The Worm’s Turn

 

Across the coaster-sized bare spot
that sits within the mess
of weeds and some grass
I call my lawn, a worm glistened
in its pink and brown slicker
after twenty minutes of watering.
“You better hurry, little dude,
or some bird find you in the open,
and you’ll be flying,” I whispered.
But the worm just oozed along
at his life’s petty pace
to the next tuft of green.
I wondered why he commuted atop
his normal subterranean route
from dirt to dirt, going, for him,
relatively aerial to his own salt mines.
Then I noticed the nearby lumpy trail
of passage left by that damn mole
and I figured maybe a worm has
as good grasp on living as I do.
I never wanted to die surrounded
by my office walls either.
And if some bird would’ve come along
and carry me to my demise, so be it.
At least I’d no longer be crawling
on my belly, and, man, we’d be flying.

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Once Upon a Time There Was a Writer…

Still Life with Lemons on a Plate. Vincent van Gogh, 1887

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to write a new story for my kids collection.”

“What’s it about?”

“I don’t know yet because I haven’t been able to start it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I keep getting distracted.”

“I only just came into the room. You’ve been in here for over an hour.”

“I’m blocked, Jeannie, okay?” 

“What does that even mean?”

“It means I can’t find anything to write about, or can’t get started for some odd reason…like being distracted by my daughter.”

“So this is my fault again. Here, let me help you begin.”

“No, really, I’d prefer it if you’d…”

“Once upon a time, there lived a shoemaker who couldn’t make shoes anymore.”

“Seriously, would you please…”

“So this shoemaker had a daughter, who was the most beautiful and intelligent girl in the kingdom.

“Where’s this going? I’d like to get to my work.”

“One day, the shoemaker’s daughter found her father staring at his work table, where he had all kinds of leather and tools that he had acquired from all over the world.”

“Go on if you must. Just…go on.”

“Don’t sigh so. So the shoemaker’s daughter said, ‘Don’t despair, Father dear. You just need to get away from all your shoe forms and glue pots and laces and come walk with me through the lemon groves.”

“Lemon groves?”

“Don’t stop me now. While they walked, the brilliant daughter filled her apron with the sour lemons. Her father said, ‘What do you propose to do with so many of those?’ And she replied, ‘I’ll crush these, taking their sour essence, add the sweetness of my sugar and make lemon tarts and lemon curd.”

“Lemon curd?”

“Shhh, I’m trying to help here. So the shoemaker and his beautiful and brilliant daughter returned to their house, where she did as she said she would, leaving a dozen untouched lemons left there on her counter. ‘You can have these, father. Perhaps you can think of something else to do with them,’ she said. Just then, a handsome young man was riding past the shoemaker’s house and smelled the lemon tarts the shoemaker’s angelic daughter had left on the window sill to cool.”

“No. You’re not going to say…”

“The handsome young man reined in his horse and walked to the window, drawn by the aroma of the sweetened sour lemons in their flaky pastry glory. At the window, he peered inside and saw the shoemaker’s daughter and was smitten by her beauty, intelligence and extraordinary housekeeping skills.”

“That’s a real stretch.”

“Please, I’m coming to the climax. As I said, the handsome young man was smitten by the shoemaker’s daughter. Let’s call her Jeanne Rose…”

“Convenient.”

“I repeat: Jeanne Rose. And the young man asked if her if he could sample her tarts. The oh-so-sweet Jeanne Rose said he could, but that she had no suitable libation for the young man to drink with his tart. Her father, seeing the young man and daughter setting off sparks between them, and knowing you can’t get rid of a daughter fast enough back in these fairy tale times, said, ‘Handsome young man, if you would be so kind as to fetch me a bucket of water from the well, I shall provide you with libation that you might even take with you on the road if you wish.’ So the young man brought a bucket into the house. The shoemaker crushed the dozen lemons into the water, added  enough sugar to make it ALMOST as sweet as Jeanne Rose, and presented it to the smitten young man.”

“Oh…kayyy…”

“Shhh, let me finish. Suitably puckered from this king’s ransom of citric goodness, the young man revealed—through  his tightly pursed lips—that he was the Prince, scouring the kingdom for the perfect bride to one day share his throne. Then the Prince placed said pucker on the lips of the pluperfect, might-as-well-be-a-princess Jeanne Rose, kissed her with a gentle passion and asked her to be his bride. ‘Yes, oh yes, my prince,’ she said. And they lived happily ever after.”

“Wait a minute. What about that poor bastard shoemaker?”

“Oh, yeah. Ummm, the King seeing his fine handiwork, though already having his own Italian shoemaker, named now-Princess Jeanne Rose’s father Master Saddlemaker of the Royal Tack for all his fine steeds and carriages. Which reminds me, could you give me a ride to the mall? I’m supposed to meet my prince at Starbucks in about fifteen minutes. Daddy? Daddy, did you hear me?”

