Perhaps Among the Ashes a Spark Remains

As my days grow shorter,
this heart grows darker.
And as I look within
more and more, I see
the ashes of fires I made
with the torches I carried.
In what light still filters inside,
I see I’m surrounded by piles
of charcoal, charred remnants
of kindling I stacked and,
with warm words, teased
to flickering life
the gossamer tinder of whoever
I thought we were.

Some died from lack of heat,
others I failed to tend to enough,
and that one over there
you stomped out and kicked aside.
I wander this mausoleum of misses,
and gaze at the spaces
where heartwarming fires
turned to cold-hearted pyres.
Perhaps I’m just trying to find
a memory as I sigh among the ashes.
Or maybe I’m looking
for a spark or glow I might
breathe once more to life
and rekindle a lost friendship
before my own fire goes out.

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Like the Moth to the Flame, So the Flame to the Moth

There have been times
he would sit in wide wonder
at her passion, and almost envy
how it fueled her life
in gentle warmth and blinding flame.
She occasionally pondered
the sensitive spirit
behind his gritty facade.
She’d see it draw people
to his side, if only for a moment,
and then they’d walk away, maybe
wearing some thoughtful look.
He would approach her warmth, drawn
like a doomed moth to the gentle flicker.
Her fire would always flare
and chase him away, singed and sorry.
She once dreamed of how
it’d be to share with him his gift
of personal touch without touching.
That’s when she learned,
though, he do to her what
he always did when someone
got too close — push them away
and then brood in his unworthiness.
For a shining instant, once,
they thought they’d be perfect together,
but each realized they were
more perfect apart.

Rolled out of bed and found this soon staring at me from the virtual page. Your guess is as good as mine, dear reader.

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

Beyond My Reach

My life’s temple is collapsing,
the figurative version of it
shattered by forces both
within and without,
the actual one sick and weak
and ready to fail.
Life was so much easier,
when I kept it boarded up
like an old house,
its clapboards stripped,
gray, cracked and whistling
as the cold winds blew through.
Back then, you would walk past
and not notice it except
for the birds occasionally
bursting from the attic.
And now the birds are gone,
scattered like leaves in the wake
of the semi truck that just
ran me over, blowing past,
pulling at my chest,
tearing my eyes, these windows
of my decrepit soul that
she opened when first I held her.
And now is beyond my reach.

Maybe I’ll cry tomorrow. But for now, I’m just empty.

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.

Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold

Albany from the Helderberg Escarpment

Lew “Ruby” Rubio hadn’t cased this place before deciding to break in. But he’d been on the run from the cops in Albany for two sleepless days and nights and figured he could hide up in this cottage in the Helderbergs for a spell while everything cooled off down in the city.

Lew figured no one had been home in at least a week from the number of newspapers that peppered the apron of the driveway. He decided to jimmy the sliding door on the side away from the road, even though trees blocked view of the most of house from County Rte. 10. With a screwdriver he discovered in the garden shed and twenty years’ practice in the Bronx and Albany, he was standing in the kitchen in thirty seconds.

Once inside, Lew found his suspicions were correct. The place had been buttoned up for some time. A check in the bathroom showed the electricity on and the water off. He found the main, gave it a good twist to the left and he figured he was set for as long as he wanted to stay there. As long, that is, as he remained vigilant for any visitors from the County Sheriff’s Department or the State Police.

But first thing’s first.

“I’m frigging starving,” Lew said as he walked to the refrigerator. Inside, he found jars of pickles, olives, condiments, three cans of Mountain Dew, two bottles of Nine Pin Cider, a large unopened bottle of Ommegang Rare Vos ale and a half-bottle of 2016 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon.

“Well, this is all very nice, but where’s the damn real food?” Lew said, shoving the refrigerator door closed and moving to the cabinets that lined the wall above the sink. In the dim moonlight, he found cans of Progresso Chicken Noodle and Minestrone soups, some boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese, envelopes of Brown Sugar and Cinnamon oatmeal, a jar of peanut butter and three tubes of Pringles barbecue potato chips.

“Jesus, maybe something’s in the freezer. Aannnnd…two scrawny frost-burgers, half a bag of Tater Tots and two bottles of vodka. What the hell is up with these drunks?” Lew said, as he closed the freezer door, casting the kitchen back into darkness..

He froze when he thought he heard the crunch of something on the gravel driveway out front. Then he dropped low when he saw the headlights.

“Shit, not already,” he said, catching his breath as a car-mounted spotlight swept the exterior of the front of the house and the woods on both sides, its beam cutting off a slice of the darkness in the kitchen. Lew crawled toward the sliding door again, ready to make a run for it if necessary. But the Sheriff’s patrol car backed out onto Rte. 10 and once again he was alone.

“I’d better eat something now, in case they come back,” Lew said to himself. So he opened two bags of oatmeal, tossed the contents into a bowl, added water from the now-functioning tap and put it in the microwave for a minute. While it cooked, Lew poured a can of Mountain Dew into one of the red Solo cups he found on the shelf, and topped it off with some of the icy vodka.

