Exit Ahead

Whenever that music starts, 
my vision clouds and my mind projects 
a different image before me. 
I try ignoring it, but my focus 
on the imagined more often than not 
supersedes that which is right in front of me. 
Not so bad when I’m at my leisure, 
but at the wheel of a speeding car 
it can be unfortunate and unwise. 
As if I have a choice when the music
moves from my ears to my eyes.
And when the last strains of the song 
fade into the first of the next, 
I wonder how I got from there to here.
No, not from mile marker 12 to 16.
Too often, I look for the answer 
assisted by a memory as full of skips 
and repeats as an old LP played 
over the highway’s tarstrip heartbeat.
14, 15, 14, 15…
14 years, 15 years…
Exit ahead. Here I am.

The Guitar Who Forgot How To Play

Over in the corner she stands,
the guitar who forgot how to play.
Back when I still could bend my hands,
we’d play each and every day.

Now all she does the year ‘round
is keep dust from hitting the floor.
That’s a burden to bear heavier than it sounds.
and I can’t bear the burden of not hearing her anymore.

So I’ll sit her curves upon my knee,
take her in hand and disregard the pain.
Strum her strings to see if she’ll sing to me.
Perhaps we’ll make beautiful music together again.

Ouch, that hurts my hands as well as my old ears.
Looks like she’s lost it, I have to say.
But I’ll never give her up, not in a million years.
We’ll find a way, me and my guitar who forgot how to play.

On Day 10 of Poem-A-Day April 2020, a poem that uses a fill-in-the-blanks title: “The (something) Who (something else).” There are days this is a true story, I’m afraid. And that really hurts when I’m so lost all I can do is write in rhyme. That’s almost as painful as trying to pluck some strings of grab any chord, let alone an F or Bm.

It Goes Like This

My fingers hurt when I
tried to play my guitar,
all of us now turned
unpracticed and old.
While the six-string sounds
better than ever with its
seasoned spruce body,
my seasoned body  in motion
sounds of castanets.
Oh to be as springy again
as my Larrivée when I
pulled it new from its box
twenty years ago, seeking
to regain something I’d lost
from twenty years before that.
For a few seconds today
my stiff old hands forgot
how to form a D minor chord.
I’d blame them, but they
were only following orders
from a brain whose strings
had gone dull and slack
a few years ago, too.
So I sat down to write this,
hoping to bring them back
into tune, at least for
a little while. My head
now hurts after I try playing
with words. But, as with
my guitar, who’s really
listening but me anyway?

Funny how calluses form on my fingers from using them too much, yet grew on my brain from not using it enough. 

Broken Harmonies

Time has smoothed
the jagged peaks
separating what never
could’ve been surmounted
over the long run.
Now the dust of empty years
covers the path from one
to the other, where
their footprints went
only so far and then,
inevitably, turned back.
But where they could
never again walk
together, their music
might still mingle,
flying in faint harmony
over the obfuscating
and the unassailable,
but only if they would
listen to one another.
’Tis a shame that one,
the dreaming pragmatist,
can’t hear it anymore
not morning nor night.
And the other, ever and always
the pragmatic dreamer,

The Final Movement of Spring’s Symphony in C Major

The muted roll of a tympani
nudged me from my torpor,
as more of the rhythm section
rapped steadily upon the roof.
The wind sounded like strings
stroked long, given vibrato
by shivering maple leaves.
Lying there, I felt the musical
tension swell, as if waiting
for the conductor to signal
a note of resolution.
The house lights flickered, as if
announcing intermission’s end and
I’d yet to more than sip from
my nap time cocktail. With another
bass drum thrum, louder than before,
this audience of one at
at the window to enjoy
Spring’s orchestral finale
of this year’s residency.

Photo ©Joseph Hesch 2014

An Ode to ‘Femotions’ – A Celebration of Life

It was just another sunny spring  Sunday afternoon, the kind where the wind sings its celebratory air,  when I found her curled up in her  own special chair. She wore headphones  holding back wind’s hymn from her ears,  on her cheek I saw tracks of her tears.  “What’re you doing?” I asked,  with the hard-earned knowledge  never to tell a woman not to cry. She looked up with red eyes and  said “We’re going to die.”  I figured this was another of those  things I secretly termed “femotions,” —  cathartic expressions of feminine emotions — I now understood not to try damming  or I’d be damned, you see, as just another male  whose feelings ran the gamut from A to B. “Yep, we’re all somewhere along  that path. Can I help?” I asked. Perhaps  I could make her feel better if I took on her task.  “Yes,” she said, and opened her fist,  within which I found crumpled a  smudged page titled “Funeral Playlist.” “You let me handle this,” I replied, because  I’d already begun one for when I died. I never thought this morbid, collecting  songs for the grieving, reminding us of  loved ones our sides forever leaving.  But what I wrote, like that uplifting breeze,  came swiftly as I penned titles with ease. And they didn’t echo much of sadness nor strife.  With memories wistful, soon I turned over her own fistful, a soundtrack celebrating the love of my life.

