One of a Kind

A Collective Collection Poem

They call a group of lobsters
from Down East Maine a Risk,
even though soup on the menu
containing said Risk is a bisque.
Since collecting cats into a herd
is considered a feat beyond daring,
I suppose a Pounce of them
is as good as a Glaring.
A bunch of peacocks isn’t a flock.
In grand array, they’re an Ostentation.
Swans on the pond may float in a flotilla
dolefully christened a Lamentation,
When snails meet it’s an Escargotoire,
though they can also gather in a Rout.
Chasing each other is a Scurry of Squirrels,
while still waters hide a Hover of trout.
Even Humans, who made up these names,
don’t get off scot free without one.
Foresters fell trees in a Stalk,
a Superfluity counts as more than one nun.
Not sure why a tribe of boys is a Blush,
or how hermits as an Observance come a’meeting.
The Lord of the manor pours a Draught of butlers
while outside a Hurtle of sheep are a’bleating.
A pile of poets can be a School,
so I guess I’m just one of many.
Looked half my life for others like you,
but no bevy exists ‘cause there just aren’t any.

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Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold

Albany from the Helderberg Escarpment

Lew “Ruby” Rubio hadn’t cased this place before deciding to break in. But he’d been on the run from the cops in Albany for two sleepless days and nights and figured he could hide up in this cottage in the Helderbergs for a spell while everything cooled off down in the city.

Lew figured no one had been home in at least a week from the number of newspapers that peppered the apron of the driveway. He decided to jimmy the sliding door on the side away from the road, even though trees blocked view of the most of house from County Rte. 10. With a screwdriver he discovered in the garden shed and twenty years’ practice in the Bronx and Albany, he was standing in the kitchen in thirty seconds.

Once inside, Lew found his suspicions were correct. The place had been buttoned up for some time. A check in the bathroom showed the electricity on and the water off. He found the main, gave it a good twist to the left and he figured he was set for as long as he wanted to stay there. As long, that is, as he remained vigilant for any visitors from the County Sheriff’s Department or the State Police.

But first thing’s first.

“I’m frigging starving,” Lew said as he walked to the refrigerator. Inside, he found jars of pickles, olives, condiments, three cans of Mountain Dew, two bottles of Nine Pin Cider, a large unopened bottle of Ommegang Rare Vos ale and a half-bottle of 2016 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon.

“Well, this is all very nice, but where’s the damn real food?” Lew said, shoving the refrigerator door closed and moving to the cabinets that lined the wall above the sink. In the dim moonlight, he found cans of Progresso Chicken Noodle and Minestrone soups, some boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese, envelopes of Brown Sugar and Cinnamon oatmeal, a jar of peanut butter and three tubes of Pringles barbecue potato chips.

“Jesus, maybe something’s in the freezer. Aannnnd…two scrawny frost-burgers, half a bag of Tater Tots and two bottles of vodka. What the hell is up with these drunks?” Lew said, as he closed the freezer door, casting the kitchen back into darkness..

He froze when he thought he heard the crunch of something on the gravel driveway out front. Then he dropped low when he saw the headlights.

“Shit, not already,” he said, catching his breath as a car-mounted spotlight swept the exterior of the front of the house and the woods on both sides, its beam cutting off a slice of the darkness in the kitchen. Lew crawled toward the sliding door again, ready to make a run for it if necessary. But the Sheriff’s patrol car backed out onto Rte. 10 and once again he was alone.

“I’d better eat something now, in case they come back,” Lew said to himself. So he opened two bags of oatmeal, tossed the contents into a bowl, added water from the now-functioning tap and put it in the microwave for a minute. While it cooked, Lew poured a can of Mountain Dew into one of the red Solo cups he found on the shelf, and topped it off with some of the icy vodka.

“The Dew for the caffeine and the hooch for my nerves,” he laughed. He pulled the steaming bowl from the microwave, gave it a stir and slowly ate it, washing it down with the fortified Dew. Finished with his oatmeal, he dug a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter from the jar he left open on the counter, sucked down a hard cider and decided he’d better try getting some rest.

Slowly, he climbed the stairs up to the shed dormer, where he found two bedrooms and a half-bathroom. But, since the dormer was on the side away from the road, he thought he’d better get back downstairs just in case the cops made this place a regular stop on their patrols.

“You never know who might break in on you,” Lew said with a laugh.

Lew decided to crash on the futon by the sliding door, just in case. He opened the glass slider to allow some cool air into the pace through the screen. He then propped himself up so he faced the driveway and settled in for what remained of the night.

