Frozen in Those Four-Alarm Feelings

She asked me what it was like 
to live up there where it 
got Winter early and Spring so late. 
I had to sit for a second to remember. 
Even though remembering’s 
almost all we old guys do.
Mostly what I recalled was the heat 
on my face and the chill on my back, 
like when I would chase the sirens 
and lights to those trailer fires, 
where someone’s whole life, 
and few lives themselves, 
would go up in a smoke so stinking 
it clings to my memory harder 
than it clung to my clothes back then.
But the fires weren’t the recollection 
I was thinking of when she asked me.
No, it was heat of your breath on my face 
and the icy chill of the known unknown 
coursing down my back and how they melted 
together and steamed within me ~ and us ~ 
that one night I’ll never forget. 

Hold On, Hold On

I wish I had a life something like yours, 
as sad as you feel you are. 
Yes, it’s dealt you some busted hands,
here and there…even there…a scar.
But at least you’ve lived and loved
and felt, the sense that’s left me just old.
And now I’m seeing that light up ahead,
where the only touch I’ll feel is cold.
Looks like I’ll always be left to wonder
what my life would’ve been like if only…
Wondering doesn’t feel so soft and warm,
wondering like this only feels lonely.
Too late now to hope some day I’ll find 
what I’ve not often felt to feel better.
Your memories hold the warmth you’ve held,
and I pray someday we can hold some together.

City Skin

The heat of August remains in the sidewalk 
after the sun goes down, like a memory of the day. 
The girls, barefoot and playing at being ready, 
would remove their sandals on cool nights, 
dangle their toes off the stoops 
to massage them on that warm concrete skin 
of the city in the humming wake of street traffic. 

We boys would side-eye stare at their 
ostensible nakedness, from dirty soles 
to Promised Land thigh tops, from their 
bare shoulders to fingertips so small in our hands. 
I’d dream of massaging my fingers on their city skin. 
I’ve had such warm memories of those nights, 
now lying, as concrete as any I recall, 
in this sun-going-down Autumn of my life.

A reposting from my first poetry collection, Penumbra: The Space Between.

Fallen Again

From their highest branch perch 
upon us they’ll spy,
in this sylvan church
on whose floor they’ll all lie.

But some have yet to fall,
though look at them sway,
like bold paintings on the wall
of a windy gallery display.

They must know come their ends,
colors bright as beacons,
as cold North Wind portends
and their grip weakens.

There goes another I see
I’d hoped might be staying.
Nature’s iconography
at which I’d been praying.

But all we can do is sigh
as they wave ‘bye and fly, remember,
when most leaves fall and die
come dark mid-November.

And that’s how it goes,
as years and we grow old.
Winter’s silver snows
will plate even autumn’s gold.

My prayers cannot stop
the passage of time.
Like leaves we’ll drop when we drop,
with or without silly rhyme.

It’s October and  I’ve fallen, dear,
and I don’t care if you’re an oak or birch.
Labels don’t matter to me here,
leaf’s a leaf, love’s love in my church.

Photo ©2015, Joseph Hesch 

Cherish This Present If Tomorrow I Become Your Past

I could tell you stories about the future 
if I only knew what the future times hold. 
But my time’s running down, I may not have 
much future left. So no such stories'll be told.
But I can tell you about some of my past,
at least what I felt of it way back when.
My recall might drift from real to dreamed,
so fantasy might be the genre I'll use of then.

These remembered stories are built of words
strung on these lines like sheets on a rope.
But if you really listen, and look between them,
you’ll understand my past was lined with hope.
These days I remember a face but can't the name,
I'll even see it when I detect a certain scent.
I feel that warm touch, hear a certain voice, 
but not know if it's true or what they meant.

Right now I’m cradling a picture in front of me
in black and white of someone I never knew.
Yet the feelings I’m feeling when I look in her eyes
are almost the same as those I got from you.
So I’ll cherish the image of this beautiful girl
even if her name I didn’t know until today.
And if tomorrow I might become part of your past,
I’ll cherish this present more than I can say.

Maybe Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, 
I will sit on the end 
of the dock with you. 
Our toes will dip into the lake 
and now and then kick up 
diamond mirrors of sky and clouds, 
dock and shore, you and me. 
This very well may be a fairy tale, 
for many reasons, 
not the least of which is 
we have no lake and 
the lake has no we.
But that doesn’t cool the warmth 
of your shoulder against mine,
or warm the cool water splashed 
on our legs and faces 
or dim the smiles that we’ll share,
once upon a time.

Always Front and Center, Or Just To the Right

You could see it in his eyes, 
always focused on what wasn’t there.
But she was.
He was thinking about her,
again, even though 
all the voices, even hers, 
told him not to.
“I need to think about her 
as often as I can,” he told
all those dissenting voices.

If he didn’t keep her 
focused in his thoughts, 
he feared he might one day forget her, 
misplace her, lose her, 
as many old men might.
So that’s where she stayed, 
front and center - sometimes 
just to the right - as he focused 
on what was important. If not 
in this life, he'd say to himself alone, 
for sure in their next.

A Sample From This Fountain of Youth

It's a shame my body and soul 
finally caught up to one another, 
now both old beyond their years. 
This heretofore angular form 
and slender spirit may be capable 
of entering into the occasion of sin, 
if they can somehow slip through 
the golden door to seal the deal.
My mind hasn’t yet suffered such decline 
as this willing flesh and weak soul. 
I'll bet its boyish imagination can still craft 
a workaround that might satisfy someone 
willing to sample a poetic taste of hope 
from this fantasy-flavored fountain of youth. 
Now, if I could only find my glasses.

