Silent, These Bouquets

When first we met, I thought you were so young,
hands smooth and eyes bright as shining star jewels.
And I’m sure no old poet’s words I sung
to you since back then I lacked any tools.
Dumbstruck, I could but only nod “Hello,”
or I could not express my true feeling,
in a heart that’d whisper, not bellow.
Even today I find my head reeling.
Voicing what my heart longed to say back when
ev’ry fiber of me still wants to shout.
Nowadays I take in hand this hack’s pen,
so on paper I try digging words out.
And still I sit silently hours and hours,
yearning to grow you poems like flowers.

My brilliant poet/teacher friend Bethany Pope encouraged me to try writing a double acrostic sonnet this morning. But I thought I should crawl before I ran. So I scribbled this single acrostic sonnet, a poem of fourteen lines in iambic pentameter (I think) with a rhyming scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. The tricky part is making the first letter of each one, read top to bottom, spell out something that relates to the theme of the poem. (Again, I guess.) So here’s my very first try, with an old message. 

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Be Well, Dear Heart

If I had the sun and moon
as flashlights to plumb the depth
of our well of sorrows,
would you be able to see its bottom?
And if I had a line as long
as all the ones I’ve written
put together, could we reach it?
Why would we want to, though?
There’s nothing there but
choking sadness, such that
even if we stood on the bones
covering its floor, neither the dead
nor the living could hear us call.

So I think it’s time we climbed
above our despairing memories,
not hiding them, but keeping them
near as reminders of what love,
even unspoken, looks like.
We could try to fill that space
of sunken dreams with all that love
we shared with the lost.
So be well, dear heart, look to
your right, left, ahead and behind.
We’re together in this, and not
so alone as you think.

The (Try Not) To Do List

1. Try not to think of them.
2. Try not to think of them so much.
3. Try not to think of them on weekends.
4. Try not to think of them in public.
5. Try not to think of them when you’re alone.
6. Try not to think of them in the rain.
7. Try not to think of them in the shower.
8. Try not to think of them when you try watching TV.
9. Try not to think of them when you try reading.
10. Try not to think of them when you look up at the sky.
11. Try not to think of them when you look down at the sidewalk.
12. Try not to think of them while eating.
13. Try not to think of them when you can’t eat a bite.
14. Try not to think of them while you’re writing.
15. Try not to think of them while sitting in front of a blank screen.
16. Try not to think of them even though you know you can’t.
17. Try not to think of them when they’re all you can think of.
18. Try not to think of them at all.
19. Try not to think of them.
20. Try not to think.
21. Try not to.
22. Try.
23. Cry.

Today is the first day of the month I’m trying to write a story a day with Julie Duffy and her Story-a-Day folks. The first prompt was to write a story made from a list. I did one a few years ago about my last day of working and first day of retirement. I was stuck because I’m in a rough emotional patch right now. A month and a half ago my oldest and closest friend died. On Thursday his wife called me to see how I’m doing. Not well. Then today I watched Meghan McCain eulogize her father and my sister-in-law posted a photo of my youngest brother’s grave on another holiday without him. Let’s say my emotional scab has been ripped again. And so I wrote this story. It’s funny (not in a ha ha way) how sometimes you realize the love you had for people only when you lose them. Or maybe you realize how much they loved you. And you can’t stop thinking about that for a month and a half or years and years. So you do your best to get by with the thought of them always there next to your consciousness in your head and heart. And sometimes you just cry.

Killer Angels, Better Angels

It’s leaves are near-ochre,
yellowed with age and changes
in weather and geography,
like the pages of memory
I unshelve along with it each year.

I bring it out like a swimsuit
each summer since I found it
on that beach in that place from
that side which did not prevail.
Today, a page fell like a memory.

It tells a tale of the push and pull
of a time when men could be
paid for and sold, or lined up in ranks
to pay their last full measure
of devotion to a cause each held sacred.

As I run my finger down the page,
I am present in my place and time
as I am in theirs, though I smell
the aroma of a musty old book rather than
of Hell’s own sulfur and smoke.