“Maybe I can steal a day or two here before I hit the road,“ he thought. Within two minutes he was sleeping soundly.

He never saw the headlights, nor any spotlight, but the sound of someone moving around outside coming through the open slider roused him around 3:00 AM.

“Shit. Where the hell did they come from,” Lew thought as he eased himself off the futon and padded over to the wall next to the slider. He peeked out one side of doorway, saw the shadow moving toward the doorway.

“I ain’t going back for them to put in the county lockup. I either gotta make a run for it into the woods when this dude moves to the other side, or I have to take care of him, myself…right now,” Lew thought.

He looked around for something to use as a weapon, if he needed it. Once again Lew heard the rustling sound and a chill ran through him, his heart began pounding, his mouth dried so much he could barely swallow. He saw the wrought-iron poker leaning against the wood stove and knew what he had to do. If someone came through the slider, Lew was certain he could take them down and put some distance between himself and this cottage before daybreak and any more cops could come along.

But he still hadn’t seen any sign of a vehicle out front, hadn’t heard the crunching gravel. He wondered if what he heard was another breaking and entering star looking to steal whatever of value he could find. Lew suddenly felt more superior to this interloper and figured it was time to put end to his stay here one way or another.

He’d eaten the owners’ oatmeal, drank their cider and vodka, made use of their futon and now he was going to use their fireplace poker. The intruder was now moving closer along the wall to the sliding door.

“This is it,” Lew said, taking a deep breath. “He’s right there and now’s the time to confront this asshole one way or another. One, two thr…”

Lew slid open the door and jumped out of the house and turned dead right, his poker above his head. He saw the silhouette of the intruder and raised his poker high, saying, “Get out of here, asshole, if you know what’s…”

But that was it. The brown bear, leading her cubs in a raid on the bird feeders and trash cans of the neighborhood, rose on her hind legs, stepped into Lew, and with a swipe sent him reeling bloody into the forest. She then burst through the slider doorway and went straight for the open peanut butter jar on the counter while her cubs licked the unwashed oatmeal bowl.

State Police found Lew lying beside County Rte. 10 about a mile east later that morning. They transported him to the emergency room at Albany Medical Center, where doctors reattached the blond-haired flap of scalp the mama of the three-bear rural crime spree flayed off him on her way to breakfast.

During his three-year stint at Coxsackie Correctional Facility, Lew picked up a few nicknames. Early on, the other inmates called him Zipperhead or Ruby. But as his hair grew back and word of how he was apprehended got around the yard, Lew Rubio was known by inmate and corrections officers alike as Goldilocks.

First draft of my first chance to try crafting a story for Week Two of Story-a-Day September. (I’m doing best I can, but  it’s been a true time crunch.) Since I may not get to all five of this week’s prompts, I decided to messily combine two:  1) Write a gender-swapped version of a previously-told story, and 2) Set a story in the opposite setting to what it was originally (in this case, contemporary vs. non-contemporary and realistic vs. fantastic). Suffice to say, it ain’t easy to draft a cohesive story while minding three-year-olds and on four hours’ sleep a night. But here’s my best-stab first draft.

A Message Without Words

The western hemisphere of the Blue Marble.
Image Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory

No birds do I hear
nor squirrels I see running
in the trees out back.
A sign that something’s coming?
Maples dropping leaves
in August is a surprise,
though not unheard of.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes
since I was a small kid
a time or two I would say.
But please tell which wind
would blow the bird songs away.
And shouldn’t squirrels
be stocking their year-end stores
in expectation
of winter’s cold at their doors?
The birds should still sing
if not all day, then morning.
If they don’t, is it
maybe some kind of warning?
Perhaps I see ghosts
or I’m reading ‘tween the lines.
While Fall’s weeks away,
calendars can’t read these signs
that weather’s changing,
even the animals can tell.
They’re telling us
in a language clear as bell
that maybe it’s time
to not just listen, but hear
the warning we’ve missed
that’s told all around this sphere.
They don’t know science,
but instinct sometimes trumps all.
Even animals know
we’ve fucked up our big Blue Ball.

The maples ARE dropping their leaves in August. And yesterday even I noticed the birdsongs had stopped, only the sound of crows remaining. I haven’t seen the squirrels and woodchucks that use my back yard as a combination supermarket and playground for days. I’m sure this is some anomaly, but even this vacuous scribbler can see our weather is changing…and faster than just Earth’s historical shifts. Ergo, I let Nature tell this little rhyming verse in links of five and seven syllable lines — the classic nature poetic form of the haiku.

