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.

J-O-E-Y in the Dark

Close-up of sparklers against blurred background

Close-up of sparklers against blurred background, Getty Images

You could feel the effervescent burns
on your little hand, like incandescent
bubbles from a flaming ginger ale,
as Dad held your wrist,
writing your name in the silver-gold spray
of your first sparklers.
Your eyes would shine in the darkness,
watching the J-O-E-Y form before you,
then seeing the glowing ghost trail
of what would become a shining touchstone
of your childhood’s memories —
the smoky aroma of hotdogs,
of drippy watermelon,
the vinegary sweetness
of Grandma’s German potato salad,
your first taste of beer and
how something barely legal
almost always felt so good.

As I said before, when I was a kid, fireworks were illegal in New York State, though we were allowed to have sparklers. I’m not saying I know this story to be 100% true, but the feelings and images sure as hell are.

Memories Are Fireproof Things

Burning Old Memories by Gerla Brakee

Burning Old Memories by Gerla Brakee

I noticed the smoke coming from the chimney as I turned the corner. Smoke from Eddie’s backyard grill I could understand, but not the thick grey smudge climbing like ivy into the street side oak out front.

I hustled my way to his front door and knocked, Eddie never did give me a key, even if I was his lone living relative. He’d changed the old locks anyway. After my third bout of rapping on the door, its frame and the glass, I heard Eddie call from inside.

“Go ‘way. Nobody home,” he said from the living room. I could see his head poke up from behind Mom’s floral couch, the one she left Eddie and me when we got her house and it contents in her will. I sold Eddie half of my half.

“C’mon, Eddie, open up. What the hell you doing in there,” I shouted through the old mail slot. I could smell smoke coming from within.

From behind the old lace sheer curtains on the door window, I could see the fuzzed up image of my big brother coming my way, feel his stomping tread on the floor all the way out to the front porch. I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy visit.

Eddie unlocked the door, opened it about ten inches against his foot and gave me a look like I was his third Jehovah’s Witness at the door that day. I wasn’t, but I was still mighty interested in my brother’s well-being. It was my job now.

“What the hell do you want? I told you I was busy,” he said.

“I tried calling you to say I was coming over, just to say hi and see how you’re doing. You never answered or returned any of my messages.”

“I been busy. Besides I told you I didn’t want to see you over here. It’s my house now and I’ll decide who to let in,” Eddie said. He started closing the door, not slamming it for a change, but this time it was my foot that braced against its bottom. I gave it a hard push back into the foyer, knocking Eddie back with it.

“God damn it, Charlie, I think you broke my nose,” Eddie said.

“You’re lucky I don’t break your neck,” I said, trying to maintain the self-imposed adult demeanor I’d developed in helping Mom with Eddie, as well as in defending my brother and his issues for most of our lives.

“I got a call from Melody that you’re not speaking with her these days either. What’s going on, man?”

“Nothing that concerns you…or her. Now get the hell out of my house.”

“Still a piece of mine, man. And I want to make sure you’re not destroying that piece. Now what the hell you bring in the fireplace on a 85-degree day in July?” I said.

“I told you. None of your business.”

“I pushed past Eddie in the foyer and strode into the living room, where that smoke I was outside was also clouding the room from the fireplace up to the ceiling.

“One, you shouldn’t be burning anything, at any time. Two, I closed the flue back in April, so that’s why it looks like a fog in here. It’s a wonder you haven’t keeled over from carbon monoxide. Three, open the fucking windows so we can get this smoke out of here so at least I don’t die today. And finally, four, What’re you burning, anyway?” I said.

“None of your business, little brother. None of anybody’s business now.” Eddie said. He pouted and stomped around the first floor opening the windows and back door.

The room looked as neat as ever, Eddie being a fastidious guy, even if sometimes his mind left most of its toys out for us all, mostly Eddie, to trip over. But there in front of the hearth, an old cardboard box stood tipped on its side, piles of old black and white and faded Polaroid photos scattered in an arc along the floor as if they were marching their way into the fireplace.

It was the box of family photos Mom kept on the top shelf in her closet. I hadn’t seen it for years. Never looked in the closet after she died, except to give her clothes to Goodwill. That’s thrown Eddie for a loop, like we were erasing Mom from the place like we erased her from the world by burying her.

“Now what’s the deal, Ed. This isn’t like you at all. It’s okay to go through Mom’s pictures, of course, but what’re yu doing during the damn things? What if I wanted to see them?”

“No.” Eddie’s face turned red and his eyes looked like they would burst into tears at any moment. “You don’t want to see these people anymore. And I really don’t. You don’t know what I do.”

I kind of doubted that, since I was the only member of our family to ever go to college and Eddie, well Eddie went to his school, but no further.

“Talk to me, bro. We’re in this together, right? With Mom gone, we gotta work together to make it through. Now what is it you know that I don’t?”

Eddie picked up four or five more photographs off the pile and tossed them into the shrinking fire. As he picked through some more, I grabbed them from his hand and said, “Stop this. What’s going on?”

He nodded at my hand, in which I now held three photos of Mom and Grandpa, Grandma and Grandpa and one of all of us at some Christmas back I don’t know when.

“There, ya see now?” Eddie said.

“No, just pictures of Mom. Why’d you want to burn pictures of Mom. I’d never expect this shit from you.”

“You don’t get it, do you?” Eddie said and kicked a little book, its cover a faded pink with a rainbow drawn in the lower right of its cover. The top corner read: Missy Bruno. Mom.

“Open it. Open it anywhere and read. I found it in the attic. In a little chest stuck in the corner. You’ll see.”

I could see the pages had been pulled back and the dust freshly smudged by I assume Eddie. I looked at the page that was opened by Eddie’s kick. It read:
D came in agin last night. And he did it agin. I asked him why. He said cause he loves me. But I cant tell M cause she wouldn’t understand and be upset with me. That’s what D said. Confused.

“The whole fucking thing is full of that stuff,” Eddie said, calmer but still angry. “I’d kill that old bastard if I could get my hands on him.”

I finally got it.

“Are there any more of these?”

“Lots. Burned them.”

“They all say the same thing? That Grandpa abused Mom?”

“Yeah, and a lot more.”

“Like what?” I said, not really sure I wanted an answer.

“Like about me. About Grandpa. Him, mom and me. And you.” Eddie said, and then his eyes finally let go, and not from the smoke.

I spent the next few nights with Ed. Got us both settled. And we burned every one of that bastard’s pictures. But memories are fireproof things. Not sure Eddie and I can bury those along with poor Mom.

Here’s the first of my stories for the Story A Day may challenge I crazily accepted the day after I completed Poem A Day April. I may not share them all with you, but I figured I’d give you this first draft (and I mean totally untouched by editorial hand, no time) of a story I was prompted to write in 30 minutes. Just made it. I write fast, but unfortunately these days I think much too slowly. Product of the muck of too many memories, maybe.