The View From the Precipice Through Gray Eyes

As I sit with her sleeping on my chest,
I wonder how her world will be
if she gets the chance to be my age.
Will she ever be able to swim
in a clean lake, hide beneath a dock
where you can clearly see all the way
to the shore from beneath the water?

Will she ever return from a visit
to The Great White North and be greeted
by border protectors who only mildly mistrust her
because she might be hiding duty-free booze
in the trunk, rather than meeting scowling guys
who mistrust everyone coming across
the Rainbow Bridge who have the dark tan
and jet black hair I did at 18?

Will she be free to read, write and speak
about anything, in any manner, for and against,
as I have my whole communicative life?
She makes a wiggle and opens her gray eyes
for a second, sees someone who loves her
holding her close, safe and warm, and I wonder.

Will she one day hold her grandkid and realize
what a special thing we had in this little town,
in her Grandpa’s old big-hug country
I once thought was full of possibilities,
back before the precipitous fall into
a land of Not Anymore?

I’ve always wondered, with both my granddaughters, the blue-eyed and the gray, how the future will be for them. It’s always been windy at the top of this mountain, but these days I worry more than I ever have a rank gust could blow us off.

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Her Very Sorrow

If I, in thought,
felt not her very sorrow,
then I, in being,
am not very much a man.
If I, in jest,
made light of her plight,
then I, in the light,
am darker than the night.
If I, in belief,
see her as less than I,
then I, in truth,
am immeasurably less than she.
If I, in verse,
did not address her horror,
then I, in truth,
must never speak again.
If I, in thought,
felt not her very sorrow,
then I, in being,
do not deserve tomorrow.

Inspired by the current scenes that I can’t unsee and those first two lines, which are from Act 4, scene 4 of Two Gentlemen of Verona. No, I won’t illustrate this piece. You know what I mean.

Grandpa’s Favorite

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.
Hmmm…

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.

You Are Here

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.

Divided

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?

Holiday Blues

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 Christmas Concert

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.