Whether We Know It Or Not

It is a universal truth that someone
who looks like me, talks like me,
fights sleep like me, falls in and fails
at loves like me and sits so often
alone like me can never be truly happy.
Happy is relative, something that
everyone feels they know, whether
they know definitive happiness or not.

It’s a construct where a human brain
imbibes endorphins, creating an emotional
and physical state of great comfort and pleasure.
I can’t recall of late tripping
with Terpsichore to that tipsiness.
But I do know I am least unhappy when
I’m here talking to You,
whether you know that or not.

Yes, YOU. To you. As closely as I
can get without reaching out and
touching, since warm on warm
must remain warm words, words that
I hope you might find…touching.
Perhaps they’ve made you less unhappy
as they did me while I wrote them,
whether I knew it or not.

I’m still sinking, capsized and taking on this painful emotional goo. But I seem to be able to say something, even if it’s covered in some other kind of goo, when I put you on the other side of this screen, as I am behind yours. And, in that, you (yes, YOU) make me as un-unhappy as I get these days. I hope perhaps I can help you, too.

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I Fell Again Today

I fell again today.
Not a little trip or slip,
but a real live death spiral.
I didn’t even bother to look
behind me to see the long trail
of smoke, tight where I was,
expanding to blot out the sun
the further I fell.
And I thought of you.
I thought of reaching out to you
to say, “Here, I’m falling, too.”

But I was already a few feet
from bottom, so I stayed silent again.
Besides, you don’t need any
of my woe, though you understand
the passion, the anger, the sorrow,
the heat, the chill, the vacant,
and the jagged in your gut as well—
or is it as badly? — as anyone I’ve known.
We make that same trip every day,
just with different landmarks
and memories and questions and regrets
and shame and here and there some pride.

And yeah, it’s like seeing your life
on a slow motion loop as death,
or worse, comes closer all the time
as you fall,
and you fall,
and you fall,
but you never get all
the way to the bottom
because that’d be too easy
and life has a thing about
never being easy. You understand.
I understand. And we’re not ready
to give up and just shut our eyes
and let the bottom have us.

We’ll probably drop again tomorrow
and maybe the day after and after that.
But a few things keep me getting
back up to take that long fall,
dangling like a spider under that
smoky pall, again and again.
I remember when you and I,
apart and together, would listen
to the music as the wind rushed past
and, for who knows how long,
we’d fly.

We’ll revisit some of this again soon. I promise. Because I care. Always. Me.

What We Talk About When We Talk About…

Maybe someday we can shelter out of the heat to talk about this thing that binds people together in the way ropes might, or even transplants, like giving one kidney to another. Yeah, that thing. I can’t describe it in any way by which someone else would understand it as I do (or don’t). Some people like that proximity that comes with being tied together, immobilized yet mobile or freely captive with another, feeling their heat, shivering with their cold, sharing the showers and sunshine as if they wear the same skin. They can construe it as “being together,” I guess. Until someday, somehow they cut those cords. I have seen many people walking around still attached to their walking shadow even after he out she has left them, one way or another. Other people can subsume, with proffered permission, the object of their visceral need after searching so long to find that perfect match, one fraught with the minimum amount of rejection, yet, only with diligent aftercare, most likely to keep them alive. They can live on together even after their partner in this organic life no longer can. Yet still, there is always that spectre of rejection, loss, need. The one thing both of these experiences share is how all involved are irreversibly changed by the experience. Maybe it’s the scars they can display or conceal, maybe even from themselves. Maybe it’s the memories of their partner’s touch, both on and within their skin, a heartbeat they feel even as they lie alone at night. But I’m no expert. I’ve walked this earth carrying a platter full of bite-size pieces of my marrow-rich thirteenth rib, like some faceless butler named Adam at a grand party of the interested and disinterested. Some have idly taken one piece just to wrap it in a napkin and toss it in the potted palm. Others have taken it with thanks and thought, “that’s different,” and moved on to bacon-wrapped shrimp. And for others I’ve placed one on their plates, wrapped in wordy ribbons with which they might secure it to themselves like pins for some needy charity. A couple have actually taken them to heart, but I moved on because this is a big room and a server’s duty calls. What do I know? Maybe this is why someday we might sit somewhere, with a batch of iced libation between us. Maybe it’ll be something different that we talk about when we talk about love.

