She Was So Pretty When We Were Young

I knew her when I was younger,
she’d smile at me every morning
when we’d stand up in class and
talk to the flag and the cross.
She was so pretty then, adventurous
and friendly, the Supermodel-in-training.
She helped all the kids, even new ones
transferred in from other neighborhoods.
But some big kids mistook her friendliness,
for weakness, twisting it into some
unspoken promise of a good ol’ time.
They used her in indulgent perversions
of power and possession.

When we got older, those big kids
corrupted her, trotted her around, showed her off,
gave her a new face, new boobs, new persona.
My friend became so addled by all
of their push, prod and promises that,
in the end, she’d do whatever the big guys said,
even nod hollow-eyed when they lied about her.
I barely recognized her in her obit t’other day.
You may have missed it, being so busy
doing what they let you think you want to do.
I’m told they laid her next to her mom,
who men used, debased and scarred until
she was unrecognizable, too.

I wrote most of this poem, originally titled “Liberty Has Fallen,” almost four years ago. I based it on my friend Kellie Elmore’s prompt of a picture called Fall of Liberty, which I think was something like the one illustrating this marginally updated version. In four years, not much has changed. Maybe just the volume’s turned up.

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The Starry Night

Tonight my warm chair wrapped
itself around me in a room
illuminated by a TV
and thoughts of Christmases
I missed, though albums
of photos prove I was there.
Over in the corner stands
the new Christmas tree,
bedazzled in ornaments
of new gold, like Hanukkah gelt,
and in old silver, shiny
and cold as a dead fish
on some frozen shore.
It has yet to be lit
for more than a minute since
that angel alit on its tiptop.
So I withdrew from my chair’s embrace,
crossing the room to plug it in.
But out the window, I saw how
the moon had risen above the trees
and how it ignited swirling breaths
of snow that danced in the dark
like Van Gogh’s stars over Arles.
And above them actual stars
roamed in their courses,
as if looking for Bethlehem
or maybe even Albany.
In that moment, with stellar
guidance from light that traveled
for two thousand years,
traveled past all those nights
I spent without any Sleep to knit up
my ravell’d sleeve of care, woke
warm memories of Christmases past.
Of winking lights in blue eyes
and glittering packages as full of love
as they were knitted sweaters.

Awake in a Flash

It wasn’t lightning nor thunder
that woke me last night.
though I’m certain it was
a flash of something bright.
And I think that’s what
made me sit bolt upright.

So I asked myself
“Could this all be a dream?”
‘Cause at night some things
may not be what they seem,
like seeing the face of an old lover
in the gleam of a high beam.

As I looked ‘round the room
thinking, “Well, now I’m awake,”
that same ache in my chest
started my hands to shake.
Yeah, this latest high beam gleam,
courtesy of that same old heartbreak.

Step Nine

There’s this guy who penned a story
he’ll never share with you.
It’s a tale of two people who
should have, but ultimately never knew

their true feelings for each other
but should have sensed them coming.
Not roaring like a freight train, but
maybe a funeral parade’s muted drumming.

In it he tells her how he’s sorry
for the way he let her down,
though she’s so hurt she’ll forever view
him as a vain and heartless clown.

But he was compelled to tell her,
to again open his scarred wounds,
to make amends for damage he’d done
so he could listen to the old tunes

that always brought to his mind an Us
where only a He and She existed.
And though he fought like hell to forget her,
some of the obsessive feelings persisted.

So he comes clean with his long story,
all of the wherefores and the whys,
of how he one day just disappeared,
bringing her to forever despise

the guy who always lent a sympathetic ear
and a strong shoulder she could lean on.
How he followed some “expert’s” orders
to break away from the damage he was so keen on.

It ends with him saying a last goodbye,
after listening to her side of their tale.
But you’ll never read this story,
that’s always been his white whale.

It’s something he fought for years
to get out of his crippled system,
but now that he has, he feels no catharsis,
only realization of this hard wisdom:

You can follow all the steps prescribed
to cure your crippling addictions,
but until you confess your failings to yourself,
your true stories are nothing but true fictions.

Just so you understand, my poem is only a free-written, first-draft creative exercise in storytelling and rhyme. What is it they say at the beginning of Law & Order episodes? “The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.” However, feel free to run it on your mind’s big screen through whatever personal lens you wish. It’s yours now.

White Lines, Dark Heart

This cunning minx came
slinking up on me
like a movie villainess
only without the swelling
heartbeat theme music and
sudden silence before she
took me. The air warmed,
like a sultry lover’s breath,
and I thought I saw the car
begin sucking up the dotted
road lines like they
were spaghetti.
Their snaking movement
mesmerized me, simmering me
in their pale-striped pyrexia.
That’s when her hands caressed
my face and things went black.
Somehow, though, I fought off
her womanly wiles before
she could turn up the radio,
then switch it off and
everything went sideways.
This time.

Seeking Shelter from the Storm

“… where storms sleep lightly … ” ~John O’Donohue

I found the bedclothes
knotted around my legs,
as once again I awaken.
This for the fourth time,
that I can remember at least.
When you sleep only four
or five hours a night
your mind can forget what’s real
and what’s imagined.

Notice I didn’t say dreamed,
for dreams don’t come often
in the stormy state that passes
for sleep in my hazy experience.
I’ve awoken with a gasp,
as if I’d been held underwater
to the limits of my breath.
I’ve leapt from my bed
in a flight-or-fight frenzy
no nightmare provoked.

I’ve dropped into slumber
at my desk, in mid-conversation
and at the wheel so many times
it brings me to tears as easily
as anger. But I show you neither.
I just walk through each day
in a waking dream, where reality’s
gummy stuff clinging to my eyes.

I see things in a twilight
at noon, as if through
the torrential curtain that falls
on both the living and dead.
Through green eyes I see your hours
of nocturnal shelter from this storm.
And I’ve looked at the peaceful rest
of the grave and think,
“How wonderful!”

Wrote this right out of bed (again), in response to the prompt of that quote at its beginning. It’s courtesy of my friend Sharyl Fuller from her Writing Outside the Lines site. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that sleep (often the lack thereof) is a common theme of the Hesch oeuvre.

A Message Without Words

The western hemisphere of the Blue Marble.
Image Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory

No birds do I hear
nor squirrels I see running
in the trees out back.
A sign that something’s coming?
Maples dropping leaves
in August is a surprise,
though not unheard of.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes
since I was a small kid
a time or two I would say.
But please tell which wind
would blow the bird songs away.
And shouldn’t squirrels
be stocking their year-end stores
in expectation
of winter’s cold at their doors?
The birds should still sing
if not all day, then morning.
If they don’t, is it
maybe some kind of warning?
Perhaps I see ghosts
or I’m reading ‘tween the lines.
While Fall’s weeks away,
calendars can’t read these signs
that weather’s changing,
even the animals can tell.
They’re telling us
in a language clear as bell
that maybe it’s time
to not just listen, but hear
the warning we’ve missed
that’s told all around this sphere.
They don’t know science,
but instinct sometimes trumps all.
Even animals know
we’ve fucked up our big Blue Ball.

The maples ARE dropping their leaves in August. And yesterday even I noticed the birdsongs had stopped, only the sound of crows remaining. I haven’t seen the squirrels and woodchucks that use my back yard as a combination supermarket and playground for days. I’m sure this is some anomaly, but even this vacuous scribbler can see our weather is changing…and faster than just Earth’s historical shifts. Ergo, I let Nature tell this little rhyming verse in links of five and seven syllable lines — the classic nature poetic form of the haiku.