In Tennessee Whiskey Veritas

At Pete and Ginny’s cafe cum gin joint, the bar runs from the bright front window down to the shadows by the kitchen door. The light here gets progressively darker as you walk along the mahogany and brass path from our perky entrance to possible perdition, as if you’re diving deeper into the ocean.

Today, it looked like one of our regulars, Ben Frazee, was exploring the Marianas Trench of alcoholic melancholy. At the far end of the bar, Ben seemed to be sucking in darkness as much as booze, like he was hoping to suffocate — or drown — whatever lick of flame he still carried for his now-ex Kasie Dellasandro.

“Hey, Ben. What’s happening, brother? Pete been taking care of you?” I said as I came on shift. He merely raised his chin in greeting, mumbled something and then stared back into his glass, somehow deeper than the six inches of melted silica, Tennessee ethanol and frozen H2O that sat before him.

“Dude, if you looked any lower you’d be staring at the world from under those rocks,” I said.

“Does it matter? Maybe that’s what I need, a different point of view, like looking through the bottom of this glass. Even at six bucks a shot,” Ben said as he sucked down that last puddle of whiskey. Then he crunched on an ice cube and I shivered a little.

He pushed the glass toward me, saying, “Y’know? Things looked much better. Gimme another glass of enlightenment, Kenny.”

“Girl trouble?” I asked while shoveling him his Jack and Coke.

“Does it matter? All us birds perched on this mahogany are here for some sad reason, otherwise we wouldn’t start drinking at noon on a Tuesday. Now would we?”

“Well, that makes the boss glad. But even after five years of distributing liquid psychotherapy, sometimes serving the tail end of this early crowd makes me feel kinda guilty.”

“Don’t. I’m fine. We’re all fine. And no bitch will ever drive me to drink. Or that’s what SHE said. I can drive just fine on my own and if not, then there’s always Uber. Of course, then a bitch might be driving me FROM drink.” Ben, quieted for a second and then let out a laugh at his own drunk joke. But I couldn’t laugh at the poor guy.

“So maybe you might slow your roll for a while. Okay? Make me feel a little better.”

“Aw, okay, Kenny. You know, I always liked you. Straight shooter, good listener, you don’t overdo the ice , you don’t stick any fruity-ass fruit in my glass and you don’t chintz on the whiskey. You’re a saint, brother,” Ben said as he extended his hand to shake mine. When I let go, I noticed there was a ten-spot stuck to my palm. 

I told him the next one was on me, but that would be it for a while. I thought he was going to cry right there, but I wasn’t sure of the exact reason. Sometimes drunks are hard to figure out.

At my break I slipped away from the noise to call Kasie to tell her how Ben was handling their breakup.

“It doesn’t matter, baby. Don’t forget to pick up some milk on your way here after closing time. Gimme a call so I can…turn the on porch light for ya. Okay?” she said. Then hung up.

When I got back behind the bar, I noticed Ben was gone and never touched his last drink. I took a sip before I dumped it. That’s when I realized I forgot to ask Kasie what kind of milk she wanted. I decided it really didn’t matter. I’d go home to my place after work instead. 

Sometimes women are hard to figure out. Just like some drunks. Love is too. But what the hell does that matter, either?

 

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What Are Friends For?

If I needed you,
would you respond to my call?
If I called to you,
would you even care at all?
If you asked me to,
would I have the gall
to stand back
and just watch you fall?

These are questions
whose answers are moot,
the responses academic,
since I gave myself the boot,
a swift kick in the teeth
or, more likely, the glute.
But what more can you expect
from a depressed old coot?

So forget all these questions,
I should’ve just kept quiet.
I’ll just bury this feeling,
lest it incite a cry-it riot.
I’m pretty sure the moral —
unspoken but clear — don’t deny it,
is if I really wanted a friend,
I’d find a dog and buy it.

This is one of those “Jump into the thicket and see what you come out with (if you can) on the other side” poems. I came out with tortured rhymes, a Freudian cleansing of the subconscious psyche and a typical Hesch ending. Glad I left out the allusion to that old Iggy Pop and the Stooges song in the final verse. (You’d had to have been there on the cusp of the ’60s-’70s to get that.)

