The Winter Artist

Photo © Joseph Hesch, 2011

The day opened with so much
of my little world wearing
a white gesso, waiting
for men to paint their marks
upon the pristine scene.
With the huff of their grunts
hanging frozen in the air
if only for a second,
with the chuff of their shovels
opening a wrinkle in the unsullied,
with their blowers snorting smoke
and throwing the fallen pieces
back toward the gray sky,
only to see them descend again
as Nature, with great gravity,
laughs at their puny efforts.
Then along come the plows,
with their dead, unblinking eyes
lighting the way, to gouge the skin of winter,
wide channels of black and brown,
made worse by throwing salt into its wounds.

But out back, no shovel,
nor agent of man’s need
to improve Nature by sullying
its beauty, has left its scar.
It’s too cold even for the deer
to place their punctuation
on the virgin page.
Perhaps tomorrow, the crows will be
the first to write Nature’s script
as they drop in twos upon the snow,
quotation marks for the Winter artist
who prefers to paint in one color,
whistle and hum a tuneless tune,
and speak loud without saying a word.

Winter Haiku 2017

The town’s turned all white
with the first December snow —
Useless to fight, I know

I awoke to find
the ground wrapped in swaddling clothes —
Snowy rind. Red nose

Crunchy underfoot,
the backyard an empty page —
Snow in my boot – rage

Christmas weeks away,
the new tree arrayed with lights —
I pray. Fam’ly fights

Santa doesn’t come,
to some kids in my old ‘hood —
Bum, they were e’en good

What if ol’ Christmas
didn’t come around one year?
Bad business, I fear

Shoveled all morning
and now my back’s all janky.
Warning! I’m cranky!

Because of my current creative speed-bumps, I thought I’d go back to the start of it all for Poet Joe–haiku. Of course, knowing me, you’d expect at least a little wrinkle. Yeah, I tried to rhyme the first two lines within the five measly syllables of the final line. Mission (sorta) accomplished.

25-Below

The north wind leans against the pines,
shouldering them away from
the snow squalls while it shoves me
back inside, hiding from
the 25 minuses it pushes, too.
It’s the inevitable of winter
here in the upper right corner
of your screen.

Sun swears it’s the same
that cozies the bottom margin
of the Land of the Free, but that’s
just more election-year politicking.
“You can trust me
for all your warming needs,” he promises.
Liar.

It’s so cold, even windblown weeds
shiver, some of their leaves jumping off
and heading south, where folks say
the plusses outweigh these minuses.
I don’t think I could live with myself,
though, where the natives wear parkas
when it’s 50.

Hafta

Cardinal

In the afternoon, the cardinals called
from one side of the road to the other,
and back again, in their scarlet on white
notes of winter discontent.
I walked between the call and response
of the two red bluesmen,
each pining for something they felt,
not knowing a definitive why,
other than “I hafta.”

To my left, I heard the song again,
and then the drive and dip flight
toward my right of the late winter player.
Toward what? Did it matter?
Snow began to fall and the song faded
among the maples.

I whistled something like
the cardinal’s song among the flakes
along my way home.
On the snowy shoulder of a birch
out front of the house, I saw him,
his head moving in twitchy turns
with my twitchy air.

He corrected my pronunciation
and flew off, disappearing in the wash
of white surrounding us. I dutifully
brushed snow from the doorway
and wondered what it’d be like
to stop pining, to feel something
other than cold, and know why
I wanted to continue singing.
Maybe just because “I hafta.”

Winter Blues

 

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The shadows on the snow are blue,
I think. Are they shivering cold
or shaking in the wind lying there
on that white expanse left unbroken all winter?
I’m sure I’d be blue if I went all cursive
on that pristine page. Instead,
I sit here in an off-gray pallor,
the dermatological equivalent of
an inside voice, while I interview shadows,
present and past, outside my double-paned
Emily Dickinson-autograph model world view.

An orphan orange leaf races blindly across
the tree shadows, like it’s frantic to
be gathered up in their arms again,
while I gather all these
different hues of blues,
all the azures and ultramarines,
cobalts and cyans, sorrows and desolations,
and scatter them like leaves
of complimentary colors across
this snowfield beneath my hand.

The shadows are growing longer now,
wider and darker, too, turning
to indigo and eventually, I would guess,
to midnight, when they’ll be near-black,
mourning the passing of this
sun-bright day, when I could sit
and compare all my blues to theirs
and not once feel sad about.
No, not even once.

The Breakup

In its latest relationship,
ice stays the silent type,
until it cracks a sinister smile
on its baby-smooth face,
hissing a warning
to come no closer.
It’s a devoted lover.
The cold-hearted river’s
only too willing to let ice
lie to you behind its glassy stare.
It’ll ignore you if you ask,
while faithful ice keeps
the river’s secret ways.
But eventually the waiting water
grows impatient,
breaking the silence of winter,
pushing aside its intimate,
forcing it from its bed,
battering the secret-keeper
while it rushes down
to bully more than just ice
and the shore.

Go to the Light

TTT ~ Go to the Light

Photo by Heather Grace Stewart

Sun’s face on white
x-rays winter’s condition.
Terminal, I hope.
But the frigid old
superannuated bitch
just won’t let go.
I’m no doctor, but
just look at that angiogram
silhouette of birch, dear.
Little red droplets
on its fingertips
are your cue to skidoo.

There’s a verdant virgin
waiting on this room
and she’s got all the
boys’ fancies turning to,
you know, love…
and golf and baseball
and girls’ bare,
smooth-shaven thighs,
like the beautiful branches
of that white birch
you’re clinging to.

