You Can Observe a Lot Just by Watching

From where I sit in the parking lot,
I can’t tell if there’s a driver
in that black Mercedes over there
with the black-shaded windows, so
I’ve no way of knowing if he
noticed the broken glass he’s parked atop.
It’s tinted a bluish hue,somewhere
just south of cerulean, like a March baby’s
aquamarine,if you turn your head just so.

If that’s the case, he more than likely
isn’t noticing the brown-on-brown wren
over there picking seeds from the ironweed
ringing the flaked yellow painted
concrete block walls of this garage.
Chances are then, he missed the tossed
baby diaper, wrapped tight as
a chimichanga con mierda,
that’s bisected by sun and shadow.

He’s not sitting out here
humming to the harmonious whoosh
of the cars on their way west out of Albany,
or those few headed into town,
on this hot July Saturday at noon.
Oh, here he…no, she…comes from the back
of the tailor shop, big sunglasses
perched on her perfect and pert nose,
dark and secretive as her car windows.

And now there she goes, whooshing
away in a spray of blue glass,
grey gravel,
a frightened wren,
tiny seeds and a sun-faded,
smiling Elmo, Sesame Street diaper.
She’ll never know what she missed.

On this enshrinement day at the Baseball Hall of Fame, just a little ways west of here in Cooperstown, I’m put in mind of old Yogi, the great Yankee Hall of Famer and blue-collar philosopher Lawrence Peter Berra. He’s quoted as saying, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” I guess I kind of proved that yesterday.

The Open Gate


“Did you not set a guard or lock the stockade gate?” The Fort Orange commander asked Simon Schermerhorn, wincing as a surgeon bound up his wounded leg, of the massacre at Schenectady the night before.

“It was so cold, sir, and we had sent out Mohawk scouts to forewarn us if any French or their native allies were coming, so we felt safe and…not exactly,” Schemerhorn said, dropping his chin to his chest and sipping more hot rum to warm him from his freezing cold ride along the Mohawk River to Fort Orange.

Outside, the wind blew the deep snow, almost obscuring the trees from the guards set along the fort’s western stockade, the one facing the place named for Mohawk phrase for “beyond the pines,” where a French and Indian raiding party might be lying in wait to attack after sacking the village, killing many inhabitants still in their night clothes and carrying off many captives.

“With all that potential for attack and wiping us all out, what do you mean, ‘Not exactly,’ Herr Schermerhorn?” the commander said.

“Well, sir, it was horrible cold and we were feeling fairly safe, waiting to hear from our scouts, so we left the stockade open and did set a guard of…two,um, snowmen,” Schermerhorn said, wincing again, but not in pain.

With a slight simplification and distillation, here is a conversation between Simon Schermerhorn and the military commander of what would one day be my hometown, Albany, New York. On the night of Feb. 8, 1690, Schermerhorn escaped the massacre of the village of Schenectady and, wounded in the leg, set off on horseback through the snow and cold, following the Mohawk River east, to warn the garrison at Fort Orange. Legend has it the authorities in the village were feeling safe that night and indeed did set a guard at the open gate of two snowmen. This five-sentence fiction was inspired by the anniversary of that night and Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word, OPEN.

First Prize


First PrizeWhen I became a teen, and tired of sharing beds, berths and fraternity with my four brothers, I moved into the unheated room off the kitchen of our home. In winter, I’d scrunch my body into a fist and tightly cocoon it head to toe within a wool blanket. Then I’d shake my body to generate enough heat to simmer me off on an eight-hour hibernation.

If I scraped a hole in the frost off my window, beneath the winter moon I could peek into the neighbors’ diaries written in laundry on clothes lines that strung from back porches to poles at the other end of shotgun barrel backyards. And across the railroad tracks over into West Albany, shining above it all, you could see the all-night sundown glow from the giant sign above the Tobin Packing Company plant .

On summer nights, when the room and I needed an open window to breathe, we’d hear the trains go through and some clank to a stop outside the slaughterhouse. I even heard the sound of the hogs being squeezed from their airless rail cars along the narrow suspended walkway into the factory. From there they were somehow scrunched into sausage casings, packed side-by-side as First Prize hot dogs, a pitiless and final escape.

Years later, on a blowtorch summer afternoon, I sneaked behind a wall into the abandoned plant. I climbed to the room where the hogs blindly ran in the cruel hope of escaping untenable overcrowding with their brothers. I remember seeing walls shedding their old paint like forgotten ancient frescoes, the concrete basin stained with lost life in the killing room, the necklace of hooks on a chain encircling the room and hearing ghosts and echoes I didn’t wish to hear. Looking eastward out a vacant casement, I tried to see my bedroom window across the haze of distance and time.

And, on that August afternoon, I shivered in the cold.

© 2014, Joseph Hesch. All rights reserved


My Regret

Albany at Night

Photo by Amarshall224

Here’s my regret.
I was born in its embrace and
more than likely will be buried in it, too.
My regret’s as old as or older
than yours, I’ll bet, and once claimed
more than a hundred thousand souls.
Many walked away from her, though.
They saw futures somewhere out there,
with regrets bigger and more exciting
than this laid ready for the taking.
It’s funny about the hold
of my regret, though, here
at the crossroads of history,
where men and laws have been made,
defended and broken. She’ll never
let me go, this Albany,
my town, my regret.

