I Wish I Never Knew

I never knew you could
hold grudges as tightly
in one’s hand as its fingerprints.
until you grasped the one
with my name on it.
I never knew that a grudge,
held with death-grip pressure,
could choke the air
from a living connection.
I never knew I could cause
such pain to someone
other than myself
until I burned you.
I never knew true emptiness
until I helped crush the trust
you held in me.
I never knew you could
hold a grudge as tightly
within a hand as your
fingerprints,
but I wish you would search
for mine again where once
I touched your heart.

Somewhat disappointed with this, but it’s a first draft effort and I needed to produce something today or I’d not have something to show to that martinet of an artistic psyche of mine for two whole days. Not acceptable to that little bully.

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Like I’ve Seen a Ghost

Lately, her ghost’s been been floating back
into the edge of my consciousness again,
like the first robin showing up each February
as a flash of vermillion in the corner of my eye.
Then disappearing again.
It’s something I’ve come to expect on the downhill run
from the Winter Solstice to the Vernal Equinox.

But I know it’s just my imagination. It has to be.
She hasn’t spoken to me in years and I believe
I’ve even forgotten the sound of her voice.
Also, if she ever spoke to me, I’m sure
I wouldn’t want to hear how her she sounded
or what she said. It would chill my spine
like that February wind that cuts right through me.

Fear? Hell, yeah, it’s fear. It wasn’t supposed to end
this way, my Civic sitting there on those
twisting railroad tracks. It was inevitable, though,
once she pulled out of my station and turned that corner
to her new life. It really was for the best.
Obsession can kill you like some creature of darkness
that’ll reach out to grab you. Tear you apart.

But then, out of nowhere, there she was,
comin’ around that mountain like a reanimated Casey Jones.
I wasn’t looking for that ride anymore, though. I’d given up,
traded in my ticket for this keen parking place
atop the once-shiny, long twin silver lines of hope.
No, I didn’t hear it coming. I’d turned up my stereo
deafeningly loud again, after years of being unable
to listen to it.

The melodies sounded vaguely familiar, but I’d forgotten
so many of the lyrics. So, as always, I replayed them
over and over, again and again, until I knew every breath.
Obsession, right? Reliving and reliving each note
and every word and inflection and inhalation.
And then, there she was, coming on like a snow-blind
Lake Shore Limited out of Chicago.

So here I am today, hanging around in the same old spot,
not sure of the date or even if it’s day or night,
when that flicker of a memory, that flash of a face,
that barely perceptible sound of a voice slices through me
like I’m made of smoke, as if I’m some kind of wraith.
Maybe she’s not the ghost haunting me after all.

I am.

Free-write (which I used to do every Friday) because I really am like that ghost. Full of naught but hazy promises, empty dreams and nothing of substance. I’m a spirit that’s willing, but can offer no creative corporeality. Which is so weak.

She Was So Pretty When We Were Young

I knew her when I was younger,
she’d smile at me every morning
when we’d stand up in class and
talk to the flag and the cross.
She was so pretty then, adventurous
and friendly, the Supermodel-in-training.
She helped all the kids, even new ones
transferred in from other neighborhoods.
But some big kids mistook her friendliness,
for weakness, twisting it into some
unspoken promise of a good ol’ time.
They used her in indulgent perversions
of power and possession.

When we got older, those big kids
corrupted her, trotted her around, showed her off,
gave her a new face, new boobs, new persona.
My friend became so addled by all
of their push, prod and promises that,
in the end, she’d do whatever the big guys said,
even nod hollow-eyed when they lied about her.
I barely recognized her in her obit t’other day.
You may have missed it, being so busy
doing what they let you think you want to do.
I’m told they laid her next to her mom,
who men used, debased and scarred until
she was unrecognizable, too.

I wrote most of this poem, originally titled “Liberty Has Fallen,” almost four years ago. I based it on my friend Kellie Elmore’s prompt of a picture called Fall of Liberty, which I think was something like the one illustrating this marginally updated version. In four years, not much has changed. Maybe just the volume’s turned up.

