Black-Eyed Susans and Brown-Eyed Suzie

Source: WeHeartIt

I sat on the back steps, the afternoon sun on my face and a six-pack sitting beside me, keeping me company in the afternoon chill. It was the first day of Spring and my fancy had turned, as it always had, to thoughtless love.

Not my thoughtlessness, though. I had plenty of thoughts. Probably one for each swallow of beer and the beer wasn’t helping drown them, as if it ever really does.

According to the TV weather guy, the Sun was about to come back across the Equator from its Winter place. So I started thinking of Her again.

Okay, I was thoughtless, but that was years ago and she never really understood how I felt.

“I never knew,” she said the day I told her. It was in a tone that carried with it a sense of lost possibilities. No, lost probabilities. She’d already left her longtime fiancé and moved on to someone she said opened her up to a new life that most certainly wouldn’t include me.

All those years, I played the honorable soldier, and now the resigned swain. So I swallowed that bitter pill, washing it down with plenty of beer.

But every year around this time she would walk that sinuous walk of hers back into my consciousness. I always said it was because the sap was running, but I didn’t necessarily mean in the maple trees. I’d hear a song, almost any song, and form some sort of connection between its lyrics and us. Even though there never was or would be a Capital “U” Us.

The only Us that existed in my life was me and my Border Collie, Suzie. Okay, I’ll admit to naming Suzie with just enough of my Spring obsession’s name to make myself miserable, but she looked like a Suzie, so that’s who she was.

“Suzie, you fluff-butt, stop digging over there,” I called to the flagging tail flying over a spray of moist soil where I planted the flowers that She liked. Of course, a dog, even a PhD.-level intellect like a Border Collie, is not going to respond to a simple imperative sentence beyond its name and one or two-word command.

Suzie gave up digging just long enough to turn her head toward me, her red-brown eyes regarding me with what I construed as affection and indifference. The same I observed in You-Know-Who the last time we spoke. That’s what Spring will do to me.

I drained another bottle, slid it into its cardboard berth and withdrew its neighbor, popped its top and glugged down about a third of its mind-fogging elixir.

“Hey, Fluff, c’mon over here like a good girl. Leave those flowers alone,” I called again, this time with a bit more beer-muscled edge. Again, a turn and that look, the reflex reminder of Her eyes.

I’ve imagined those eyes many nights as I was lying in bed. I’d see them in the dark, on the ceiling, with mine closed, my head under the blankets or pillow, in the face of the girl who checked my license and sold me this beer, in my neighbor Mrs. Benedetto’s stare as I talked to Suzie like she was a human girl. Yeah, I saw Her eyes everywhere. Sometimes I liked thinking that she thought about my eyes, maybe seeing them in somebody’s face on the street or through a store window on a mannequin during a midday walk, if she still walked the route we’d walk when we were still “just friends.”

“Suzie, come. I mean it. Bad dog. I’m having enough trouble today without you digging up stuff. C’mon, Suzie, come,” I said. I emptied that bottle and noticed I only had one more left to drink. The contents of two bottles had disappeared without me noticing . Just as the past two hours had disappeared.

But the feelings of being the stupid good guy who followed the rules, too late to the fair (damsel), and living with regret, a Border Collie and only one more beer overcame me. Just as they had every year since I lowered my emotional guard and got a gut punch for my trouble.

“Suzie,” I yelled. “Get your fluffy ass out of those flowers now.” I was pissed, but not really at my dog. I planted those flowers and pretty much ignored them because it pained me to tend to them when I knew what they represented. But I couldn’t dig them up because…I knew what they represented.

I took that last bottle and tipped it up and drank most of it down in one long chain of swallows. Might as we’ll end the day and the beer going out big, because the feelings were still big.

I lowered the bottle with eyes my closed. I’d had enough of feeling sorry for myself. Yeah, these feelings were always there, most especially on this day. It was on the first day of Spring when I finally sowed my feelings for Her with hope they’d grow into something beautiful. For years I’d dreamed someday she’d look back and think, “Oh, wait…what if…?” But it’s really too late for that. I’ve lived too long without gathering what I’d planted with such hope. I realized a while ago I could live with that “without.”