Now that’s a ponderous bit of prose poem or maybe fictional one-sided conversation, free-written around my morning shower. The inspiration was brought to me when I needed it most and I have no idea from where the results come, but I thank my muse that they did. Unless you know Raymond Carver, you won’t recognize the title, though maybe you recognized it without my coming out and saying the word until right before the final period. Perhaps one day I’ll revise this unspoken “thing” for a more concise, or expansive, dive into the phenomenon that touches and changes us all. I chose purple for this note because it is the perfect mix of blood and the blues, both of which are sluggishly coursing through me right now, so I’ve been unsuccessful in giving you something to think (or talk) about.  Let’s hope my over-the-transom inspirations cut a few more drops from me soon.

When When Is Not a Question

When I thought I stood strong,
you showed how I was brittle.
When I tried to be softer,
you crushed me at my middle.
When I made the effort to listen,
you would not converse.
When I reached out my hand,
you covered your eyes, and what’s worse…
When I opened to you my heart,
you closed yours forever.
When I pondered a way,
you wandered away with, “No, never.”
When I express this, my pain,
you think only of yours.
When I tell you I’m dying,
you ruminate merely on the wars…
When I told you I loved you,
never knowing how much life would be lost,
When I threw those parts of me away,
never caring how much the cost.
When I, some lonely evening,
come visit in your half-sleep,
When I will read my bad poetry,
some might still make you weep.
When I, tonight, take to my bed,
never certain I’ll awaken,
When I try recalling your face,
as so much from my memory’s taken.
When I do this, the good times
with you are so hard to find, that’s
When I remember, I’ve always kept you
in my heart, if not in my mind.

No stories every day or so, I’m afraid. Just more bad poetry, a rhyming disguise for self-examination of heart and mind. I wish I could do better for myself, as well as you, but these times are a struggle that only I can work through. So prepare yourself for more bad verse, which for some time may not get better, only worse. (Oh, lord….!!!) But I’m digging out this debris to find my RESET button. It’s just takes more time than I hoped when you use a pencil for a shovel.

Staring At the Sun As If Through a Smoke Hole

Miriam Buskirk pulled her mother away from the front room of their cabin and said, “Joshua just sits there staring. He sits so closely and stares at the fire. He lays in the fields at noon and stares at the sun. He stares at the river. He hasn’t said but five words since he got back and I couldn’t understand a one of them.”

Her mother Amanda put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder and quietly said, “The poor boy has been living with the savages for nine months. Who knows what they did to Joshua, or what horrors he’s seen. For all we know he saw them kill your and his poor father, my beloved Marcus, and that’s enough to make anyone act queerly when they come back to civilization.”

They both turned when they heard the creak of the chair across the plank floor. They watched as sixteen-year-old Joshua Buskirk rose from where he’d been sitting for the past hour and shuffle toward the door. So close had he been to the flames, they had scorched the skin of his face red. With his head down, he mumbled something into his linsey-woolsey shirt and stepped out into the midday sun.

“There he goes again, Mother. How long do you think this will go on?” Miriam said.

Amanda Buskirk, watching her son disappear over the rise toward the east, seemingly to go meet the sun before noon, said, “Until it doesn’t I guess. At least I don’t worry as much about him running back to the Mohawk again. But just running…?” She left the remainder of that sentence to hang in the breeze from the open doorway just as Joshua disappeared again over the hill.

Joshua strode through the tall grass and wildflowers over the hill and plopped down in the bare spot he had made there after a fortnight of rejoining his mother and sister. As he leaned back, he was proud to see how he still hadn’t given up the beaded moccasins he wore when he returned to the Buskirk farm after traders sent out by the Great Patroon, Van Rensselaer, found him in the village of Ossernenon. 

*  *  *

“We thought you were dead, boy,” the fur trader Markus Eikenboom said to Joshua when he was allowed to speak to the boy. But Joshua was silent. 

“Don’t you know your own tongue anymore, boy?” Eikenboom said to even more silence. “Where is your father, son? The Patroon will want me to buy back his freedom, too.” 

Joshua turned and walked back to the lodge of the family that had adopted him, only saying one word: “kanién:tara.”

“What does that word mean?” Eikenboom asked his Mahican guide.

“River,” was his reply.

*  *  *

Joshua lay on his back and stared into the white disc of the sun as it crossed over the hilltop and moved what little shadow he threw from west-leaning to east. If his mother had let Miriam follow him, she would have seen him blinking as the sunlight teared in his eyes. When she had watched from afar, Miriam had told her mother, “Joshua just lies there like he is dead, Mother.”

