My Tragicomic Work in Progress

“Everyone is trying to read the last page of the book.”
~ Chuck Todd, Meet The Press Daily, June 20, 2017

When I was a kid, I’d often sit
and wonder how my life would turn out,
the whole epic saga of Joe Hesch.
Would it be a thick volume or two,
full of adventures and notable acts
of merit or valor? Or perhaps
a pamphlet of failure and sadness?
And thus far, I have found,
as I reach the climax of this tale
full of sound and fury,
but mostly quiet and solitude,
it’s been told by an idiot,
an actor scuffling across his stage
forgetting his lines. Or, more likely,
his lines being forgotten.

I’ve had my entrances and exits,
my hour upon the stage, and then
I’ll likely be heard no more.
And that’s all right, I guess.
I just hope that I’m able to write it
to its denouement, penning a satisfied
Finis to its last page.
And I still dream. Dream that, like
younger me, older me, current me,
not necessarily everyone, just you,
someday have a yen to find
where my pen took it. Even if
only to see your part in what’s still
my tragicomic work in progress.

My somewhat poetic free-written take on this week’s Writing Outside the Lines challenge presented by my friend Annie Fuller. This week it’s prompted by that quote from NBS News’ political editor and moderator of its venerable Meet the Press Sunday morning show.

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No Reason, Just to Rhyme

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Ask him what he knows
of the tos and the fros,
the gives and the takes,
the misses and the makes,
and he’ll pause then tell you,
“That’s a good question.”

Ask him when he knew
the sum of two and two,
if he was yang or yin,
what was his original sin,
and he’ll smile and say,
“I’m still waitin’.”

If someone asked you one day,
could you ever think of him some way,
in earnest or just in passing
as something more than the last thing
with whom you’d want to be alone,
to talk about now, not then.

But he’s sure down to the bone,
the first thing he’d say on the phone,
before any give, take, to, or fro:
“My life’s made of misses, so
you know this smile’s vestigial
and all my sins unoriginal.”

Silly little free-written musing with lopsided rhymes.

Or Do You?

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With my ears straining, I lie here,
awaiting David’s secret chord to hear.
Cohen said it was good enough to please
young Dave’s big boss. Was it a C perhaps?
Or the big juicy G like I play,
with four fretted strings because…but
you don’t really care for music, do you?

I figure if some confidential tonal triad
exists that helped a shepherd become king,
maybe it could turn a dumb, near-deaf
pencil-twirling, guitar-plucking layabout
into what you might think is a poet…but
you don’t really care for poems, do you?

I don’t hear well enough to dance
a pencil across a page without falling.
Another failing, like why I’d worry
about pleasing anyone but myself when
I fill this space with muffled tones, pastel
shades of gray, dotted with blood red…but
you don’t really care for such musings, do you?

So I’ll just sit and push some keys,
not waiting for some muses’ energies.
My notes you’ll hear, with eyes for ears
and imaginations watching me lie in a lea,
a notebook on my knee, cloud sheep grazing
on blue eternity. And maybe I’m smiling…but
you don’t really believe that, do you?

Tried hard, but couldn’t come up with a thing to write about, so…
Oh, and if you really know me, you understand that last line.

One Second = Two Lifetimes

I never wanted to make the decision. Who would? But being who I am in the order of things, it fell to me to decide when to let her go.

“Well, what do you wish us to do?” the doctor asked, with a benevolent demeanor, but a double-parked, motor-running, it’s 4:58 on Friday vibe coming off him. I could feel his inner toes tapping.

You don’t really think about making this decision, deciding life or death for someone you love. But you know what you have to do in the second, maybe half-second they ask you. You just tend to think about the other things as a diversion.

What’ll the family say? How can I face myself day after day after the deed is done? Can I live with being the instrument of another being losing her life?

You look up at the professionals and their eyebrows have that inverted V droop of a practiced medical professional.

“There’s no coming back from this,” the doctor said, meaning her condition, just lying there. But there’d be no coming back on my end, either. “It’s painless, she won’t feel a thing. It’s what she would want.”

You feel like your boiling as you stand still for that second or less, three heartbeats replacing the one that normally fills that space. Allegro.

“Okay, let’s do it,” I say as my eyes get all mushy and moist and my throat locks in the words and out the air.

The doctor does what he does, practiced, assured, always ready. And then, we wait. It really doesn’t take long, but a lot of life flashes before your eyes when you’re the one deciding. The guest of honor just closes her eyes, takes a few deep breaths and…. She’s gone.

In that second, though, everything changed for me. Emotions began living closer to the surface, and I noticed and reveled in more of life humming and growing and ebbing all around me. All from one second of indecision to decision.

It gave me a harder shell, too, though. I was graced with the same decision for my Dad not even a year later. Outwardly cool, I’m sure the weepers around me thought me an unfeeling bastard.

The doctor gave his spiel about no coming back, it’s for the best, he has a no-resuscitate order, all that stuff. The same inverted V they teach in Veterinary school they must in Med school, too.