Finally Fallen

There are times I felt
like a leaf fallen from a tree,
blown away from Home,
that place from where
spring my roots.
I’d be chased by this breeze and that,
run in circles going nowhere,
tossed among other
untethered souls awaiting burial
or burning.
But I always hung on,
the sturdy one,
gutting out October,
never-minding November,
shaking off December
and its snows. Then
I’d slip the North Wind’s
noose and start over again.
But now has come the winter
I couldn’t escape,
when I fell without a breath,
captured and held in stasis
by this cold beyond Death,
awaiting some Spring when
I will be released and forgotten
among the other scraps
blown away from Home,
where my roots have lost their hold.
Perhaps the tree will fall
without me there to hold it up.

Photo © Joseph Hesch 2018.

The Starry Night

Tonight my warm chair wrapped
itself around me in a room
illuminated by a TV
and thoughts of Christmases
I missed, though albums
of photos prove I was there.
Over in the corner stands
the new Christmas tree,
bedazzled in ornaments
of new gold, like Hanukkah gelt,
and in old silver, shiny
and cold as a dead fish
on some frozen shore.
It has yet to be lit
for more than a minute since
that angel alit on its tiptop.
So I withdrew from my chair’s embrace,
crossing the room to plug it in.
But out the window, I saw how
the moon had risen above the trees
and how it ignited swirling breaths
of snow that danced in the dark
like Van Gogh’s stars over Arles.
And above them actual stars
roamed in their courses,
as if looking for Bethlehem
or maybe even Albany.
In that moment, with stellar
guidance from light that traveled
for two thousand years,
traveled past all those nights
I spent without any Sleep to knit up
my ravell’d sleeve of care, woke
warm memories of Christmases past.
Of winking lights in blue eyes
and glittering packages as full of love
as they were knitted sweaters.

Faces False and True

Iroquois False Face Mask

The lab smelled of dirt and plaster. It reminded Dr. Jacqueline Bird of the houses around the Akwesasne Reservation her father would help renovate on weekends to help pay for her education.

Jacquie smiled at the memory of her dad coming to the door covered in plaster dust save for his hands and eye sockets when she’d arrive with his lunch and a beer. Later, she’d spot the empties tossed in the haul-away dumpster. Their brown glass cast an amber glow onto the broken wall lath within, like browned ribs of the long-dead man arrayed before her on her work table.

“Daydreaming, Dr. Bird?” Jacquie’s boss Dr. Raoul Dumont said as he popped up behind her in the archeology/anthropology department lab in Syracuse. Her reverie disappeared like a puff of white dust from the protective plaster covering she blew off the remains of this soldier. She’d unearthed them herself from the dig site on the western shore of Lake George.

“Not exactly, Dr. Dumont. And I wish you wouldn’t jump up behind me like that while I’m cleaning and examining these remains. This man suffered enough without me further torturing his bones,” Jacquie said as she removed her safety glasses and appeared as the dusty echo of her father.

Dumont moved closer to Jacquie and reached out to move his finger down the page of her notes. As he did so, his hand once again brushed against Jacquie’s. His head floated just behind her right ear.

“So you believe this subject was scalped, Dr. Bird? You yourself have said that even postmortem head wounds can leave behind signs of hemorrhaging in the cranial etching. I do not see any signs of such hemorrhaging here. What proof do you have he experienced such torture? Couldn’t these just as easily be postmortem predation caused by scavenging…,” he paused and breathed “animals?” into Jacquie’s ear.

Jacquie recalled a conversation with her bachelor’s school friend Edie Blaine in the instant the hairs on her neck assumed an upright and locked positions.

Edie, a professor of anthropology at Dumont’s previous university, had warned her of Dumont’s reputation for harassing female students and colleagues alike.

“He gets away with so much because of his connections in the World Archeological Conference and the Society for American Archeology,” Edie told her. “Plus his uncle’s a ranking member of the Senate Education Committee. Connections and direct access to the money tree make him a tough little bastard to cut off for any university. Yours has more shine, so he jumped at the chance for more professional prestige and fresh sweater meat.”