“You could’ve just asked for the keys, Jeannie. They’re on the kitchen counter next to the lemons. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I may have found a way to turn this pile of chicken shit into Chicken Kiev. Or at least chicken salad.”

“Thank you, Daddy. Have fun. See you later.”

“Um-hmmm. Thank you, Princess. Enjoy your tarts. Hmmm. ‘Once upon a time, there was a…shoemaker…’?”

So I just sat to writing table today, much as the writer/shoemaker in this story. And, since my daughters are far, far away, I just started writing. And here’s what I came up with. Just dialogue. And I thought, “That was fun. Now what?” Back to the groves, I guess.

Dreams at Angels-30

When I was a kid, I’d
lie on the grass, look up
and wish I could fly
to those billowing bundles
of sun-bleached linen some
otherworldly launderer
piled across the sky.
When I became older,
I finally flew there,
and it was then I wished
I could step off my silver wings
to trek those seemingly solid
wintry plains and mountains.
I’d be careful not to venture
near their thin ice edges, though.
I wouldn’t wish to shatter
some other boy’s aspirations
to one day reach his lofty dreams
only to find new ones down below
at Angels-30.

For what it’s worth, “Angels” is old aviation slang for altitude measured in thousands of feet. Therefore, Angels-30 is 30,000 feet in altitude. Photo ©2016 Joseph Hesch

Going Back to Escudilla

Whenever he came to town, Ike Biggs could feel their eyes on him not only on the street, but even from within the storefront windows. Some folks would step off the sidewalk into the street to avoid him, or move clean to its other side. They’d sometimes make it look like they were headed to a store over there, but usually Ike would notice how they’d look over their shoulders to see if he was watching them or, worse, following.

And he knew some would be saying something like, “The boy ain’t been right since that day,” just as Abner Klein whispered to no one as he leaned on a broom inside the doorway of his mercantile. And then Ike walked across the street, too, and headed right for Old Man Klein’s doorway.

“Oh shit,” the old man said as he tripped over his broom and stumbled to the floor. He did not make it to lock the door, with its CLOSED sign hanging at eye-level, before Ike stepped up on the wooden sidewalk and strode inside.

“You all right, Mr. Klein?” Ike asked as the old man picked himself up from beside the door and kneeled in a forlorn posture, as if God Himself had just given him the bad news he wouldn’t be saved that day.

“Oh, good morning, Ike. I’m just, uh, looking for my pencil. I think I dropped it over here somewhere.”

“You don’t mean the one behind your ear, do you?”

“Oh? Well land’s sakes, there it is. Why thank you, Ike. Thank you very much. Now, um, what is it I can do for you today? Oh, no no, you just stay there. I can get myself up,” Old Man Klein said, grasping the door knob and hefting himself to his feet with a profound sigh.

“I’s wondering if my order came in yet. That wire and linen canvas and feathers. Gonna make it this time for sure,” Ike said. Klein couldn’t help but see the large oval scar atop the young man’s head and how his eyes never quite looked in exactly the same direction at the same time.

“The canvas and feathers got here just day afore yesterday, they did, Ike. But the wire I had to special order from Chicago. The kind you wanted ain’t thick enough for fencing. In fact, about the only thing it’s good for is stringing pianos. Cattle would just bust right through it and I don’t think you can really corral chickens, eh?” the old man said with a nervous laugh.

“Ain’t for no corral and you know it, Mr. Klein. It’s gonna hold together something more grand than anything anyone in this town or even them Tonto and White Mountain Apache have ever seen. And I don’t mean no grand pianee, either,” Ike said as he pounded his hand on the counter.

Ike then rubbed at his scar and closed his eyes, which suited Old Man Klein because he never could figure out which one to look at when he had to talk to Ike.

“Now don’t get yourself all riled up, Ike. Didn’t mean to start anything. Here, let me fetch that batch of canvas for you. This is going to make some giant tent, I’ll tell you,” Klein said as he headed to the storeroom just at back of the mercantile.

“It ain’t for a tent, you know,” Ike said, calming down as he heard Klein fumbling with bundles in the back. “You’ll all see the day I come back to town and I ain’t walking.”

“A’course, son,” Old Man Klein said as he hefted a huge roll of off-white canvas onto the counter. “You’ll be riding that buckskin pony you lit out of the White Mountains with, no doubt. Fine little piece of…”

“No,” Ike shouted. “Won’t be ridin’ Jlin-Litzoque neither.”

“Well, if you ain’t walkin’, and you ain’t ridin’, I got no idea how you’re gonna get into town except maybe…”

“When you expecting that wire to come in, Mr. Klein? I’m gonna need it to finish my łigai-itsá.”

