It’s not that I was the tallest.
Not by a long shot.
Nor the best looking or cutest.
Well, maybe at age 2. Smartest?
Who knew back then?
But I always got the impression
I was my grandfather’s favorite.
Now, I don’t admit this with any
overweening pride. My pride lies
scattered and broken somewhere
in the basement or in my closet.
Years ago, I dropped it and
lots of people stepped on it.
But I can tell you the old man
would lift me into his dump truck
and let me fire up the engine.
He’d give only me nickels
to scratch his bald head while
he dropped off for a nap.
He called me Angelo and
I’ve never quite figured out why,
since I bear the same name he did.
But then, he christened all my cousins
with individual nicknames, too.
Now I have two granddaughters
and I could never say one’s
my favorite, since they’re
so wonderfully different.
Their three-plus-year age gap looks
so vast when the oldest is barely four.
But here’s what I hope happens
when I’m finally hanging out
with that old man again in
the Valhalla of Hesches:
I want each of my granddaughters
to believe she was my favorite…
because she would be right.
On Day #16 of the PAD Challenge, the prompt was for a “favorite” poem. Which is hard because I don’t have a favorite much of anything. So I just sat at the keyboard and started typing. I often forget the free write is my friend. So here’s the “favorite poem,” which has what someday might be three of my favorite lines concluding it.
Every Place is a Face,
by Ed Fairburn
There were six of us,
a number now decreased to four,
of which I’m still the oldest.
And while some may think
holding that position
has hereditary privileges, it also
has its responsibilities and duties.
Or at least it did for me.
If you take the role seriously,
you’re the one who will mind
the second or third littlest —
change them, feed them, keep
the roar down to a rumble —
since Mom will be elbow deep
into the youngest’s care.
At seventeen, I ran away
to a college out west (well,
Rochester), giddy with the thought
that finally I’d be alone to fend
for myself and invent the guy
I might really be, or wanted to be.
All I was sure of was he looked
just like me. And that was the problem.
No matter how hard you try,
eventually you’ll look at that guy
in the mirror and see a nose like Dad’s
and your sisters’s, eyes brown as Mom’s
and your brother’s. A map of the place
only your family lives. And you
might as well admit it, that face,
no matter who resides behind it,
always leads you back to your family.
And that’s where you’ll always belong.
For Day #8 of April, 2018’s PAD Challenge, we were to write a family poem. That one cuts deep for me in so many places and so many ways. And I mean cuts. You can see the roads and rivers and other signs of man and God as they trod from my expanding forehead to my sagging chin. Or at least I see where we’ve been. ‘Nuff said.
In basic math, they call the resulting number of something divided by another something a quotient. For instance, the quotient of 6 divided by 3 is 2. In elementary school, the teachers snuck a test by us to quantify each of our abilities to learn. The test generated a number called an Intelligence Quotient. Here’s the confusing thing, though: In mathematics (or arithmetic, as we called it back in the post-abacus/pre-calculator days) you divided two numbers to come up with a quotient; with the IQ test, it was the intelligence quotient that did the dividing of all the students. This bothered my sense of fair play and caused Barbara and Terry to sit on the other side of class. I asked the Sister why and she said it was for the best. Then I asked to go to the boys room. On my way back to my new desk, I snuck a look at the list she used to divide us. I found my name next to a number. I returned to my seat and pondered how they could divide 1 from 32 and come up with 147. Dumb asses. And they wonder why I hated math.
For Day #5 of the PAD Challenge, we were charged with writing a poem based on the word or concept of “intelligence.” I quickly — and I mean before breakfast quickly — came up with this prose-like thingamabob recalling how the black-habited powers that be separated some students from others after we took a certain weird test. I usually obeyed authority. I’d question the hell out of it to see if it deserved it. I wonder if that’s why some teachers always said I was a smartass?
The shadows of the trees
defy gravity as they glide
up the hill on snow and moonlight.
The full moon hangs there like
a silver plate in their branches,
bigger and brighter than
any ornament on the Christmas tree.
Its beams a soft blue glow
over the icy landscape,
the shadows inky scratches
that will record upon this new page
the first month of another year.
And I sit here, as unilluminated
as a man can be when the gloom’s
consumed him even as he’s
absorbed the gloom.
Downstairs, I hear the children,
voices bright as lustrous trumpets.
Upon their timeless reveille,
a spark floats up to this room,
by this window, into this heart,
where before all was darkness,
save for the blue on the snow
and the shadows reaching out
for me once more. But not tonight.
Tonight, their light’s found me
and they’ve saved me once more.
Photo © 2014 Joseph Hesch
The three-year-olds stand
on little steps at the end
of the lunchroom, all sparkling
in their holiday best.
They fidget and chitter
like thoroughbreds in the gate,
waiting for the flag to drop.
As their teacher’s hand
rises and falls in time,
they shout piles of sing-song
sounds that ring of
“We Wish You a Mary Kiss-muss.”
On they gallop to the finish line
of “and a happ-pee noo year!”
Some arrive ahead of teacher’s pace,
some lag a step, yet they all shine
like Christmas stars, not noticing how
they reflect the audience’s beaming.
I looked into her brown eyes
today, and recalled a time
when guile gained no traction there.
Nor in her heart.
I recalled studying
another pair of eyes
just like hers once.
Soft brown and hopeful.
They looked out at life
with such high expectations
and unspoken exclamations
of “Gee whiz” & “Oh boy!” too.
Now I look into her eyes
and see life’s hard lessons
have punched her in the face.
Just like they did to me.
That’s when I spied her
peering into my eyes.
She wore a knowing expression
I couldn’t quite place
until I passed that mirror.
Finally asleep at 1:30,
awakening again around 4:00,
and here I’d hoped
I’d see this affliction no more.
The thoughts that prod me
and keep me from sleep
have changed over the years
yet still tend to seep
out from my heart
and into my mind,
even though I recognize
them now as all of a kind
of confusion, delusion
and hope I can’t reach
from this place on my back
where even experience didn’t teach
me to leaven with sensibility
the gut feelings of sense.
Which is why, after four hours,
I awaken, staggering but intense,
fighting my way through the fog
that comes with this deprivation.
And yet, once again by day’s end,
I’ll lie here in resignation
that I can’t control the world,
you, your future or the past.
Maybe that’s why I toss until
I drop into darkness at last.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give
to nod off by eleven,
awaken around seven,
and worry less about you,
and the sadness you live through.
I’d lay my head on the pillow,
where soon sweet dreams would billow.
In peace, eleven to seven,
knowing that you
are sleeping peacefully, too.
Yeah, that would be heaven.