“The Dew for the caffeine and the hooch for my nerves,” he laughed. He pulled the steaming bowl from the microwave, gave it a stir and slowly ate it, washing it down with the fortified Dew. Finished with his oatmeal, he dug a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter from the jar he left open on the counter, sucked down a hard cider and decided he’d better try getting some rest.

Slowly, he climbed the stairs up to the shed dormer, where he found two bedrooms and a half-bathroom. But, since the dormer was on the side away from the road, he thought he’d better get back downstairs just in case the cops made this place a regular stop on their patrols.

“You never know who might break in on you,” Lew said with a laugh.

Lew decided to crash on the futon by the sliding door, just in case. He opened the glass slider to allow some cool air into the pace through the screen. He then propped himself up so he faced the driveway and settled in for what remained of the night.

“Maybe I can steal a day or two here before I hit the road,“ he thought. Within two minutes he was sleeping soundly.

He never saw the headlights, nor any spotlight, but the sound of someone moving around outside coming through the open slider roused him around 3:00 AM.

“Shit. Where the hell did they come from,” Lew thought as he eased himself off the futon and padded over to the wall next to the slider. He peeked out one side of doorway, saw the shadow moving toward the doorway.

“I ain’t going back for them to put in the county lockup. I either gotta make a run for it into the woods when this dude moves to the other side, or I have to take care of him, myself…right now,” Lew thought.

He looked around for something to use as a weapon, if he needed it. Once again Lew heard the rustling sound and a chill ran through him, his heart began pounding, his mouth dried so much he could barely swallow. He saw the wrought-iron poker leaning against the wood stove and knew what he had to do. If someone came through the slider, Lew was certain he could take them down and put some distance between himself and this cottage before daybreak and any more cops could come along.

But he still hadn’t seen any sign of a vehicle out front, hadn’t heard the crunching gravel. He wondered if what he heard was another breaking and entering star looking to steal whatever of value he could find. Lew suddenly felt more superior to this interloper and figured it was time to put end to his stay here one way or another.

He’d eaten the owners’ oatmeal, drank their cider and vodka, made use of their futon and now he was going to use their fireplace poker. The intruder was now moving closer along the wall to the sliding door.

“This is it,” Lew said, taking a deep breath. “He’s right there and now’s the time to confront this asshole one way or another. One, two thr…”

Lew slid open the door and jumped out of the house and turned dead right, his poker above his head. He saw the silhouette of the intruder and raised his poker high, saying, “Get out of here, asshole, if you know what’s…”

But that was it. The brown bear, leading her cubs in a raid on the bird feeders and trash cans of the neighborhood, rose on her hind legs, stepped into Lew, and with a swipe sent him reeling bloody into the forest. She then burst through the slider doorway and went straight for the open peanut butter jar on the counter while her cubs licked the unwashed oatmeal bowl.

State Police found Lew lying beside County Rte. 10 about a mile east later that morning. They transported him to the emergency room at Albany Medical Center, where doctors reattached the blond-haired flap of scalp the mama of the three-bear rural crime spree flayed off him on her way to breakfast.

During his three-year stint at Coxsackie Correctional Facility, Lew picked up a few nicknames. Early on, the other inmates called him Zipperhead or Ruby. But as his hair grew back and word of how he was apprehended got around the yard, Lew Rubio was known by inmate and corrections officers alike as Goldilocks.

First draft of my first chance to try crafting a story for Week Two of Story-a-Day September. (I’m doing best I can, but  it’s been a true time crunch.) Since I may not get to all five of this week’s prompts, I decided to messily combine two:  1) Write a gender-swapped version of a previously-told story, and 2) Set a story in the opposite setting to what it was originally (in this case, contemporary vs. non-contemporary and realistic vs. fantastic). Suffice to say, it ain’t easy to draft a cohesive story while minding three-year-olds and on four hours’ sleep a night. But here’s my best-stab first draft.

The Occultation

The experts warned of its coming,
but most of us didn’t expect
such darkness until it finally did.
How it cast a Stygian shadow
across the country the likes of which
most of us had never seen.
Well, maybe some old-timers,
but most of them were looking
forward to its arrival anyway.
The golden face we thought we knew
grew darker, as the lunar forces
overcame its careful polish.

Many flocked to be part of the experience,
since such a phenomenon was their goal
left unfulfilled for years.
Others, though, grew more fearful
as the gloomy lunacy spread and shadow
overcame what once provided light
and hope from coast to coast.
Then move or close your eyes,
said some who clamored for this
sea-to-shining-sea anomaly.

But, frightening as they can be,
such triumphs of darkness
over light never last, the forces
of better nature pushing aside
the shadow-maker, bringing our land
back its original sun-bright vision
for those wise enough to turn away
from the eclipse. Of course,
those who gazed so slavishly upon it
had become blind. But they’d lost
their sight to its occultation long
before its shadow fell upon us all.