Then came the money shot question, the big one, the life or death one.

“Well, what do you wish us to do?”

In a second of fire and freeze, the man in whom a dog’s death changed everything, nodded and said “Okay, let’s do it.”

And then I stood taller, set my jaw, began to breathe again, as the others began to sob. They could never have made this decision, wouldn’t want to. Who would? But, like I said, in less than a second, maybe even half a second, it changed everything. Dammit, everything changed.

I’d cry later.

Here’s a warmup story for Story-A-Day May (God help me!) based on a prompt from my friend Kellie Elmore and her re-energized Free Write Friday. The prompt was to write this story: “It was less than a second, maybe half a second, but it changed everything.”
Twenty minutes of free write later, I came up with this. Not sure it’s a story. Sure as hell ain’t a poem. But it has a character or two, a dilemma with stakes and a change in the character’s world/life in the end. It’s a practice, folks.

Talismans

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As my days flick off the calendar like autumn leaves after first frost, with them falls more of my memories. Perhaps they actually are the leaves of a lifetime journal, now scattered into capricious winds by the callused hands of a winding-down clock. I’d have forgotten so much by now if not for the magical talismans I wear that provide me with palpable evidence of the acts that mapped my vessel’s journey. See this one on my left wrist. Isn’t she a bitch? That’s when I climbed a chair I’d nudged to the stove and tried pushing myself higher by placing my wrist on the hot burner. I recall this vividly, but perceive no images, just sensations, deep and scorching. It’s kept me from striving too high, lest I get burned once again. The other talisman, I know not which came first, pocks my right forearm with shiny spots. I doubt you can see them unless I get it dirty, as a two-year-old might. Then my arm develops its own X-ray, showing my maybe-earliest injury. It’s my reminder of what it’s like to pull down what you do not know—a reverse lesson of look-before-you-leap. In this case, a bubbling pot of pea soup. These are hard-earned lessons for a toddler to learn. For a man, too. I could show you more, but these I prefer not to recollect, like the scars on this heart. They’re self-inflicted, too, by a man who never took anything away from them. Just more pain.

Here’s a true free-write. A block of a prose poem prompted by my old friend Kellie Elmore, who asks today for us to try recalling our very first memory. The fog of time has stolen those particular truths from me, but these are my reminders of them. Typically, they involve pain.

Desperate Measures

Ever wonder how the once-prolific though often actually dispassionate poet guy comes up with the hundreds of bits of story and verse he’s posted on this small wall? Lately, so have I.

Sometimes, when my shallow puddle of passion leaves me (like during the past month or more) and nothing in life wants its story written that day, I free write a list of ten words, sentences or impressions based upon a word I pull randomly from whatever book is near my hand.

Some of the inhabitants of these lists, once I gaze at them for a spell, form connections with one another, like moderately successful blind dates. (Hopefully, more like a weekend at a swingers’ club.) And sometimes these connections become ideas for poems and stories you’ve read and maybe even liked.

It’s a desperate ploy by a desperate man, but damn if it hasn’t worked more times than not.

I’m beyond desperate these days. I am bereft of emotion and insight. That’s why I reached over to the bookcase, opened up the first book I touched (a crossword puzzle dictionary, if you must know) and dropped it upon its spine, poking my finger between the pages and using the word upon which it came to rest.

Today’s word, at this point pretty damn useless for this fairly blind imagination, is GREEN.

Here’s what happened after that:

1. Green, nothing but green, surrounded me, lying there on the 30-yard line, once the white, red and black cleared from my head.
2. Green tomatoes, breaded and fried, sounded like a decent side dish, but the blonde who walked in while I ordered would have been an epic one.
3. Green fluid seeped from beneath car and puddled on the roadway.
4. Green buckskin uniforms lay scattered above the village, waiting for the signal to attack.
5. “Green grass, will return someday, my son, when Manitou is once again pleased with his fallen people,” the old sachem told his grandson. But each of them knew otherwise.
6. Green-clad cheerleaders pranced and kicked along the sidelines, while the backup wide receiver stretched his hamstring and strained his eyes for a look at one blonde’s personal 50-yard line. (A sad, but true memory from the concussed dude from up there in Number 1.)
7. Green like no green I’d ever seen greeted me when I emerged from the shadows beneath the mezzanine and saw the diamond-cut emerald set in the red velvet infield dirt of Fenway park.
8. “Green antifreeze, I told you to get the GREEN antifreeze,” Dad said, tossing his cigarette away in disgust.
9. “Green beer for you on this fine day, darlin’?”, the barmaid asked. (Wonder what would have happened if I asked for orange?)
10. “Green pants and a green clip-on tie bearing the SPI monogram of St. Patrick’s Institute, were my uniform for nine years, after which I vowed never to wear any combination of blue mixed with yellow again, Sergeant,” I told the Army corpsman at my Draft physical. (Another truth, long-forgotten.)

I hope one of these images springs forth a little literary life soon. Otherwise, I’m going to have to put away my pencil for a spell. And I’m forgetting where I put a lot of things lately.