I opened my eyes and found Suzie staring into them. She’d finally come over to me. In her soft mouth she clenched one of the Black-eyed Susans from the plot where she’d been digging for the past hour. I looked over and saw that it looked like a roti-tiller had  torn it up for a new plating. Suzie dropped the flower between my feet and pressed her head against my knee. She’d chewed off the center of the bloom and the black eye was replaced by brown. I reached out and rubbed between her ears.

“Okay, I get it. Thanks, Fluff-butt. You’re my girl, huh?” I said. “It’s over. We’re stuck with one another and that’s okay. What do you say we go down to the dog park tomorrow and see if we can dig up something besides flowers and foolish memories.”

I picked up the flower Suzie gave me and put it in that last near-empty bottle. Then we both went into our house. The sun had just slid over the Equator and the roofs to the west and tomorrow new life would begin.

A first-draft quick response to Annie Fuller’s weekly Writing Outside the Lines prompt. This week, it was the photo you see at the top of the story. As is my wont more often than not, I was inspired to write about another close encounter of the third kind in the galaxy of the heart. Is it a story yet? Probably not. But it’s a good jumping off point for something later. Let’s say I’ve panted the seeds.

Dead Wrong Dead Reckoning

From that first moment he saw her,
he was sure.
Or so his story goes.
He envisioned her as Hesperia,
nymph of incendiary sunset, while
the deck beneath him soared
and dipped upon the swells
and troughs of uncharted oceans.
He never admitted this to her
until years later, another
of his rosary of miscalculations.
But, to the fearful man, merely
tossing adrift on her sensuous sea
brought such exquisite terror.

After the truth escaped him,
and she warned him off
her shameful shallows,
he dove headfirst anyway and
dashed himself upon the rocks.
The death of his hapless hopes
in her storm-tossed seas
didn’t kill the dreamer, though.
Only as a castaway did he discover
she actually was the red sky at morning
and he just another wrong-way
mariner lost to the vast
emptiness, steering his course
without compass, so dead wrong
by his own dead reckoning.

Free written poem based on the following quote from Annie Fuller by Jay Asher for her Writing Outside the Lines Challenge:

“… know me …
don’t just see me with your eyes …”

Perhaps this lost soul should have looked beyond her sun-bright gifts and into her shadows to ensure his bearings before he was lost.

That Kinda Smile

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Today my friend wondered
the last time he saw your smile.
That’s a real smile, not one
of those practiced, pleasant lip curls
with a peep at pearly teeth.
He’s sure you’ve smiled plenty
since then, he just wasn’t around
to see it. And then he ordered
another Guinness.

He can’t remember his last
real smile, relying instead
on grip-and-grin hearsay from
well-meaning, white-lying,
“How-’bout-another-beer?” sweet-talkers.
As far as he’s concerned,
their affirmation of his full-toothed
happy face is akin to receiving
a trophy for sitting at the end
of a CYO basketball team’s bench.

Graphic confirmation remains
as dubious as a half-moon,
full-color, “Say cheese” moment
from Sasquatch or Nessie.
Rather, most photos depict him
sporting a smirk, wearing a wince
or hanging a lopsided half-rictus
upon his face that frightens even he
who shaves its haggard crags daily.

He believes, perhaps the last time
he actually, spontaneously,
perhaps even laughingly smiled
was in honest reply to yours.
He added that chances of repeating
that would be like discovering
George Washington’s dental X-rays.
But he told me he’s willing
to start digging around
Mount Vernon whenever…you know.

And then he kinda smiled.

Nothing Left to Feel

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Today I rummaged through
my gray and wrinkled journals,
in the attic behind my eyes,
to see if a new thought
of old you I might discover.
But all I found were pages
of once-heartfelt words expressing
something I never understood
because I never understood
anything I could not see, and
I couldn’t recognize my feelings.
Empirically, I observed you
as a conundrum, deriving
a contrary pleasure from the
feelings you cultivated within,
as well as any you consumed
from others. But you never
harvested any of mine.

