remembered—peanut butter crunch.

Aww, man, please don’t cry like that. I don’t really hate this tie. Don’t lay your head on my chest. I don’t deserve…I’ve been a total drunken fuck up…I… Wait, what’s she saying? Damn it, why can’t I hear her? There’s that crooked grin I fell in love with 45 years ago. That’s it, honey. Straighten this cool tie.

Please don’t drop the lid, dude. Denise, I don’t know if we’ll ever be together, you know, on the other side, but if your face is the last thing I’ll ever see before…

I guess that’ll have to do for this eternity.

I wrote this piece in a rush and no doubt sparingly so it would fit within the parameters of my friend Dan Mader’s every-Friday feature 2MinutesGo over on his site, Unemployed Imagination. Since I went away for a week without access to a computer nor my iPad, my writing muscles got pretty flabby fast. So if this looks like I think it does, realize that it’s an exercise to get back in writing shape. In the my case , though, I just choose to exercise here in the equivalent of a picture window…wearing a Speedo.

Caught In My Own Web

I started out with a length of golden thread
with which my life’s tapestry one day would be read.
But, Oh what a tangled web I’d weave
when first I set out not to deceive,
but to become he who I’d be proud to call Me,
the man I and they always wanted me to be.

But I was the guy who’d fall for a girl
who’d never fall for me, and instead would curl
into the arms of another’s possession,
only strengthening my ardor into obsession,
which always clung stronger, in fact like a glove,
to my oft-scarred heart, than affection or love.

I was the man who with artful words
built billboard ads, where nested birds,
upon which footnotes called “news” were hung.
I crafted webs of truths (full, half and un-)
to snare those who’d read them with their heart,
missing the fine print and calling it “art.”

As a youth I somehow viewed, through history’s haze,
certain learned men, who back in their days
owned other men, as being “of their time”
and somehow not as culpable of the same crime
as those who’d as soon destroy the constitution
they built and defended, for their “peculiar institution.”

This web, strung with self-deceit and knotty lies,
supports and ensnares he I’ve come to despise.
So I bid you and they and the old me goodbye,
leaving behind the smug mug I wore while I became I.
I hope you’ll forgive me my many transgressions
and pray for any and all divine intercessions
on behalf of the boy who always meant well,
but ultimately found he wove his own private hell.

Welcome to No Man’s Land

The tractor’s in the shop and I
should’ve sent my back there weeks ago.
So the grass out front has mounted
a full frontal assault on our home’s
curb appeal (if we had curbs)
and an interdiction upon the exercise
of my creaky and aching masculine ego.
Usually, the state of a man’s lawn
is something that will twist his
Obsession Dial to 9 or 10, especially
from April to Independence Day.
But sometime after that, the drive
to maintain that pool table-perfect
expanse of turf withers a bit,
not unlike the object of my
all-consuming passion for greensward.
But let one person ask what happened
to the once-plumb and level landscape,
and the explosion of counter offensive
will lay low the Creeping Charlie that
dares to peek its head above the fescue.
I turn busy anthills, lumpy underfoot,
into smooth and fertile ossuaries
for the insects more industrious
than the he whose subsoil they mined.
Your homeowner, smug, sweat-soaked
and satisfied, heads into the house
for a shower, beer and nap. I don’t
yet know how last night grubs hatched
and moles and crows will tear
this man’s lawn into no man’s land
by Tuesday.

Hesperides in Gold Leaf

During summers on the lake,
I’d leave the family back
at the trailer after dinner—
because I was a big kid now,
almost 12—and walk to the beach.
The sun would be sagging
in its evening ease, casting
golden flakes upon the chop.
Over the next hour they’d melt
into orange, purple and red
slicks upon the quieting surface,
like a lake-wide gasoline slick
from some grand mahogany runabout
christened Hesperides in gold leaf
on her stern. The sun sinking behind
the pines gave the sky a black eye,
and I’d skip a stone along the surface
to shatter the image of the moon
in the southeast corner of this mirror
of my youth called Snyder’s Lake.
Tonight, as I watched alone the sunset
behind the pines back of my house,
the memory of that bruised sky
hit me in the eye. Must have been
a speck of dust, too, because
I’m a big guy now, almost 65,
and why else would I get teary?

Ramble Tamble #1

When you’re in the middle of it, living and learning, learning about living, living as a means of learning, you don’t notice how you might be different from (or the same as) some guys across the ocean or across the room. You don’t notice much about anything but what’s inside the three inches of air surrounding your body.

They are Them, There, Then. You are You, Here, Now. Context is but a ghost, barely a specter of a concept through which you  your place in a wider world. You accept ideas, tenets, the virtual castle walls within which you secure your position as the center of the Universe. You don’t question. God just IS, He is a He and you need to toe his line in order to win the lovely parting gifts they hand you for completing the Home version of this dicey Game of Life.