“Was told it was in Scottsdale yesterday, so we should have it here by Friday. Your licorice?”

“My łigai-itsá. White eagle.”

“Oh, sure, Ike. White eagle. I’ll be sure to send little Eddie up to your place and let you know when you can come down and pick up your wire,” Klein said.

Ike pushed twelve dollars onto the counter.

“Thank you, Mr. Klein. I’ll be down to pick it up lickety split. And in another week or so I’ll be coming here maybe even faster. Certainly grander. Why I’ll go back to Escudilla and I’ll come a’soar…”

Sheriff Ben Benson knocked on the door frame of Klein’s store and said, “Morning, Abner. Ike. Everything all right in here today?”

“Yep, Sheriff, just fine,” Ike said as he rushed past Benson, his huge roll of canvas and a sack of feathers locked in a bearhug.

“Will you look at that, Abner. Sidewalk clears of folks like it was the damn Red Sea and Ike was Moses himself carrying the Commandments. Boy looks like he’s seen the Burning Bush itself, too. A’course poor Ike ain’t been right since them White Mountain Apaches tossed him over that cliff on Escudilla Mountain,” Benson said. “Would’ve been kinder for the poor, addled sumbitch if he hadn’t hit that eagle nest on the way down. Some days he talks like he wishes he’s one of them eagle young’uns that fell with him.”

“Yeah, but they were able to fly away and poor Ike just sorta fell like a sack of… Wait a minute!”

First story draft in a very long time. I have no idea from where it came and it’s as first-drafty as one of my stories can get. But, darn it, it’s a story! I started with the idea of some Western character name Faustus and wanted to see what deal we both could make with the writing Devil his self. Instead, I wrote about a man (Ike, as in Icarus) who was looking to soar with the angels.

The Demon’s Face in the Window

I saw another one just yesterday.
Caught him staring in my window
before he could jump into my shadow
to pull me down to levels
even lower than I lie already.
They usually hide in darkness,
stealthy creatures that fill
your well of woes to overflowing
to drown your soul in their inky ichor.
Stealthy, they carry their own shadows,
that can hide comfortably within your own,
like a friend who’s faux, whose open arms
wave empty hands, yet somehow still
heap the ashes of spent heartache
in your eyes when they leave.
So you’re left blind, left groping
in the dark trying to find your way
to some bit of light in what’s become
this life overshadowed
by a cloud of spiritual death.
For a second, a stiff breeze,
like a prayer answered, blew away
the tormenting face in my window,
which really was only four leaves
situated just so. But in the reflection
left in the window, I saw the haggard face,
the downturned lips, the brows broken
over the knee of self-loathing and
the ash-filled eyes of the real demon
who’s ever plagued my life.

Days When It’s the Ink That Runs

It all used to be so spontaneous,
how the ink would flow, run down the page
in a warm and thinly coded letter.
Writing these would be easy as a walk
with the sun and breeze at our backs.
We had a run of seven years like that,
when the fruits of the unspoken communication
tasted delicious on my mind’s tongue,
even after I’d previously suffered
another tangled trip and fall in this, my garden
where bloomed songs of elation and sorrow.
Lately, though, my heart has made
each new walk a downwind slog in a gale,
where the rain will blind my soul,
each drop a barb in my heart leaving behind
a scar that wouldn’t allow it to open
and beat to its full extent.
But along comes this thinning of the clouds.
Never a clearing, a dome of blue instead of
this blanket of the blues. Just enough
of a hint of light that I see things
not as they were, but as an example
of what they are. Not yet as they could be,
because we haven’t written those days yet.
In these moments, the ink once again runs,
the letters sometimes smeared by falling rains.
But you still remember what they might mean.

Here’s a poem I wrote today instead of the Story-a-Day effort I was supposed to write. I’ll do some of them later, I hope. No, this prompt was to write a story using each of the following words.: ink, previously, work, breeze, seven, run, delicious, example, spontaneous, and barb. These prompts always brought me a lot of joy, because they were a game, a competition between the dark and light angels of my creative soul. Today, the light one has her moment. Tomorrow, as I said, has yet to be written.

Bugged – A Pair of Cinquains

Spider
Silent harpest
Never plucking your strings
Invite your prey to play their dirge,
Maestro

Skeeter
Buzzing, circling
Lighting only to drink.
Does my vintage meet your standards
Vampire?

A late entry for Day #13 (it figures) of the National Poetry Writing Month PAD Challenge. Supposed to write an insect poem but got stuck on a nasty one and froze in terror. Just before bed, I thought to try something from the old days, a micro poem of sorts, a cinquain. And just like that, along came this spider who sat down beside her. My muse, that is. And frightened my block away.