The Struggle Continues

I think of you too much and not enough,
these days and nights since you left me behind.
The “thinking” is something that feels so rough,
while the “not” just makes me feel so unkind.

But kindness is like beauty to a beholder,
and beholders can wear glasses of rose.
My flaw was choosing when to be bolder,
but too often instead of choosing I froze.

That’s how I lost what was a thing unique,
and now I know it’s more than that I’ve wasted.
But this is what comes from being so meek,
not daring to take Prufrock’s peach and taste it.

So today I just sit here and fritter
instead of sharing some time, just you and Joe.
If I’d spoken up would I still be bitter?
Perhaps, but I didn’t, so we’ll never know.

But I like to think this poem you’re reading,
and it’s collecting some transcendent due.
Someday, again we’ll share two souls beating,
since just one heart’s left whole instead of two.

This is such a struggle. The writing, the creating, the imagining, they’ve all gone away it seems. Too long under the pall of my losses. Even though one’s now somewhat mitigated. But I keep trying. If I can’t keep lit that old candle, maybe I can strike a spark and start a wildfire with the dry leavings of what once was so verdant and alive.

Wherefore and Why

He thought he’d search today
for that old photograph.
And he was not sure why.
They never talked anymore,
the bloom off that rose like
the youth off that old image.
But still he rummaged,
through notebooks and pens,
books and file folders,
memories and other memories,
real and imagined.
And he was not sure why.
Until then he found it,
dogeared and scuffed,
within a spiral bound
remembrance he’d created
when he wasn’t looking,
not even thinking of it.
And he was not sure why.
But there was the smile
that lit so many dark days
and darker nights, like
the sun continues to glow
in its recalled place
behind his closed eyes.
And then he knew why.
With one smile he knew why.

The Halo By the Door

Your face doesn’t register
where your memory resides.
It got lost in my mind’s
last three moves.
Your halo hangs on a hook
by the door and rattles
with each recollection’s
coming and going.

It still glows when the light
hits it right, but the light
doesn’t hit much anymore.
That’s what happens
when you get old
and memories tarnish,
tear and disappear in the dust
of an old man’s mind.

Sometimes I think I hear
the rustle of your wings
in the dark, but we both know
you never left the ground.
You just left, leaving behind
this silly halo I made
that you never wore,
just posed with, holding it
above your head to humor me,
always with one eye on the door.

Sometimes I wish I could remember
the face I thought belonged
wreathed in this ring.
Then I realize I’m better off
with a faded figment
of my own device
than the memory of a fallen angel
who finally learned how to fly.

On This Sea of White Light

I sit here by myself.
I am solitary. As usual,
Yet I’m speaking to you.
You are sitting there,
alone in your chair.
Yet you are listening to me.
Our hermit lives aren’t wrong,
just separate from the throng,
a decision made in a moment,
over a lifetime.
But by whom?
Them? Him? Her? Us?
You? Me?
Yes. The simple answer.
We are exiles, banished,
displaced, singletons,
because no one wants us,
sometimes not even ourselves.
But even in exile, we are together.
Because I am speaking to You
(yes, You)
and you are listening to me
(yes, still Me),
in our solitary confinements
we share with a world,
each other and no one else.
Soon I’ll rise from this island,
as will you from yours,
but you’ll not be alone
because I’m with you now.
And, on this sea of white light,
you’re exiled with me.

Day 25. An “exile” poem.

Caught Upon His Heart

He never actually tried to catch her,
but she clung to him like a cocklebur
at his every move and thought.
And when he tried to remove her,
she stung him sorely, even drawing
some of his blood. Because it turns out
she was caught upon his heart.

She never really tried to catch him,
but he’d bull through her space
as men do. Men are about the catch,
the possess, whether they catch
that truth or not. And when he tried
touching her, she’d sting him sorely,
even drawing blood, as if she caught
upon his heart.

Now he no longer enters her space,
too tired of fighting her inadvertent cling
and too chastened from her deliberate sting.
Sometimes she’ll pick through the old days
when he’d carry off a piece of her.
She pretty sure doesn’t miss him,
but might miss being caught upon his heart.

Day 16. A “catch and/or release” poem. Maybe I did both here. Perhaps this is the only way I can tell stories anymore.