Black, Two Sugars, Shhh…

“Why do you do that?” my girlfriend Sara asked.

“Do what?” I said, since I am a simple man.

“Why do you insist on using that cup every day? Even after you’ve washed it, it’s still a stained mess,” she said.

“Because,” I said, since I am a simple man and she probably wouldn’t appreciate my mansplaining.

“And that’s it? Because? What the heck does that even mean?”

“It means it’s more important to me than some shiny new cup. I’ve had this cup for twenty-some years,“ I said.

I stared into the coffee, black as the nights in the Arma Mountains, when to make any sound would offer Taliban fighters enough intel to blow you away, or even five of your buddies.

I was about to take a sip when Sara noticed more of the interior of the cup.

“I mean, look at that. It’s so scratched and stained, I don’t know what to say except ‘Why?’” Sara said. I’m sure she was just trying to plumb the depths of my male mind.

She was right, though. Its interior wore the dark scratches where thousands of turns of a spoon or field knife had stirred two sugars into it. If we had sugar.

Finally, I took a sip of my coffee and it scalded my tongue. Again.

“Damn it, Sara. I keep it because it’s important.”

“Gahhh,” Sara huffed and stalked away.

“If only…if I had held my tongue,” I thought. With Sara, too, for that matter.

Wrote this 250-words of less story for Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads feature. I was supposed to use the phrase “if I had held my tongue” anywhere in it.  Oh, and somehow think of a wee story in which to place it.  No idea where it came from.

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We Star Rovers

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.

Table for One

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.

Before It’s Too Late

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. 

Greasing My God’s Odds

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.

Enjoy Every Sandwich

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.

Before the Music’s Gone

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.