Oh, how I wish I could find you
bouquets and bounty watered
by my tears of joy and sorrow.
So today I ransacked my dusty
recollections, because
I feel like Spring is near and
I feel that annual need to see you
and I feel something I can never
explain nor understand.
I found no emotion to fill the void
of not feeling you by my side.
Just images I’d rubbed so smooth
there was nothing left
to feel one way or another.
But I could see your smile,
still hear your laugh, watch
as tears fell and I recognized them
as old memories of your pleasure,
but none of mine.

Based upon a line from the second verse of Maya Angelou’s poem “Touched By An Angel,” as offered in a prompt from my friend Annie Fuller. I had the honor of meeting Dr. Angelou in one of my first weeks as a staff writer for Skidmore College. She exuded an inspirational energy undeniable, just as this one line stirred up this piece from somewhere within.

A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity

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I was never the man
you were so sure I was
then. And you weren’t
the one I thought
I knew. You still
don’t know me, but
I probably wouldn’t
recognize you,
through all the ink,
like milk, spilled since
last together we flew.
So now we’re strangers
living carry-on lives,
none of that old
baggage to check.
I could say, “Hi,
I’m just a guy,
on the last leg
of a journey we
each alone trek.

I wouldn’t mind
if you’d be so kind
to be a friend like
I once thought I had.
Perhaps you’d agree
a simple You-and-I We
would be super,
not like the old bad.
I won’t expect
a super-someone then
and don’t you look
for Bruce Wayne.
New connections
we’ll have made and
our rechecked baggage
permanently delayed;
we’d be just you and me,
with no more cases of
mistaken secret identity.

Above are the Chinese characters for “reconciliation” or “to make friends again.”  My old bones must feel Spring on the way to create something in this kind of mood of amity and hope. I’m sure it’ll pass with the next snow or depression blow.

Another First December Snow

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The first December snow
came upon us overnight,
laying its frozen breath
upon the grass, turning
car roofs into smooth igloos warmed
by internal combustion engines.
I decided to let it rest
upon the driveway, delaying rising
from my chair to remove it.
Neither of us were in any hurry
to move, let alone remove.
Sometimes it feels like
I’ve reached the first week
of my life’s December, the sun
not rising as high as it once did,
its days shorter, nights longer
and my body colder in the lee
of these long shadows cast
o’er top of me. They conceal
the imprinted memories of what
lies behind me, this anti-snow
broadening its lightless view
of a trail ahead without footprints
to leave or follow, only a hope
that somewhere beyond is yet
another first spring rain –another
chance to splash in its puddles
like a child once more.

Photo © Joseph Hesch 2016. It’s by the author from his writing aerie above the back forty, where he contemplates his past, present and future in all-day twilight today.

Only the Smile Remains

She had a bright smile, as I remember,
and I forget so much these days.
But the idea of what’s now a featureless face,
save for the memory of that brilliant double arch
of inviting conviviality, coquettish charm
and orthodontic perfection, floats
before me and I can’t blink nor rub it away.
Sometimes I can still make out her eyes,
deep brown with a filigree of gold
and ebony surrounding the pupils.
I only got close enough to study them
four times, and of those, only once
was with her knowledge, but not approval.

They were as bright as her smile
and were the windows to her troubled soul.
But now I don’t see her eyes too much.
Perhaps my recollection boarded them up when
she lost the lease on her soul.
It doesn’t much matter anymore, since I
moved off on my way, too. But I admit
to missing that bright smile and the times
I’d bask in its illuminant approval,
hear the chime of laughter from inside,
instead of feeling its bite on these,
my long smileless days, when in the mirror
I reflect on my own eyes, and see, and see,
and see…a candle within.

I was writing a story, and the character stopped in mid-draft to tell me this story about himself and the one who is but a shadow on a cloudy day to him now. I’d better put down my poet’s quill and pick up my writer’s keyboard to see what else is troubling this guy. Perhaps its the quote by the Cheshire Cat as he faded away, leaving nothing but his smile: “We’re all mad here.”