Just let go, babe.
Go to the light.

The Gift

3-28 FWF

As I recall, it started at that Christmas party. I was the guest of Angela, a new girl I’d met in the food court during breaks at the mall. She said she worked at the toy store. And believe me, this chick looked like the angel you’d want perched on the tippy-top of your Christmas tree,

“Try some of our wassail, David,” said Mr. Caligari, who Angie ID’d as her manager. Now, I’m usually a Miller Light guy, but hey, it was the holidays and I was his guest and all. Plus, with a chick as fine as Angie, I needed a little extra courage.

After a couple of those spicy punches—okay, six—was when a spinning sensation hit me. There was a flash of light and then…nothing. Not black nor darkness. Nothing.

Some time later, the tickle and chill of cold crystals upon my face brought some hazy lucidity back to me. I saw a pair of black boots walk by me, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why they were walking up the cold wall upon which I was resting. That was when I discovered my point of view was skewed by ninety degrees. I lifted myself off the snow-dusted sidewalk to get a better view of where I was and who belonged to those lovely limbs stuffed into clicking-along black leather.

Once on my feet, I staggered with the wooziness of a landlubber his first time at sea and I couldn’t quite catch my bearings. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the snow cast this neighborhood in a twinkling cloud, a disguise behind which I couldn’t tell if I was in Albany or Albania, Arbor Hill or Ann Arbor.

I felt a little steadier on my feet, so I peered through the snow at what appeared to be Angie, my angel with the seriously articulating architecture, striding sinuously up the street. The girl moved like she was on rails. I recognized those boots, but then split my gaze from the mesmerizing seesaw of her denim-hugged seat and the hypnotically spinning umbrella she carried on her shoulder.

My uncertainty with the surroundings and hazy grasp on everything in general urged my feet to take chase after Angela, follow her tracks and get some idea if a truck had hit me or some of her boss’ wassail.

But my feet wouldn’t work. Well, that’s not exactly true. I could spin them like crazy but I could move forward only a foot or two, like I was treading water.

“Angela,” I called, “What the heck’s going on? Where are we?”

But she just kept walking, but not walking. Her feet moved, but she wasn’t going too far, either, despite the footprints that trailed her like my once-hungry-now-frightened eyes.

It was just about that time I felt the ground rise up under me, and the light got brighter. The entire neighborhood started spinning and quaking like Magnitude 7 or 8 SoCal temblor. Then everything stopped. Just like that. Well except for the snow, which was swirling a blizzard, even though I couldn’t feel all that much cold nor wind.

“Angela,” I called once more. “Where the hell are we?” Then I heard it. A ratcheting metallic sound, then chimes, followed by a muffled voice.

“Oh, Mommy, it’s the beautifullest snow globe ever!” the voice said.

That’s when I looked up and saw this little girl’s face in the clouds.

This story’s based on that picture at the top of the story and this scenario from my friend Kellie Elmore: “You suddenly find yourself standing alone on an unknown sidewalk in an unknown place. It’s night and snowing and the only other person around is walking away from you….”

Only had the chance to hit it at lunch, but here you are, Kell. No time for edits and it kinda got away from me.

December Morning

Deer bracing for another blizzard

Deer bracing for another blizzard (Photo credit: Garen M.)

It’s so cold you can feel the fabric of your pants stiffen around your legs when you tip-toe-slide on the ice from the front door to your car. It sits there shivering and panting steamy like an exhausted asthmatic who’s just finished a 400-meter dash on this below-zero morning.

You grunt your manly huff, grasp the door handle and break the grip of new ice that wants to lock you out of both your house and your ride, while your keys sway and sweat condensation in the ignition. With two cracks–of door and spine–you stiffly fold into the seat, trying not to sigh a blindfold spot onto the windshield at the thought of struggling through another upstate winter, braving the cold drive from one warm place to another for three months.

At the end of the road, while you wait to turn onto the slick roadway, you notice how different the roots look across the way in the sun-dappled sugar bush down by the stream. That’s when you notice three of the maples’ bases turn and stare at you, stand on spindly legs to bound across the road from their snow beds, and wave white mittens on their way deeper into the long, frozen shadows, where everywhere is cold to cold with freezing in-between.

For a second you feel a rush of heat upon your cheeks, a shiver up and down your spine. You adjust the defroster and lose your train of thought as a fourth deer joins her comrades in a different kind of morning commute. With a shrug, you hear the radio voice warn of six more inches tomorrow and figure it could always be worse.

Christmas Tales

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As I gaze out the window of my second floor writing lair this morning, the sun stretches the shadows of the trees–vacant, red-bud maples and the solid spruces–almost due south to north. A blue jay swoops and sits on the limb in front of me and we each check the nuthatch scurrying around the branches in three dimensions like a three year old full of candy running through the house on Christmas morning.

The dit-dot footprints of the wild ones, their own Morse Code, write messages and stories across the snow. That blue-white sheet, with one snowfall above another, works a lot like what a writer would hope to do. So much has been written beneath this surface, informing with depth and height that etched above.

And that’s how this Christmas message works, too. What I don’t see out there, what you don’t exactly feel, is the second set of plodding prints to and from the house, running perpendicular to the rest of this natural manuscript. That emptiness extends into the house and to hearts within the walls.

But, like all those tales told in the snow…that’s life. And today is a day to express the joy we feel for the life lived here among these sleepy, shivering trees and that life yet to come. It’s been a good one, as I hope yours has been, is today and will be, along with ours.

Now, as you can see, I’ve got some reading to do out back. Merry Christmas, friends! Blessings of this season to all!