Come Spring



Come Spring, the river ice breaks 
and floats away, like memories 
that’ll only return when 
you’re housebound and alone, 
prisoner of another Winter. 
Of course, Winter doesn’t need 
a new year attached to it 
to lock you up like an ice-capped stream. 
Memories can make their own Winters,
freezing you to your chair,
turning your back to any stray 
gust of Spring lest your frozen
mien crack even a grin’s worth.
But if you listen, you’ll hear
the river’s heartbeat within,
like knocking at your door.
It won’t be denied when Spring 
decides it’s time for open water again.

This piece was inspired by Writer's Digest's Robert Lee Brewer looking for a Spring poem today. I've written more than a few in my relatively short time as a poet, most looking at the change of season kind of sideways. Not sure what angle this one's looking from. Perhaps some hopeful shoreline.

Their Gifts


 
As the holidays come, he’d been thinking
 about her and others in his dim past.
 His memories, like white tree lights blinking
 flash and fade like guests, yet she’s always last.
 
 Does he recall the cards and gifts they shared?
 Has she kept any of them all these years?
 He hoped she understood they meant he cared,
 even the times his gift brought her to tears.

 Then his mind would move to another thing,
 focus he couldn’t hold long anymore.
 But occasionally some thought would bring
 a shadow she once knew to her mind’s door.
 
 But shadows are hard to find in the black,
 the darkest night of the year will bring soon.
 She drops that thought back in its velvet pack,
 and, for no reason, hums herself an old tune.
 
 And so their thoughts pass as if in a storm,
 out of reach, like a lost note or missed flight.
 That’s their lives, misses and losses the norm.
 But life’s gift’s best shared if only they might.

Listening to the River in the Rain


On those autumn rainy days, 
by the river is where I walked 
with only my thoughts — 
irritants more than companions. 
They would dampen my trek 
more than the gentle spritz 
of lisping meteorological sibilance.
And then those old wondering if-only’s
and pondering damn-it’s would
sidle up to me like panhandlers
who wouldn’t take “Sorry” for an answer.
I never tossed my two cents 
into their jingle-less cups.
I had fewer answers than I had 
ready change for a dollar or five.
No, I tucked my head deeper
between my shoulders and looked
to the Hudson for advice. 
But the river just kept running by,
southbound, constant, always listening,
never saying much more than 
the faintest whisper, never suffering
fools who argued with themselves
in the rain over waters long ago 
crossed beneath the bridge.
That wise old river.

Sifting Through the Dust

The tactile memories have
flown with the winds of time,
carried on the dust
of crumbled happiness.
Would you recognize the voice
if it echoed back, back, back
to your age-muffled ears?
Would you attest, “Yes, that’s
the one,” should they approach
through these dark dreamy mists?
Probably not, since all you recall
are feelings, emotional placeholders,
little more than silhouettes
of erstwhile three dimensional,
wished-for perceptions.
So why do you hold onto
these faded portraits
of the never-really was?
Perhaps it’s because you hope
someone’s sifting through the dust
of shadow-thin memories of You,
and wondering, too.

The Tenderfoot

The Tenderfoot, Charles Marion Russell 1900

Say there, cowboy, heard you first herded sheep,
but soon enough moved on to real live beeves.
So how’d a kid with callouses that deep
learn to paint as well as a Hopi weaves?

Taught yourself since you were a sprout, you say?
I b’lieve you done good in learning that art.
Now you paint people and things gone away,
real cowboys and Indians, but with heart.

I like how you showed them Piegan fellows
on ponies galloping hellbent for meat.
Them bufflers, I can almost hear their bellows,
like when there were more of them than Blackfeet.

So you’re happy now that you’re in Great Falls
‘stead of wrapped in a blanket under stars?
Or d’you miss them days when the heifer bawls
as we drove ‘em to Helena’s rail cars?

I’d say you done well for yourself, Charlie,
got this fine house and a pretty young wife.
Beats pushing a plow though a field of barley,
but I still think you might miss our old life.

‘Preciate you painting my picture there,
though I’m on the wrong side of that tussle.
Bucked like a tenderfoot on that li’l mare
I believe was your show, Charlie Russell.

For Day 4 of the NaPoWriMo Poem-a-Day Challenge, the prompt called for a “painter” poem, where I am to take a painter and make him or her the title and subject of my poem. If you know me, you know my, ohhhhh, let’s say obsession with the American West. From when it butted up against my backyard in New York to what we now call the Old West. One of my favorite artists of that time is the great Charles M. Russell, who gave new meaning to the term “cowboy artist,” since he was both. This poem’s a conversation, one-sided at best, between an old cowboy chum of Charlie’s visiting him with reminiscences and maybe a slight bone to pick. 

