Lavender and Lemon



I think it might be lavender
mixed with a little lemon zest.
The memory of how you smell
still lingers in me. Who’d have guessed?

Perhaps you. Certainly not I,
my memories now are hidden.
I think I lost them in the dust
of the desert years I’ve ridden.

All by myself, but not alone,
Imagination rode there, too.
A third shadow sometimes appeared,
so suspiciously shaped like you.

When it cast itself on the sand
the desert would begin to bloom.
Instead of the dust and dried sage,
the air was filled with your perfume.

At least that’s what I could recall
as each sundown you rode away.
Even sleep would leave me alone
all night as I daydreamed you’d stay.

Now I’m old, and rely upon
your grace for any second chance
to leave loneliness just once more,
and between us its vast expanse. 

That’s all I ask, just to get close,
close enough to finally see
if lavender and lemon were
what you wore, or hopeful fantasy.

Since I’m a day behind, I combined two prompts today -- a second chance poem and one using the sense of smell. 

Refilling the Bucket Full of Nothing But Holes



The old man’s creation days 
have long since passed. 
Says he feels useless as 
a bucket full of nothing but holes.
Every day he still shuffles 
to his well of invention, 
but his arms aren’t long enough 
to reach whatever new is left 
way down that once splashing shaft.
And even if he could reach 
whatever sloshes down in the dark, 
by the time he hauled it up 
all his creation would’ve 
run through that old bucket.

This saddened and perplexed 
the old man, who judged his worth 
by what he could create.
“I’m done. I’ve no reason to go on,”
he said to his muse, who never 
gave up on her creative old man.
“You can, too, still create,” 
she told him one night in the dark, 
for this is where they did 
their best work. “If you can’t reach 
a shiny new creation, why don’t you 
create a well-polished old one 
all over again? There really isn’t 
anything new anyone pulls from the dark 
out into the sun.”

The old man spent but a minute 
pondering his Muse’s inspiration, 
because she always was the smart one, 
and said, “You know, your favorite’s
a squint-eyed look at one of Stafford’s. 
Over here’s a slant re-telling of Emily.”
And so he began to recreate the created. 
Because this is what poets do 
until they stumble over the new. 
And that’s what muses are for --
tossing inspiration out there in front 
of their old men to stumble over.

Portrait of the Artist in Nine Beats



What do they see when they look at me?
I’m not sure that’s who I really am.
And if it’s not, who then could it be?
I’d like to settle this today, ma’am.

I think the structure of this guy, Me,
and I’ll betcha likely even you,
was built of stuff folks wanted to see
and I guess we wanted for them, too.

So what we have are these fine facades,
callouses made by heat and friction.
We hardly said No, mostly Yes and nods,
to feel loved, but that kind’s pure fiction.

Whenever we stepped outside our shields
and tried thinking of ourselves a little,
chaos or blame would become our yields,
so we’d jump from fire back to griddle.

I’ve grown tired of toting their good boy,
hands too full of an image to play.
The love we sought might have brought us joy,
though probably not enough, I say.

I’m calling out, so come see the real.
Just for a mo, world, but I’m trying.
I’m warm just like you, come on, just feel.
What? Must be dust. Why’d I be crying?

(Count the beats per line. ~ JH)


Remembering the Scent of Her Voice

They tell me that the most powerful of the senses in terms of stimulating memories is smell. I believe that’s true, since my hearing went the way of my youth years ago.

And now my memory’s hard of hearing, too.

When even your memory loses its power to hear, let me tell you, you’ve got a problem. Or at least I do.

There are a few reasons I can’t hear anymore. 

One, I’m old. Retired from the news business, the newsPAPER one where everyone read your work product behind their coffee each morning. 

Two, I spent a lot of time listening to music in headphones while I worked. Turned up to 11, as they say. Plus, I spent a lot of time in the paper’s back shops watching — and, I suppose, listening — to the news being rendered onto erstwhile forests between the rollers of great mechanical transcribers of inky truth.

And three, I could never hear very well to begin with. Hence, the aforementioned headphone volume, which now I turn up to 15 or so via Bluetooth and electronic hearing aid magic as it shouts into the semi-useless holes where Bose headphones once howled.

And what does all this info dump have to do with scenting a memory?

Because I can’t remember Nicole’s voice.

I told you my memory’s lost its hearing, too.

Sure, I can sit on a mountain and look down onto a forest that missed out on feeding the news machines back in the Seventies and hear the wind strum the pines and the birds chant their matins in real time through my hearing aids. But even if I couldn’t, I can “hear” the music of Nature on some recording that I pump from my phone through these $4,000 miracles sitting in my ears. So even if I forgot the difference between a tweeting titmouse and a babbling brook, science can make the connection for me.

But recalling the timbre and music I found in the voice of the love of my almost-silent and forgetful life? That I can’t pull from some crusty fold in my gray matter. And I have to. I need to hear her tell my imagination I’ll be okay when that door opens and the light in the next room plays our song and I click my heels (I can hear that now) and say “There’s no place like home.” 