Wake Up, It’s Sun Day

The sun rolled back aborning
onto the east side of the house this morning.
It didn’t come with a boom or crash
like when the trucks come to take the trash.
Rather, it came without any rousing sound,
though woke me as if on my window it did pound.
It snuck into my room on little cat feet
with colors of red, yellow and white, but no heat.
It crawled from over the sill to my bed,
pried open my eyes and without words it said,
“Rise and shine like me, we’ve got a whole day ahead.”
And I did, though made a silent curse in my head.
“You wake me so damn early, you know.
I don’t have to run to work anymore to put on that show.”
Sun then replied in its silent voice,
“Well, that’s good for you, but I have no choice.
The world always turns, time never stands still,
And I’m just minding my own business, waiting until
the time comes when my light goes out
and life as you know it will be snuffed without even a shout.
On that day, when days no longer happen,
I’ll recall visiting here, and your morning yappin’.
In that moment I’ll recall how I brought this ball life
in all of its beauty, its glory and strife.
So now, if you don’t mind, I’m heading west,
And I hope that you’ll give today your best.”
Chastened, I thought of how the an eclipse turned midday to night Monday,
and I vowed to never again to waste a day, honoring each as Sun Day.

Photo © Jospeh Hesch 2016

Rebuilding the Sky

The sky has fallen,
in a triphammer beat
of pieces on the roof,
moving in waves
crossing and recrossing
the blacktop road.
It teaches gravity
to the hands of the leaves,
bending their wrists
and arms toward the earth.
It grays my view,
turning down its contrast
and intensity.
Everything that was up
ten minutes ago is now down,
except my eyes.
I can’t help but scan
the sky, searching
for a hint of sunlight,
even if now all is darkness.
The rain’s abating, and
light begins rebuilding day,
propping up the damaged
sky once more,
upon a rainbow’s
scaffold.

Welcome to No Man’s Land

The tractor’s in the shop and I
should’ve sent my back there weeks ago.
So the grass out front has mounted
a full frontal assault on our home’s
curb appeal (if we had curbs)
and an interdiction upon the exercise
of my creaky and aching masculine ego.
Usually, the state of a man’s lawn
is something that will twist his
Obsession Dial to 9 or 10, especially
from April to Independence Day.
But sometime after that, the drive
to maintain that pool table-perfect
expanse of turf withers a bit,
not unlike the object of my
all-consuming passion for greensward.
But let one person ask what happened
to the once-plumb and level landscape,
and the explosion of counter offensive
will lay low the Creeping Charlie that
dares to peek its head above the fescue.
I turn busy anthills, lumpy underfoot,
into smooth and fertile ossuaries
for the insects more industrious
than the he whose subsoil they mined.
Your homeowner, smug, sweat-soaked
and satisfied, heads into the house
for a shower, beer and nap. I don’t
yet know how last night grubs hatched
and moles and crows will tear
this man’s lawn into no man’s land
by Tuesday.

Gospel of the Golden Hour

In the distance, rain clouds
drop millions of miniature prisms
as they march upon Mechanicville.
But it isn’t the Sunday afternoon
shower catching my attention.
As too little sleep dims my vision,
today closes its solar eye
over the rooftops behind me.
I cast a shadow a furlong eastward,
seemingly reaching for the trees
that glisten as they breathe in
the southwest breeze.
They’ve taken on a flaxen glow,
like a coterie of Fox News bunnies
beaming into their key lights.
They’re fair in the balanced
auric light, a photographer’s dream,
turning them into brilliant beings
of otherworldly luminescence.
The rain’s turned into an inclusive
rainbow spanning the Hudson,
while I turn to the west and
am enlightened, my face taking on
a glowing mask of a rapturous mien.
It’s as if all of us have been touched
by a greater power at this, the Golden Hour.
And that’s Real News.

This was one of those allegedly inspired pieces that drew me out of what I was doing and demanded to be written before it was lost in the darkness. I’m not saying it was a divine inspiration or even one of any importance. The premise/hook/true subject didn’t occur to me until I finished the first draft, which this, for all intent, is. But the trees really did look like a bunch of hyperventilating blondes heaving their bosoms in the glow of the Golden Hour, which seems some sort of blessing for those of us who view such light as a gift from above. And I mean more than 93,000,000 miles above. Photo © Joseph A. Hesch 2016