Time is such a malleable thing, capable of stretching longer than the ten minutes prior to a young boy’s recess bell or shorter than the life pondered by the man three breaths from oblivion.And so it goes with the stretch of she and he, him and her, these two and that pair. Doesn’t matter who. It seems like yesterday we met, but you’d say not long enough since Goodbye. You can mold the passage of those years any way you wish. But I no longer can. Time’s once-springy nature’s grown crusty, dry, fragmenting like crumbs, sifting from my grasp. I wish I could make it stop before all I’ve left is some vacant Now. It’s erased yesterdays but still paints masterpieces of an instant from decades ago. Then they go black. Today, I took that ebon ink and walked it across the remaining scroll of my once-to-now, circling numbers, sketching memories. It isn’t stretchy, but it’s long. I can’t shrink it, but I can roll it tightly, keep it close. It’ll have to do until that final recess bell peals and you can count my breaths while I relive the life I’ve clutched in my fist.
Every morning in the dark before Today opens
the flaps of this box in which we lie,
stacked in its musty, dusty organization,
one atop the other, side by cardboard side,
I can hear birds. You can hear them, too,
if you awaken in that moment, or if you
never went to sleep in the first place,
everyone’s dreams nudging up against you
all night, whispering their prayers and curses.
You can hear the bird songs before Today
r-r-rips the tape off the wound that becomes
a chance to be chosen one of its toys,
to be spread on the floor, played with again,
bounced off the ceiling or wall.
I listen and think a hope of a dream maybe
I’ll get lucky and be misplaced this time,
slid under the bed or picked up and
liberated by the dog, before I’m put away again
in this box so carefully labeled Tomorrow.
Before dawn, the old man before me
sighed when I covered his face
with white foam. He stared that look of
What have you to show for your life?,
which stung like I might have
rubbed lather too high on his cheek.
My focus slipped to the scoreboard
of my past. Visitors still led Home,
but I’ve learned it’s only a game.
I looked in his inquiring eyes,
knowing that beneath his snowy disguise
jutted hard-won lumps and crags,
the bare scars and earthy stripes.
I remembered from where each rift
and rill, was the one blazed this frontier
over sixty years. I drew its map.
As I picked up the razor, I smiled.
Then I turned out the light.
On this Day 8 of my Poem-A-Day 2014 and National Poetry Writing Month, I used the NaPoWriMo prompt to rewrite a famous poem, giving it my spin. My friend, Mark Stratton asked me today what my favorite poem is. I told him it’s “Ask Me” by William Stratton. Here’s my quite-Hesch take on the great American poet’s work.
The rain tapped cold on my shoulder,
waking my arms and neck, helping me
discover there’s bare skin worn through
the hair on the back of my head.
The surprise isn’t that I feel the rain there
at the Grownup Table of my skull,
but rather that I feel my fingers there,
unencumbered by what had always been
a black – now silver – jungle, turned savannah,
and now sub-Saharan anti-oasis.
The fingertips wander, kitten-like
through the tiny wasteland tonsure,
exploring its still-hirsute boundaries.
We marvel at the softness of the skin
stretching over this hardest of heads…
the one that washes and shaves in darkness
of unlit morning, when any manner of showers
never really awakened me to such secrets
as on this once so very far side of my life.
There are times you look back
at the tracks you’ve made and wonder
whose feet fit in those prints.
They can’t be yours, they seem so neat,
so sure, long-strided, suitable
for framing, if you could frame
such sweetly blemished snow.
Other times you don’t wish
to risk even a glance, knowing
you’re trailing jumbled smudges
like some drunken dancer
with mismatched shoes,
no sense of rhythm, mumbling
a prayer for a sudden thaw.
Eventually spring comes
for us all,
rinsing away the perfection
that cannot be,
because nothing is flawless.
Not footprints in snow, or in mud,
or in the sand on a beach.
The tides of time leave very few
beyond today’s impressions others to read.
Oh, but to have left them captured
by even your own memory!
That might be what
even you might agree
Desultory dregs of last week’s
half-hearted snowbanks, now turned
overturned bowls of cinder and road salt,
dot the roadside field, while black top
in tablet form lines the shoulder
like black blossoms signifying
the threat of another season.
Robins alight on the dry grass,
picking at salt-pickled something,
blithely chirping like ladies at tea,
while in the maples and oaks,
woodpeckers, cardinals and finches
announce their primacy over all.
This is the end of my March,
a month named for a war-god,
a verb meaning to tread
with measured beat,
a noun about distance covered.
It was once a boundary; maybe still is.
We’ve somehow survived all its iterations,
just as the red bud tree and chickadee,
with similar design and intent.
We just do. We battle, hearts thumping,
managing the forward momentum
whether we want to or not.
We March and don’t know why.