And if home is where the heart is, then my next home will be with Nicole, because that’s where my heart’s been for thirty years.

Right now, when I think of her, I can see her pretty face, feel her warmth breath against my ear. But when she speaks to me, all I can hear is some generic placeholder of human sound. An Alexa or Siri voice that’s nowhere near as pretty as that face or warm as the life she breathed into me. I need that or my way out of this life will be as sad and silent as her grave.

We met on the job, both of us spoken for at the time, but we almost immediately found our voices stimulating some kind of vibration only we could perceive. I would say we were tuned to our own frequency, upon which sentences would abruptly stop somewhere before the next necessary inhalation, but the message would continue and be understood.

“Hey, do you want to…” I’d whisper behind her as she typed away at her desk. 

She’d cut me off and whisper back, “No, but how ‘bout we…”

“Yeah, I like it there. Good i…,”

“I thought you would,” she’d say, smile that smile, and then get up and head back to the shop to check out some galleys for Thursday’s edition.

The print shop is where Nicole told me she was leaving. At first, I didn’t understand, the printers’ smudging her voice like her tears smudged her mascara. She pulled me close and placed her mouth right next to my ear and told me how she had to go, since her husband had been transferred. 

The newspaper had already found her a position, a promotion no less, at their sister publication in the same city where her husband was going. 

Then she kissed me, said, “I’ll talk to you later,” and hustled out to the office. Our city editor made the announcement right after that, pulled out a bottle of sparkling something and everyone toasted to her success. Except me. I stayed in the print shop trying to pull my stomach off the floor.

When I left the shop, she’d already gone. My cubicle-mate pointed to my face and asked what the black stuff was on my cheek. I knew, but I told him it was ink from the shop.

I never heard Nicole’s voice again. Not in person, nor on the phone. I received a bunch of letters, which became emails and then some Christmas and birthday cards and then nothing.

Her obit ran four years ago. No one at the paper by now knew who she was. I didn’t exactly know whose face it was in the photo the company ran with her story. The toll of those quiet years and the onset of my dementia, I guess. She probably wouldn’t recognize me either.

But I have old photos and some sweet selective memories where she’s as near perfect as my imagination chooses to remember. But I don’t have her voice. 

Couple of months ago, I pulled a bottle of bubbly something from the fridge and filled a glass to toast Nicole like I never did the first time she left me behind. And as I watched those bubbles rise and (I assume) fizz and pop at the wine’s surface, the idea came to me. 

The aroma of the wine reminded me of the night she left. And I thought maybe there was something else that might remind me of the sound of her voice.

So I stole my daughter’s Mazda (don’t tell her) and drove out to the old-timey Linotype printshop on Route 7. It’s run by the son of our old shop foreman. I introduced myself and told him I was writing a story about the old days and hoped I might take a few photos of his presses as a bit of inspiration.

He agreed and walked me into his back shop where I stopped cold. 

“You all right, Bud?” he asked with the look of a guy who didn’t need some old reporter dropping dead in his place of business.

“Oh, sure. It’s just that I haven’t smelled something like this, heard that, in a couple of decades.”

“Yeah, that ink smell can get to some folks. I can see how it’s getting to you, too. Let’s grab a couple of pix and get you out of here, Bud.”

“I appreciate it, son. Could you get me a cup of water over there?” I choked out.

So I have those photos and a decent memory of the sound of a roaring press. But every night I can hear Nicole again whenever I pull out and take a deep sniff of the cleaning rag, still full of ink and oil, that I snuck into my pocket while that young fella was at the water cooler.

“I can’t believe you really…”

“Yes, Nicole, if I ever was going to hear your voice again, I had…”

“Okay, Bud. Did you see…?”

“Oh, that is quite a bright…”

“It’ll be all right. Been waiting for…”

“Hoped so.”

After a lot of sputters, stops and no starts, I sat down with no expectations and tackled the prompt of Hearing in Sarah Salecky’s Six Weeks, Six Senses. program. Had to use that photo up there, as well as two other. And, so lie me, my Hearing story hinged on the sense of Smell. This is a first-draft hope and a prayer. But it’s a thing where nothing was before.

Imagine a World Without Us, Angel



I suppose you’ve imagined 
a world without you. One of those 
“It’s a Wonderful Life” scenarios 
that so many of us posit 
when the world bashes what 
may actually be our reality.

I’ve done it, too, in those moments 
when midnight’s darkness or tears 
blinded me to the George Bailey-ness 
of such an exercise in self absorption.
I wouldn’t want to live in a world 
without you, even if I didn’t know 
what I was missing without you 
			there 
				and there 
		and there 
and here
in the timeline of my life. 

How would you feel if I never 
shined my light or cast my shadow 
across your path? Because it could’ve
happened if I listened to that 
teary darkness’ logical alternative 
to what I thought I was suffering.