And I am at peace reading of war and death,
vaguely secure that such a conflict
couldn’t again slash my nobly scarred nation.
Then all these men would have given
that last full measure for nothing.

It’d be our most-mortal sin to allow them
to have lived and died in vain, knowing their
new birth of freedom, and government
of the people, by the people, for the people–
all the people – did perish from the earth.

Rambling draft inspired by reading, breathing, feeling, listening to the pages of my old paperback copy of The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s fictional narrative of the actual men and events leading up to, within and following the days in July of 1863 we know as the Battle of Gettysburg. I find myself reading more of my Civil War books these days.I love them, but that I feel so viscerally compelled concerns me a little. 

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

Mything You Like No Other

For the past hour I just sat here
looking with warmth at your photo,
wondering if your voice is still strong
or more voce sotto.
Would your hair still be to your shoulders,
the consistency of satin
or, like mine, thin, patchy and
some other adjective from the Latin?
I discovered this picture of you
at the bottom a drawer
while I was looking for something else
and it opened a rusty-hinged door
to memories I try not to think
of all too often
while living through my days
with a heart you once did soften.
But that’s how it’s been,
since you were my obsession,
akin to Helen, but I was a weak-sauce Paris
and you were arrogant Menelaus’ possession.
And now, like her, you’re committed
to the dustbin of myth,
long-hidden within a pile of others
where apparently you were fifth.
Understand, this doesn’t mean
I didn’t love you any less,
only that there were four others
to whom I’ve already written poems, I confess.
So one day should you pass a hobbling
old guy who looks familiar in some way,
he probably won’t remember you
since I tossed you out with three others today.

Hey, don’t judge me too harshly. I’m just trying to get my old poetry gears to turn again. They’re currently covered with rust and moss after sitting here for months in a puddle of mud and tears. And, just so you know, this is a bit of poetic whimsy. Right? No, I don’t have something in my eye.

Marching Back to The Twilight Age

Across these shadow-filled decades you probably wouldn’t remember how we’d sit there on our beds and submit our lives and times to all the oh-so-mature, badass examination that only eighteen-year-olds possessing a 2-S or 4-F Selective Service deferment or a Draft Lottery number higher than 200 could muster. Through the tawny, fuzzy-framed lens of five beers each or the gray-white haze of ultra-clarity that you’d acquire from that illicit psychoactive agent you harbored in your sock drawer, artistic, philosophic and geopolitical certainty would hang in the air like soon-to-incinerate paper lanterns strung from one side of the room to the other. Occasionally, the rocket’s red glare of your proselytizing the work of Salinger would send me scooting for safety behind the cover of my Shakespeare, Twain and Chekhov. Do you remember falling to sleep to Zeppelin, Dylan and The Dead? How about the phony bomb threat someone tried to pin on the Black Panthers that emptied the dorms on our first night on campus? Can you recall how we wandered around the quads and stared at easily a hundred of the first girls we’d ever seen wearing clothing — actually or, most likely, in our dreams — more easily removed than high school uniform jumpers, wide-belted low-hipped bell bottoms or even a tight-ass mini? Do you recollect any of those deliciously salacious silhouettes of their Promised Land projected through each of the nightgowns by the fire trucks’ lights? I only just thought of them, sitting here with this faded old photo of her. I wonder whatever happened, since we never did. Those will never be the good old days, though, since so much bad since then blocked the light of the good. But the faintly outlined memories I saw today through something like those old chemically induced dorm goggles make me happy. I guess I could call them memories of the Twilight Ages, since at this age I’m living in now sure as hell feels like a Dark one.

I don’t wish you could have been there, but you probably had to be to fully understand this. It was a time of great social and political upheaval faced by kids who had lived through a just-averted nuclear war touched off a relatively few nautical miles from Key West, by burning racial divisions and flaming American cities, and by many an American boy about to turn 18 who sweated out if his next birthday recognition would include a card that read: “Greetings.” Guys my age tend to talk about their youth as “the Dark Ages.” But they really should be called the Twilight Ages. Today scares me in a whole different way.