The other day, I asked myself not only who I am, but what, forcing myself to look beyond myself as this sack of meat, its spark of intellectual and essential energy and the possessor of opposing thumbs that answers to Joseph, Joe, Joey and any of a hundred or so discrete alphanumeric identifiers that differentiate me from you. And you and you, as well.

I saw such a small thing, a cluster of cells both good and ill, beneficial and malignant, functional and inert, held modestly upright by some universally accepted beliefs that inherently make me superior to so much of the rest of the inhabitants of this blue marble upon which we stand as it falls, rises, or circles in the vastness of the Universe.

And so much of what I see is just a matter of dumb luck, some bit of kismet that Valentine met Maria and Patrick loved Lizzy and they all somehow decided to leave their homes in Europe to come to this coast-to-coast set of geographic coordinates that may make this the most varied and valuable piece of real estate on the planet. They came to this place where people can be free to become the monarchs of their own existence. Here in this nation established upon the premise that all men are created equal.

Except, of course, if you were on the wrong end of our “peculiar institution,” where white men owned black men who did the physical labor that either built or buttressed the Whites’ socioeconomic standing. And that sin was committed even in my hometown, tucked up here in the upper right corner of your map, which is the oldest chartered municipality in the country.

And also except if you were a member of the class of original inhabitants of this breadth of the continent. Then you were crushed in the essentially forgotten, if considered at all, dirty little secret of American’s Manifest Destiny, which included eviction, subjugation, military intimidation, interdiction and an open-air type of incarceration. And, quite often, our Euro-America’s God-blessed version of the final solution to the “Indian problem,” eradication.

Which brings us rambling back to my original premise. When you are so busy trying to make it from First to Twelfth Grade, from freshly minted believer to elder keeper of whatever Word you follow, from allowance grabber to worker bee and then retirement check-cashing senior, you don’t think of these things. You pretty much have to live within your insulated little castle keep, those walls of ideas and ideals I spoke of before.

It’s human nature. Self-preservation, self-centeredness, selfishness, maybe even a selective selflessness, draw blinders around us from which we might occasionally sneak a peek outside ourselves. Then we pull our heads back within the silken bonds of our own spiritual and intellectual cells. There in the comforting darkness we see house-of-mirrors reflections of ourselves, warm and fuzzy, clean and bright, dark and angry, volatile and violent. And we accept them or reject them with but a blink, a wink or a meditative, prayerful closing of the eyes.

Please forgive me this tedious ramble. I’ve been reading again, something I haven’t done as much as when I was younger. Back then it was hardcore youthful inquisitiveness, feeding the insatiable intellectual beast as much trivia, possibly necessary minutiae and winning team history it could take. Now, it’s my own version of sticking this silver-pated gourd out of the dusty crust of virtual Hesch topography to see what I missed. In my old age I’ve become another type of Self-something. Self-aware. It’s embarrassing and painful, yet somehow freeing.

I see the mistakes, poor judgments and failures I’ve made. I see the victories, loves and lucky guesses, too. On electronic and physical pages I’ve cast them out there like stars across a desert sky. And now I see how they tell stories and give necessary direction, even if I have almost reached my ultimate destination.

I just thought I’d pass this on to you, since you’re traveling that way, too. Slán abhaile.  Auf wiedersehen.  Safe travels.  Ramble Tamble. Down the road I go.

This started its life as a poem, then grew like some good ol’ southern kudzu, spilling all aroun d the page, seemingly taking over everything from my writing hand to better judgment. By the way, Ramble Tamble is the title of the first cut on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s  classic 1970 album, Cosmo’s Factory. It one of the rockingest songs I know, a great road song and might be as good a fit for our current times as it was for my youth.

Gospel of the Golden Hour

In the distance, rain clouds
drop millions of miniature prisms
as they march upon Mechanicville.
But it isn’t the Sunday afternoon
shower catching my attention.
As too little sleep dims my vision,
today closes its solar eye
over the rooftops behind me.
I cast a shadow a furlong eastward,
seemingly reaching for the trees
that glisten as they breathe in
the southwest breeze.
They’ve taken on a flaxen glow,
like a coterie of Fox News bunnies
beaming into their key lights.
They’re fair in the balanced
auric light, a photographer’s dream,
turning them into brilliant beings
of otherworldly luminescence.
The rain’s turned into an inclusive
rainbow spanning the Hudson,
while I turn to the west and
am enlightened, my face taking on
a glowing mask of a rapturous mien.
It’s as if all of us have been touched
by a greater power at this, the Golden Hour.
And that’s Real News.

This was one of those allegedly inspired pieces that drew me out of what I was doing and demanded to be written before it was lost in the darkness. I’m not saying it was a divine inspiration or even one of any importance. The premise/hook/true subject didn’t occur to me until I finished the first draft, which this, for all intent, is. But the trees really did look like a bunch of hyperventilating blondes heaving their bosoms in the glow of the Golden Hour, which seems some sort of blessing for those of us who view such light as a gift from above. And I mean more than 93,000,000 miles above. Photo © Joseph A. Hesch 2016