“My report will prove my theory, Dr. Dumont. But let me show you how I believe my subject suffered at the hands of people may have been some of my ancestors,” Jacquie said.

Sliding from her stool, Jacquie looked Dumont in the eyes as she held a pointed probe in one hand and a scalpel in the other.

“I believe the man was a French Marine or Canadian like your forebears, sent down to stir up distrust among the Mohawk and English settlers on the southern end of the lake. I’ve seen wounds like this before and read documentation of their sources,” she said.

“And what, pray tell, was that, Dr. Bird?” Dumont said with an amused grin.

“In the documented case, the raiders kidnapped, raped or killed both white and native girls. My Mohawk ancestors captured one of them. As you know, theirs was a matriarchy of sorts and such crimes were often handled by the women of the clan. In this case,” Jacquie jabbed at Dumont’s crotch with her probe, “repeatedly piercing his pelvis with sewing needles, before removing his genitals. Very effective deterrent, don’t you think?”

Dumont recoiled from the probe poking at his crotch.

“Excuse me?” he said.

“They let him bleed out, hung from a rack like a deer. Before he expired, though, they removed the scalp from his exsanguinated skull, sewing it to his crotch, like a merkin. Hence, more pelvic scratches. Total demasculinization. Like to see the method they used?” Jacquie said, putting down her probe and reaching for Dumont’s toupee with scalpel still in hand.

“No! Thank you, Dr, Bird. I’ll leave you to your work,” Dumont said, looking like he’d seen a ghost. He scurried from the lab with his hands shoved deep in his pockets.

Jacquie returned to her work with a small smile. She saw the reflection of her dust-covered face on her blank computer screen and wiped the plaster from her cheeks.

“Have to call Daddy later to tell him how Granny’s stories of her grannies’ grannies’ grannies cut off another white dick today like they did in the old days,” Jacquie said to herself. Then she blew more dust off the bones of another man who didn’t recognize who he was dealing with.

Wanted to write up a quick flash piece for my friend Dan Mader’s weekly 2 Minutes. Go! flash fiction feature on his site, Unemployed Imagination. Wanted to keep it under 4,000 characters, but some first drafts just take on lives of their own. Not exactly sure where this came from, maybe a subconscious mashup of the current news and my penchant for frontier New York history. It’ll do in a pinch for a writer in the depressed doldrums.

What Was Found Above the Lines Has Been Lost Between Them

Aerial photograph of a Bristol F2B fighter aircraft flying above the clouds.

Above the lines you can see the scars etched
into the beauty’s countenance, crisscrossing
ones old and new, some smeared with spoiled
face powder trying to cover the pocks
and failures of old men’s vanity.
But that’s only if you regard them with some
romantic aesthetic you lose all too quickly
as you are assailed by the scream of
the engine in your lap, its heat of no use
in the freezing air and wind in your face,
redolent of burnt petrol and cast-off castor oil.
You dare not wax so poetic that you stare
at billowing, sun-painted clouds as if
they were masterpieces like great Cathedrals,
or as the marble imaginings filling them,
wrought by some absent God’s immortal tools.
No, above the lines’ beauty and cleanliness
are mere primer for a blank canvas, one yet
to be spattered with the black and red blooms
of Archie shells, the yellow tracings of bullets
as they pierce your wings, fuselage, or someone’s son.
You chance a glimpse of the slanting or spiral
chiaroscuro of a funeral pyre in descent,
in a hurry to bury another boy in the box
within in which he tried to stay above all the mud
And blood below, only to be lost between the lines.

Inspired by a picture and conversation shared with my friend, the novelist Julia Robb. These days, I feel so much like one of those young men of the Lafayette Escadrille or the Royal Flying Corps in late 1916/early 1917. I see little beauty in what I’m doing here anymore and feel my time at this is growing as short as my next climb into the cockpit of this desk.