And so, my angel, you’ve saved me 
from a world without. 
Without you, without me, without us. 
But we’ve brought each other a world 
with a special light and someone 
to dry our tears when we need to see 
this is such a better place because 
					you’re there, 
I’m here, 
		 and we’re together
to hear our bells when they finally ring.

We’re Really Real



Why do we look to horoscopes, 
psychics and dreams, 
coincidences, nature and 
subconscious schemes
to help us understand that which
we think we don’t know?
When within these trees, actually, 
a forest does grow.

So let’s not worry about 
offending the past.
At our age, there’s just too much,
the past is so vast.
And the future? Well, we know
that’s never a sure thing.
If past is prologue, nobody knows 
what tomorrow will bring.

Yeah, I’m scared, too, but see
how short is existence,
how long is regret, and how
strong this resistance
to take it head on, this long
put off conclusion.
Together, we’re real. It’s those
excuses that’re delusion

Visions of Sugar Plums



Somewhere in a Christmas fantasy, 
something like my Life’s sugar plums 
resting all sweet and spicy upon 
a cosmic comfit plate, right next to
the roasted chestnuts I hear about, 
warm and soft as a lover’s kiss.
Or so you tell me. Because this 
is a fantasy, a dream straight out 
of one of those Hallmark Christmas movies, 
only none of us are princes, princesses or
destiny’s darlings fated to leap 
holiday hurdles to couplehood and,
per every fantasy’s script, 
fall into one of those chestnut kisses
in the last thirty seconds before 
the credits roll. The sweet and spicy?

I don’t care.

But we all need dreams, don’t we? 
Otherwise why even have that one day 
of the year when wishes can come true 
and hopes aren’t dashed and danced upon 
by a fantasy fleet of reindeer,
an ill-fit significant other or 
make-believe mean girl. Maybe that’s 
why I keep my list short, written 
in invisible ink between lines 
of fanciful good-boy reveries of 
an exchange of Life’s gifts you can’t buy, 
nor steal and I’ll likely never get to try. 
Like sugar plums. 

Snowflake Warm As Summer Rain



Over my many winters, or maybe 
just this long one and only, 
I have stood, sat or lain here 
and watched the snowflakes fall. 
Some I’ve followed from the heavens 
to my feet. Others blown away from me 
by the cold winds that have chilled 
my heart and frozen my soul. 
A very few have deigned to spiral 
and swoop to land upon my lashes, 
catching my eye more than I caught them.

Then there’s you, who I spied one day 
in your earthward glide, toward me and away, 
then blown back by winds I never felt 
but you did. You’re lways defying gravity 
out there in front of me or 
at the corner of the corner of my eye. 
If you ever were to land upon me, 
I know you’d feel as warm there as 
summer rain or perhaps a tear on my cheek. 
One I'll never wipe away.

All Aboard ~ Finding Christmas Under the Tree



We used to put tiny tablets, 
like Lionel locomotive aspirin, 
down the engine’s stack to make it 
puff out white smoke while it circled 
beneath our Christmas tree.
But that was back when I was small enough 
to crawl beneath the real tree’s 
real branches that would stick me 
with its real needles while I rectified 
the inevitable headache derailments 
certain O-Gauge Casey Joneses always seemed 
to perpetrate when our Christmas train 
was rounding the turn behind the presents 
into the corner of the living room.

I didn’t mind too much. It gave me 
a good reason to roll over again to look up 
the inside of the tree and get enveloped 
by the lights and delicate glass ornaments, 
the tinsel tickling my face like some 
Christmas angel I didn’t know I’d wish 
to feel until Christmases to come.
Too bad I had to grow up and lose that feeling 
of being inside Christmas. 

I don’t have an electric train under my tree 
anymore and putting all the decorations up 
can be kind of a headache, but the other day 
I dropped a plastic ornament in the corner, 
and something moved me to crawl under 
my fake tree’s fake branches where 
the fake needles stuck me and, for a second,
looking up at those twinkling lights felt like 
I was back inside Christmas again. Funny, 
before crawling out I decided to reach back 
further because somewhere in that corner 
I might find more Christmas to re-rail inside me.

I Wish



I suppose it’s only right 
that I so often use a word that, 
if you listen to it slantwise, 
squinching your ears just so, 
sounds like a short burst of warm wind 
masquerading as a fleeting kiss on your cheek. 
But mostly, to me, someone for whom 
the whole auditory world echoes 
scrunched and askew, Wish reminds me 
too much of a sigh. Perhaps that’s
because so many of my wishes end up 
punctuated, if not begun, 
by a hopeless exhalation that starts 
with loosening up my lips from a kiss 
and then an admonition to just shut up.
I wish (see?) that just wasn’t so, 
but (another word I use so much 
I’ve worn a groove down its middle)
that’s wishes for you -- and me and us -- 
lots of misses full of near-kisses 
and things maybe better left unsaid.