I’m catching up on some missed days of Poem-A-Day April and NaPoWriMo 2014. In this lunchtime drabble I combined prompts from P-A-D and NaPo, one calling for a city poem and the other calling for me to replace a tangible noun (in this case “town,”) with an intangible one (“regret”). Did a double-switch, like a National League manager, there at the end. I hope I did them justice.

Strength in Numbers

A Five Sentence Fiction

(Warning: This story contains strong language.)

Stooped with pain, the old man strained to lift his two plastic grocery bags upon the bus stop bench next to a drowsy young man whose heavily muscled arms bore the illustrated truth and imaginings of a life spent in Darwinian street survival.

“Say, old dude, gimme dollar, a’ight?” the young man said in a tone and posture that carried more threatening certainty than a questioning request.

“I have no dollars to give you, young man, but I can give you some of my food, an apple or bagel perhaps, because that’s how I was taught and because you remind me of someone who would always pet my dog Misty when we walked through the old neighborhood,” the old man thinly smiled and said in a hoarse whisper.

Another young man, not so big as the first, but with a sure look of malevolent resolve in his eyes, entered the bus stop and laughed when he jostled the old man, spilling his hat and groceries on the ground.

“Hey, motherfucker,” Randall Jenkins, late of lower Livingston Avenue in Arbor Hill, stood and said with the cool confidence of the power of memory, “you’d best pick that shit up for my man Mr. Malowicz and get the fuck outta here before we kick your narrow, stringy ass way the fuck over to Madison Avenue.”

A lunch-break Five Sentence Fiction based upon Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word STRENGTH. I put a bunch of what I thought were instances of that word in this piece. Can you find them?

Broken Spell

Morning Smokestack

Morning Smokestack (Photo credit: Mr. Ducke)

Looking like a broken spell
emanating from the long brick finger
of the heating plant’s stack,
a rosy steam plume glowed and
scattered with the wind
into a memory of palest pink.
Even busted so, it entranced me enough
to stare for a few seconds,
though continued magic became diluted
by the sun’s climb to beatify
with halos the Albany rooftops.

It’s only a winter wizard can cast
these natural phantasms,
the sun situated just so
and the brutal January cold
setting deep the peach gelatine bed
of late dawn’s horizon.
With a gentle cough the silver-hair
makes his climb to gray-on-grayer
shadow world of warm cubicles
whose light conjures as much
benevolent sorcery as a paper cut.

Champagne Tommy

Statue of former-Mayor Thomas Whalen III and h...

Statue of former-Mayor Thomas Whalen III and his dog Finn McCool in Tricentennial Park, Albany, NY, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here in Albany’s Tricentennial Park,
he’s sitting on the bench to my right,
old Mayor Champagne Tommy, bronzer than
any old toper could ever get in a gin mill.
The alloyed but not allied Dutchman and Mohawk
stand between us–the former overdressed,
and the latter, barely dressed at all.
But Tommy’s rigged for action,
collar buttoned and tie snugged up nicely.
The former judge’s jacket’s open,
exposing the slightly straining belt and buckle
tucking back years spent
sitting at the Bar and in a few.
Tommy’s got a big head,
too big for his hairline, as I like to say.
But Tommy’s comb-over withstands winds
and rains. Hell, even blizzards won’t budge it.
Yeah, he’s a statue.

“Assiduity,” blares the Dutchman, beckoning
with two fingers and his jaunty Van Dyke,
like some stuffy maître d’ in Utrecht or
maybe a ruffly pimp in Amsterdam.
The Indian remains silent, probably
not wishing to draw attention to himself,
as if standing near-naked next to
that Dutch dandy wasn’t baring witness already.
But Champagne Tommy, grinning that perpetual
grin, pays his neighbors no mind. He’s squinting
unblinking amity out onto Broadway, watching
each day’s passing parade and sharing his
park with the lunchtime crowd and their
cell phones, sandwiches and lattes.

Tommy rests on his bench, his left arm
draped across it’s back, as if waiting
for some downtown companion
to curl into his metal-firm embrace.
If she doesn’t show, Tommy will be okay.
He still has his burly blond pal, Finn McCool,
by his side. Finn sits on the ground
beneath his master’s right hand,
silent, strong, smiling his dog smile,
giving new meaning to the command, “Stay.”
The tulips are in bloom here today, their big
annual celebration kicking off tomorrow.
Tommy won’t be attending this year,
though his spirit presides over every party
this town throws. C’mon, why do you think
he’s called Champagne Tommy?

“Slainth Mhath,” Tommy. Even now,
you’re the life of the party.

Seal of the City of Albany, NY monument in Tri...

Seal of the City of Albany, NY monument in Tricentennial Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I used to sit with old Tommy at lunchtime when I worked in downtown Albany. I may have been the only non-tourist long-term sitter to hang with His Honor on that broiling or freezing bronze bench.