After that day’s morning had passed into afternoon, Joshua arose from his place beneath the surrounding high grass and made his way down to the swift-flowing Schoharie Creek. It ran past the Buskirk farm on its way to marry with the river the Dutch had named for his people, for he still thought of the Kanien’kehá:ka as his family. Most especially since the death of his father.

That’s the one part of his old life with Miriam and Mother that stuck with him after he and his father were captured by a Mohawk hunting party while the Buskirk men were setting their own trap lines almost a year before. After the Mohawk warriors brought Joshua and Marcus to Ossernenon, each was suffering from the pace, rough treatment and, especially to Marcus Buskirk, the general arrogance of their captors.

“I am surprised these savages have not yet killed us, Joshua,” his father said on their first night in Ossernenon. 

“Perhaps they will let us go if we just do as they ask, Father,” Joshua said in the glow of the fire in this section of the longhouse where his captors’ family lived.

“Do not, under any circumstances, lower yourself to the level of these savages, Joshua. They are fit only as providers of furs to the Patroon and will be someday be subjugated to our strength soon enough. We should let them know we will not be cowed by their haughty and violent ways.”

“But the one they called Shawátis seems to have treat us better than the other men. Perhaps we can convince him to…”

“Enough, Joshua! We are Christian men and, as such, tower over these animals. Why, with but one dozen militiamen, I could wipe this valley clean of their pestilence,” Marcus Buskirk hissed. “And should I make my escape, that is exactly what I intend to do.”

Joshua stared at the flickers of sunlight on the Schoharie, lost in its hypnotic dance, as if it was how the light twinkled in the eyes of Shawátis’ children. Then he clenched shut his eyes and tried not to see that day when his father, sent out to gather squash and beans with the women, picked up a rock and brought it down upon the head of Shawátis’ oldest son, who was not quite Johua’s age, and had been guarding the women from any intruders from the forest. Marcus then ran from the field and headed for the river, leaving Joshua behind with the other boys, who were learning to make bows from one of the elders.

After a group of the men chased down and brought Joshua’s father back to the village, Marcus Buskirk’s face showed signs of a severe beating, though he was still alive. Not so Shawátis’ son, who had fallen dead from the blow Marcus had delivered.

“I should kill this man who took my son from me,” Shawátis said. “Or perhaps I should kill his son. Or even both, my grief is so deep.”

The men agreed and said the white man deserved any of those punishments. But then the grandfather of Shawátis’ clan stepped forward and said there might be a better way to solve this dilemma with some sort of natural justice.

“Let us make these two fight for the right to live. The boy has grown strong in our family in the months since he came to us. The man has grown more and more of a problem. If, Shawátis, you will agree, we will allow them to fight and then the victor will be allowed to stay, The loser, should he survive, I will leave to your best judgment.”

The men all yelled their consent, since their’s was a warrior society, enlightened and noble, but warriors nonetheless.

“Cannot war father,” Joshua shouted in his broken Mohawk. But Shawátis nodded in approval of the elder’s proposal. As the crowd of warriors pushed the Buskirks to the fire at the end of the longhouse, Joshua didn’t recognize the man through the flames as his father. 

It wasn’t the face swollen and bruised from the beating at the hands of the warriors. It wasn’t the ragged woolen clothes his father never stopped wearing in the months since their capture. It was his eyes, enraged, unknowing, mad, the eyes of a man who had killed a child earlier that day and looked like he would do it again. And then that man jumped through the fire at Joshua.

Knocked back onto the hard-packed dirt floor of the longhouse, Joshua looked up and blinked at the sun shining down into his eyes from the smoke hole in the roof. And then there was that face again.

“You’ll be better off dead than living with these savages, Joshua,” he heard his father say. Marcus Buskirk wrapped his hands around Joshua’s neck and squeezed. Joshua grabbed at his father’s arms to break his grasp. He scratched at the crazed eyes to no avail. Reaching back over his head, Joshua felt the cubby in which his Mohawk family stored firewood. He grabbed a piece of the kindling and swung with whatever strength he had left. His makeshift club found its mark on the side of his father’s head and the older Buskirk, still aching from his previous beating sagged.

Joshua scrambled to his knees and out of the longhouse, gasping and wheezing as many of the longhouse residents followed him into the sunlight. Not far away he could see the Schoharie and for a moment he wondered if his mother, somewhere downriver, knew if he still lived.

He felt his father’s fist on the back of his head and all went dark for a moment. Face down in the dirt, he dimly saw his father’s boots walking next to him and he saw the rough hand in the ragged sleeve pick up another rock and expected to hear the sound of the rock on his skull and that would be it.