For Day 18 of NaPoWriMo, I combined prompts again. A Life and/or Death poem and a poem using neologisms. A neologism is a word made from combining two existing words (like “motel” coming from “motor” and “hotel”) or they could be words invented entirely for their sound. This piece is a cobbled together thing, but the sentiment is one I think about a lot because I’ve already begun making up my all-too-soon to be in rotation ultimate playlist.

You’re Welcome…Welcome…Welcome


I introduced you
to those who
gave meter to my
iambic shuffle.
Voices, then
names and faces,
who’d accompany you
on your journey
to nameless places
on trackless roads
to destinations
whose way you’d lost
when your heart
tripped over itself
again and again.

They so mirrored
your thoughts,
you’d use them
to smooth those
jagged days
whose dust they’d wash
from your cheeks
as you’d listen
at night and wonder
the why, why, whys.
Perhaps I was unwise
to share, since now
they no longer
belong to me…
never could to us.
I’ll be fine…
echoes follow me

A 100-word free-write I used as a warmup to today’s fiction work. These dreamy pieces seems to open up my storytelling sluices and maybe give a bit of running-water rhythm to my prose.

In Chorus We Breathe


Today the wind has sung so well,
trees had no choice but to sway
to its tune and clap their green hands
in a seven-hour standing O.

Whenever I blow, the shrill
or melodious wind that whistles
from my lips doesn’t move the wood
and greenery. It moves me, though.

I can see songs’ unspoken images and,
if I’m lucky, trees responding to me
with feathered leaves launching
on those big gusts.

Winds once rustled my black hair,
before it took on the color of clouds,
now misting these old eyes as breeze,
birds and I in chorus breathe.

B-Side, Myself


Just to be different, since I was the invisible boy, remarkably unremarkable in almost every way save one: I spent much of my childhood as a moving bookmark, my nose wedged between the pages even as I walked the book home from the library. But I was looking to stand out just a little from within the covers, as well as from beneath them.

So when I’d scrape together enough nickels and quarters, I’d stop at the Woolworth’s on the way home from the library and buy one of the newer 45 rpm discs of someday classic pop and rock. Once home, I’d put it on the Motorola and become a bookmark lying between the two speakers — each pressed to a corresponding ear — and play the B-side over and over and over.

I’d learn that tune until I could whistle every bass line and guitar fill and listeners on the street (and in the house) would think I thweeted seemingly dissonant passages “God Only Knows” when the other kids moved to the transistor or jukebox that spoon-fed them “Wouldn’t it Nice?”. And I felt better because I knew “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” when all everyone else really wanted to hear was “All I Really Want to Do.”

Things haven’t changed too much since then. I was the Deep Cut guy, the cut-out bin diver, for the LPs in college, the listener to the unknown songwriter/bar band who someday came to rule the CD and radio charts. (Where we’d part company.)

These days, when they count overnight downloads in the millions, you’ll hear me whistle the harmony parts of Jason Isbell’s “24 Frames” or Over the Rhine’s “All I Want Is Everything.” It’s okay. I don’t get beside myself when you tell me to learn to carry a tune. I’ll always be that guy, not beside myself over your packaged, promoted and programmed brickbats.

Just B-Side, myself. Period.

Like Striking a Chord to the Svadhishthana


I remember a February evening sitting on your dorm room’s twin bed in the dim nightlight glow, watching you across the way on the other, a bottle of strawberry wine on the floor between us. You held your Martin like a mom holding her youngest, softly moving up and down its fretboard like you were smoothing powder on its E-minor bottom. Your long hair fell across its body and you closed your eyes as if waiting for kisses in 3/4 time. I was like a poor father, bouncing my Sears Roebuck Silvertone upon my knee, a fractious child throttled to dissonant submission by my left hand. When you offered me your Martin, I cautiously strummed a G-chord and felt its gut-punch tone straight to my Svadhishthana chakra, another lesson about strumming you taught me that night. I experienced that same response from your goodbye kiss in May, when you said you’d never forget me, like I never forgot that F-chord you showed me where I wrapped my thumb around the low E string and left the high E open. Sad that I can’t remember its name. And oh so much sadder still, I can’t remember yours.

A rainy day bit of semi-fictional half-recollections. But then, most recollections of a guy like me these days could be semi-fictional.