The ABCs of Being Alice-Anne

Alice-Anne Andrei-Abbott was named after her grandmothers, neither of whom she ever met. But she was taught that each were women of great strength, faith and devotion to their families. 

Couple that bit of parental whimsy with her mother’s desire to keep her maiden name and Alice-Anne, who was wee bit of a thing, always found herself first in line for everything in school.

Divorce may have excised her father, Adam, from her life, but Alice-Anne would never drop her double-monikered surname, not even when her mother asked if she would.

“Everyone I know is a one namer, Mom. For crying out loud, even you,” Alice-Anne told her mother when Audra Andrei posited such a change after Alice-Anne graduated from high school.

“God damn it, Allie, this would be a perfect time for you to claim your own life from connection to a deadbeat dad’s names.”

“How can you say that, Mom?”

“I just did, Allie, it’s time.”

“Just because you don’t want anything to do with Daddy, doesn’t mean I have to erase that part of me from knowing who I am,” Alice-Anne said.

“Knowing who you are, Allie?”

“Like I haven’t noticed how you’ve removed any photos of me from when Daddy lived with us? Mom, my name — all my names, even those dead old ladies — make me who I am and it’s important to me not to get lost in the crowds I’ll meet in college.”

“Now I get it,” her mother said, her eyes narrowing.

“Oh, really, Mother? Please enlighten me with your epiphany about what I’m trying to say or do.”

“Quite simply, you say you want to stand out, but you’re actually afraid of becoming your own woman.”

“Right, haven’t you been listening to me? Say what you want to say, but I’m keeping my names.”

“That’s it, huh? Under no circumstances will you drop your father’s – the father who walked out on us over ten years ago — that father’s name?”

“Why do you really want me to do this, Mom? Extra-angry because you’re turning 50 next week and now he’s finally remarrying someone half your age, someone who actually buys into his narcissistic bullshit, someone without a puny little bookworm daughter who’s so so so so proud of how her mother raised her totally on her own and how I don’t want to lose his name because it’s a constant reminder that there are two sides to everyone and carrying around that extra weight has made me one fiercely strong little bitch? Exciting, huh?” Alice-Anne said as she  flexed her arms in a strongman’s pose.


“Zero chance of me changing my name, Mom. All I can say is, no one’s ever going to make me turn into something I don’t want to.”

“Better not even try, huh,” her mother said with a resigned grin.”

“Correct, Mommy. Damn it, I feel like beating up a large man right now, or maybe just crushing a disgustingly decadent burger, fries and ‘nilla shake over at Bad Daddy’s,” Alice-Anne said.

“Eating sounds like a less offensive, more legal way to go, Allie.”

“Freshman fifteen, here I come,” Alice-Anne said. 

“God, if you play this right, you might weigh in at a solid 105 by the time you graduate college. How would any of us recognize you?” Audra said with a laugh.

“I’m Alice-Anne Andrei-Abbott. Just stand back because no one’s going to mess with me.”

“Kinda like this new you I never knew existed,” Audra said as they walked out of the house.

“Learning more about myself every day, actually.”

“More than I ever did, it seems,” Audra said, gazing out the window. 

“Now let’s get out of here and enjoy ourselves one of the last times before you’re seen with your college girl daughter come September.” 

“Ow!” Alice-Anne said in the restaurant as her mother reached out and gave her hand a tight squeeze.”

“Promise me you’ll always be my little girl?”

“Quite depends on how many of these fries I can wolf down, I think. Really, Mom?”

“Seriously, Allie, Alice-Anne, my all grown up, thinking for herself young woman, just don’t…you know.”

“That’s another reason I’m keeping all my names, Ms. Andrei. Very important that people know who I am, but also who I come from. Why are you crying now, Mom?”

“Extra onions on this burger. You know how they get to me.”

“Zesty things, like us,” Alice-Anne said, winking from what she was sure were the invisible onions on her mother’s burger.

You’ll have to forgive the going-nowhere-and-not-very-fast nature of this little story. It was an exercise I attempted in order to break out of this creative stasis that’s enamored me for the past several months. “What exercise?” you might ask. Give each sentence a closer look, at least at the right-hand end of it. Now the next one. And the next…

I wanted to finish it with my first circuit, but ended up going around twice. Let’s just say it wasn’t as easy as ABC, but was fun to meet the character of Alice-Anne. That first sentence just sort of magically appeared on the top of the page and dragged me across the creative river from there. (And yes, I cheated on the Xs. You try breaking out of something like this. You’ll cheat, too.)

All The Questions Behind Our Masks

If you could hear my voice,
would you know who I am?
If you could see only my eyes,
would you just shrug and move on?
You, who notice so much, how would
I stand or walk or scratch
my nose that’d signal I’m
the one standing before you?

I only ask because years and tears
take their tolls, and to chase life,
we now wear masks to jump the stiles.
Would I recognize you, if you
covered half your face?
Your smile, once so infectious,
would retain some anonymity
and protection from me, though
your laugh might break through
as if shrouded only by Salome’s
diaphanous veils.

Would I recognize those pools
of sadness or of anger cascading
over your protective wall, as well
as your mask? It doesn’t matter.
Apart is our part in how life goes on,
and happy face to face need only
happen where there are no masks
and distance is dissolved in time
and the dark mask-drop of dreams.