But the sound of a rock hitting bone did not proclaim Joshua’s death. Rather it was the end of Shawátis’ war club coming down upon Marcus Buskirk’s head that cracked through Joshua’s foggy consciousness. He saw the men lift the body of the raggedy man who once loved him, often disciplined him like an Old Testament elder, and had just tried to kill him as Abraham would have Isaac, but for the intercession of God. And now God had interceded in Joshua’s death at the hand of his father.

“I did not like that man and I should have killed him when we caught him trapping in our country,” Shawátis said. “A man who would kill a child, one who was protecting his little sisters, is not a man, is not someone who should live with civilized people. I am sorry, young Yoshoo, but he had to die. Now, if you wish, you may join my family.” 

Joshua pondered this each day since he had been returned to his family’s farm on the Schoharie. Every day, just as he had in Ossernenon. But here it felt different, as if he really didn’t belong there anymore. The widower Cornelius De Groot from the farm just downriver from the Buskirks’ had already been sniffing around Amanda for months, according to Joshua’s sister, even with the fate of Marcus still unknown.

A dugout canoe lurched upstream from around the bend in the creek. In it, three young Kanien’kehá:ka were paddling their way back from the mouth of the Schoharie where it emptied in the Mohawk River.

Joshua raced to the river bank, waving and shouted, “Kwe. Hánio kén:thon, iatate’kén:’a.”

The young men looked up to see the white boy greeting them and asking them to come near. Curious, they paddled closer, yet stayed in deeper water.

“Where are you headed, brothers?” Joshua asked.

“Home to Ossernenon. Aren’t you..?”

“Yes, I am the son of Shawátis. Could you take me with you upriver?” Joshua said.

“If you wish,” said the young Mohawk in he bow of the dugout. “Where is it you need to go.”

“Home. To Ossernenon,” Joshua said before he waded into the Schoharie, looked once more at the sun as it began its decline over the hill, behind which his mother placed another log on the fire.

Well, so much for writing a story a day in May. Lost my mojo, as you probably can tell from this very fast free write first draft I began this rainy afternoon. There was no prompt that I know of. I just needed to write a story. So I did. Maybe. Hey, it’s a true first draft. Check your Hemingway quotes for what these are worth.

The Scars That Never Stop Hurting

He didn’t know how to make peace with his past. What offering of acceptable remorse exists when the past, in whatever personage or spirit, listens naught and averts its eyes at the mere thought of him? He’d try, “I’m sorry,” but seven letters hanging off-kilter from an apostrophe can get blown sideways and lost in the winds between two people, two different lives from what came before. His mind has lost its edge and quickness since its days of serving up scars even before others knew the sting of his cut. Now his life is not much more than a scar, something to look at and recall all those wounds he administered across his lifetime. So he waits upon his cold chair for that final felling wound. He sighs at how the sword always fell to his pen, but knows the scythe always wins. Perhaps then a peace he still dreams might come will reveal itself before he hears the swoosh of that existential steel. And, if comes too late, he must assume the role a scar on a piece of someone else’s past. But wouldn’t it be grand to hear that voice say, “Would you write me again.”?

A 200-word free written bit of what feels like literary (those probably not literate) confession and self-imposed penance. Hey, you sit down without a shred of inspiration, you can’t expect Shakespeare or Kendrick Lamar. You just hope and expect ‘something’ will appear eventually. Oh, and the new photo, old regrets and ancient scar (I have many more, some of which you can’t see) are all ©Joseph Hesch.

Not Yet

Sometimes I fear I am right there
within its reach, feel its warm breath
or cool shadow on my skin, and wonder
if I should surrender to its embrace.
Would it be so bad to finally
offer myself up? I could leave
all this confusion, remorse,
fear, and pain behind me.
But who then would mourn
all these losses if I didn’t?
Who would sing you the songs
you always wished to hear?
Who would lift this light by which
you might find me someday?
I will always wait for you, so
The End will have to wait for me.

So on Day #30 of this Poem a Day National Poetry Writing Month, the prompt was for and End poem. When you reach my age, go through all the things you’ve perpetrated and had perpetrated on you (by nature, the gods or that someone), there are days The End doesn’t feel like it would be such a bad bedfellow. But today, as down as I can feel, I’m kicking that bitch outta my rack. Hope you enjoyed, hated, were entertained, confused or otherwise moved by some of my zipped off poetry this month. Tomorrow begins my May Story a Day. Now it gets REAL. Ain’t at the end yet, y’all.