In Jack London’s The Star Rover,
the warden at San Quentin
wraps a man serving life for murder
in a cocoon of canvas, The Jacket,
to break his rebellious spirit.
How many times have you (or I)
felt crushed within the constraints
of our Jackets, the class, gender,
race, religion, duties and all the
turns of the fabric of our lives?
Do you, too, lie in the darkness
of your nightly solitary confinement,
alone in this prison full of souls,
and dream the What If or
the If Only of your one life?
The prisoner withstands his torture
by entering a trance state,
in which he experiences portions
of his past lives.
Last night, I shed my shroud
of Here and Now, reliving the day
I fought the British on Lake Erie,
only to lose that life in the blast
of a 24-pounder hit amidships.
It was then I wondered,
“In which life do I sail now?
Which will I see of yesterday.
Or will it be a million tomorrows?”
Perhaps we’ll meet again in one,
slipping the bonds of our
unforgiving jailer minds.
I’ll bake files within
these cakes I write you.
All you need is to take a bite.
Photo ©2018 Joseph Hesch
From a distance, you can’t really see it,
there across that expanse of white.
Maybe from a higher angle like a window seat.
And that’s how I found it,
the smudge of fresh bright red
in a small ragged depression on the snow.
Nowhere near it did I see any footprints,
not coyote, fox or bobcat.
But there in that spot lie inked
the final punctuation of the life sentence
of some mouse or vole.
He did not see the end coming,
especially if it came at night.
Though clouds have cast the entire yard
in their shadows for days and days.
Was it a hungry hawk, whose sharp cry
I heard while I shoveled away
my own mark on the snowscape?
Was it an owl, the silent assassin
whose wings leave no track upon the night air.
Does it matter? No. Not even to
the guest of honor who also was the menu item
at this exclusive dining spot,
table for one, no reservation necessary,
just drop in, takeaway available,
where the table linen is so clean you
can eat off it and the busboys wear midnight
and speak a language like brass nails
scraped on a slate blackboard.
Father, mother, and brother Bill,
first love, some others, none named Jill,
upon my life’s way walk unfulfilled,
following me over another hill.
Old friend, best friend, only one,
I said “See ya, I gotta run.”
Next call I got was from his son,
so now my list of friends is none.
In every case, including romance,
we parted in some macabre danse.
When I look back it is askance.
You see, I never got that chance.
What chance you say? I thought you’d know,
at least by now in my tale of woe.
But in stringing rhymes I ain’t no Poe,
just a sad old poet name of Joe.
All these regrets have made me cry.
It’s too late, see, after they die.
But if you should go first, or I,
let me at least wish YOU goodbye.
Sorry, I threw some slant rhymes and extra beats here and there into this piece. But this poem came to me because recently I’ve had a closer brush with my own mortality than I cared to brush. It’s a small part of my relative absence (compared to the Prolific Joe you know) from this space for the past several months. I never got the chance to wish these people I loved goodbye before we parted, one way or another. Just my youngest brother. So I decided to get ahead of the possibilities, just in case one of us trips on a rainbow, so to speak.
It’s been a while since I sat in a church
without a dead person lying near me.
I sometimes wonder if, from that low perch,
perhaps the guest of honor can hear me.
I’d like to think I’d get to hear you say
some things like “He was a wonderful guy.”
But I also then run the risk that day
hearing, “I couldn’t wait for him to die.”
I know, such thoughts in church are pretty crass,
and I should just pray for the poor deceased.
Someday I could be the one under grass,
and need my holy reward odds increased.
If more church is my heaven test, litmus,
pass the hymnal, pal. My God, it’s Christmas.
I can’t tell you what to do with your days.
Even I, myself, no longer listen
to my own words, philosophical ways.
I see now something’s always been missin’.
So feel free to ignore what I say now,
though you have never listened to me much,
but here’s what I’ve learned, and don’t ask me how,
it’s where I earned these scars…here, have a touch.
That warmth made me happy but it won’t last,
because true joys are but such fleeting things.
Cherish while you can, ‘cause life’s smiles go fast,
those too-brief moments that give your heart wings.
Warren Zevon advised before he died,
“Enjoy ev’ry sandwich.” Boy, wish I tried.
It’s the music I’ll miss, when these senses go
where my connections to you leave to die.
Their loss was something I didn’t know,
might ever happen to die before I.
My sight’s degrading, its frame ever shrinking.
This pinch in my neck makes my fingers numb,
even just reaching out’s not worth the thinking.
I’ve become blind, deaf and palpably dumb.
Not feeling your skin or seeing your smile
are some things I’m learning to do without.
But not to hear your voice, your laugh, meanwhile
will make longer life not worth thinking about.
So I ask, before my hearing’s gone too,
sing for me your laugh once more. Please, please do.
I’m told there will come a time
when all will be revealed,
that moment just before you leave
where the Universe gives it up
to your virgin consciousness
and you go, ahhhhh….
And as great as that sounds,
you’ll note that your expression
of finally acquiring that enlightenment
comes in an exhalation,
more than likely your last.
I know that doesn’t sound fair,
but once you discover what
all this back-breaking, toil
and trouble life was for,
let alone about, what else is there
but to sound a short A?
Unless it’s a long ohhhhhh.
I suppose that’s why I intend
to hold my breath like a five-year-old
who won’t eat his Brussels sprouts
on that day when the Universe
comes a’knocking with my serving
of The Way, as the Buddhists might
intone. They call it nirvāṇa,
which is Sanskrit for “blowing out.”
That’s kind of what I’ve been saying,
only with an ahhhhh rather than an ohmmm.
Another translation is “liberation,”
which sounds so much better, because
I’d rather be freed from this
troubled coil, than blown out again
like a rotten basketball team,
or permanently, like a candle.
Ohm, shanti, shanti, shanti, y’all.
(Just in case.)
For those of us who don’t know Sanskrit, and I only know enough to get through a beginner’s yoga practice video, “Shanti” means “Peace.” So, I bid you all peace because we sure as hell need it. And so do I. So do I.