The Scars That Never Stop Hurting

He didn’t know how to make peace with his past. What offering of acceptable remorse exists when the past, in whatever personage or spirit, listens naught and averts its eyes at the mere thought of him? He’d try, “I’m sorry,” but seven letters hanging off-kilter from an apostrophe can get blown sideways and lost in the winds between two people, two different lives from what came before. His mind has lost its edge and quickness since its days of serving up scars even before others knew the sting of his cut. Now his life is not much more than a scar, something to look at and recall all those wounds he administered across his lifetime. So he waits upon his cold chair for that final felling wound. He sighs at how the sword always fell to his pen, but knows the scythe always wins. Perhaps then a peace he still dreams might come will reveal itself before he hears the swoosh of that existential steel. And, if comes too late, he must assume the role a scar on a piece of someone else’s past. But wouldn’t it be grand to hear that voice say, “Would you write me again.”?

A 200-word free written bit of what feels like literary (those probably not literate) confession and self-imposed penance. Hey, you sit down without a shred of inspiration, you can’t expect Shakespeare or Kendrick Lamar. You just hope and expect ‘something’ will appear eventually. Oh, and the new photo, old regrets and ancient scar (I have many more, some of which you can’t see) are all ©Joseph Hesch.

Independence Day

I awoke to the booming thunder,
and a though it was well before dawn,
the room flashed with light like sun-up
even with the bedroom curtains drawn.
I noticed the drumbeat
of rain on the roof,
and even half-asleep
I needed no calendar for proof.
This was no spring shower
I realized with the next flash.
I knew for certain now it had come,
as sure as the accompanying crash
of thunder like a cannon
went off over my head.
And even though you couldn’t sleep
I snuggled comfy in bed.
Such storms with their flashes
lit memories of boyhood so bright,
of when I’d take my pillow and blanket
to the backporch in the night.
and sleep with Nature’s fireworks,
not something pyrotechnically contrived.
Like that school kid, whose Independence Day
had come, I knew Summer had arrived.

My first poem of Summer 2017, I guess. This in response to Annie Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines prompt for writings inspired by our soon-to-be summer. Forgive me the hideous rhyming. It seems they keep cropping up like ragweed in this old man’s garden of memories.

Going, Nuclear

There once lived a tradition
in my United States, one which
mostly petered out following
the dawn of the Atomic Age.
In this tradition, entire familial
crews would board the family heap
and set sail upon the Lord’s Day
to circumnavigate the countryside
of the Free’s land and Brave’s home.

Mom and Dad, little sis and big brother
and every sibling within their orbits
would fuse within a Detroit-made
nuclear containment vessel for no
other reason than to conduct experiments
in fusion. In back, young neutrons bounced
off one another, raising the heat up front,
in any season. Inevitably, the proton
in the driver’s seat would turn and
threaten to turn the ambling four-wheeled
atom around or into an isotope
if they didn’t settle the hell down.

Gas stations and diners of America’s
fruited plains would whiz by as
its purple mountains majestically
strolled along in the distance,
each in their analog glory.
Then along came the Digital Age,
where packs of four to seven
were replaced by zeroes and ones,
and the Great American Sunday Drive
went the way of the buffalo, Dad, Mom,
two of my brothers and a nuclear family once
solid as a wood-sided Ford Country Squire.

On Day 13 of NaPoWriMo, I used Writer’s Digest prompt for a “family” poem. Maybe you have to be my age to really get this one.

Traveling Light

Perhaps you remember that guy you once knew,
the one who’d just be there when you were angry or blue.
He had that black hair, eyes of dark brown
and, whenever he’d drop by, he’d flip over your frown.
He went away, traveling dark paths. So did you.
You went your way, he wandered without a clue.
You mightn’t recognize him now, the roads took their tolls,
his hair gone all silver, his eyes sunken holes,
and while the soles of his soul have worn shiny and thin,
there still comes a time when he can pull out a grin.
No, you may not remember him since your paths split apart,
but he sometimes smiles, even after all the hard miles,
at a picture of young you he thought to pack in his heart.

For Day 10 of NaPoWriMo, I combined prompts calling for a travel poem and a portrait poem. And what’s with this sudden rhyming thing? I shouldn’t go to sleep listening to Dylan, I guess.

The Hours Lost

dark-bedroom

It’s strange how some mornings
I wake up before the sun,
and a light I cannot see
goes on there in the dark.
Even with my eyes closed
I see things I haven’t seen
in a long time. Most likely
because I’ve kept my eyes closed.
It happens more and more
these not-quite days, when
I really would like back
those extra two hours of sleep
these vivid visions stole
in the blackness of this room,
where I thought I shut everything —
doors, eyes, mind — long ago.
Maybe it’s our hours I wish
I hadn’t lost that want me back.