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. 

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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.

Feathers in the Grass

Whenever feathers lying in the grass I spy
they remind me of my dwindling days.
For all too soon I too could fall and die
and how would you know I passed though this maze?
Each quill is the scar of a leaving behind,
the remnant of some bird’s flying away.
And when I find one I hope Life may be so kind
that you might find mine when I fly one day.
So I leave these feathers of a heart taken wing
and a soul that never found a nest.
They’re dipped in black and songs they sing,
so you might know my soul’s finally at rest.

I said goodbye to my oldest and best friend today. And on top of everything else going on in my little life, it’s left me shattered. But it reminded me that anyone’s time could come in the next week, day, hour, or minute. And in those seconds, however many we’re gifted, I hope we can leave something behind (doesn’t have to be a silly poem) for our friends to remember us. Maybe just to let them know in some way you loved them. BTW, love you. 

Photo © Joseph Hesch, 2017

Our Last Goodbye

The last time we said goodbye,
it felt like it could be forever.
The finality hit me as soon as
you disappeared from my view,
well after you left my line of sight.
And so what if it was our last goodbye?
What memories will we hold
when or if we are moved to think
of one another again?
Will you recall how I made you laugh?
Will I remember your smile?
Will you recall my arms around you
as you drift off to sleep?
Will I be able to feel your cheek
against my recollection’s scratchy face?
I can’t answer these questions.
My mind may not hold the blessed
sensations of you that enriched my life,
and yours will doubtless fade
the longer we’re apart.
But that’s life.
When death of the body finally comes,
death of who we were to each other
will have already dug its grave.

Could this time’s have been the final one?

Days When It’s the Ink That Runs

It all used to be so spontaneous,
how the ink would flow, run down the page
in a warm and thinly coded letter.
Writing these would be easy as a walk
with the sun and breeze at our backs.
We had a run of seven years like that,
when the fruits of the unspoken communication
tasted delicious on my mind’s tongue,
even after I’d previously suffered
another tangled trip and fall in this, my garden
where bloomed songs of elation and sorrow.
Lately, though, my heart has made
each new walk a downwind slog in a gale,
where the rain will blind my soul,
each drop a barb in my heart leaving behind
a scar that wouldn’t allow it to open
and beat to its full extent.
But along comes this thinning of the clouds.
Never a clearing, a dome of blue instead of
this blanket of the blues. Just enough
of a hint of light that I see things
not as they were, but as an example
of what they are. Not yet as they could be,
because we haven’t written those days yet.
In these moments, the ink once again runs,
the letters sometimes smeared by falling rains.
But you still remember what they might mean.

Here’s a poem I wrote today instead of the Story-a-Day effort I was supposed to write. I’ll do some of them later, I hope. No, this prompt was to write a story using each of the following words.: ink, previously, work, breeze, seven, run, delicious, example, spontaneous, and barb. These prompts always brought me a lot of joy, because they were a game, a competition between the dark and light angels of my creative soul. Today, the light one has her moment. Tomorrow, as I said, has yet to be written.