It never registered, back when
I stood in the middle of the world,
and absorbed it in every detail.
I’m sure I saw Grandma
and some old nuns lose contact
with what occurred around them
or even right in front of them.
But now I view the world through
the foggy mail slot of glaucoma.
The sounds of birds, the wind,
the waves and your voice are muffled
by the pillows of hearing loss.
In don’t feel these lettered keys
with a few of my fingertips ever since
that disc in my neck blew out in ’90.
My diet restrictions dole out
flavors as if boiled cardboard boxes
are the last of the world’s diet.
Allergic rhinitis can close my nose
like a kink in a garden hose.
I only list these things because
I can see you smiling at me,
hear your voice and our music
as if we’re again sitting together
in the dark, smell your perfume,
feel your cheek and taste your kiss.
My sense of imagination shines brighter,
rings louder, feels warmer,
smells lovelier and tastes sweeter
than anything I can remember,
if I’m even remembering these things
in the first place. What’s that?
Day #7 of April PAD 2018 calls for a senses poem. My once super senses have been dulled considerably by disease, age and lack of care. That’ll teach teen (and older) me to blast Led Zeppelin, Seeger, and Waylon through my headphones at jet engine decibels. But even with these losses, I’ve been gifted with another sense that will have to carry me through to my next life, my next chance rapaciously consume the world’s every sight, sound, touch, aroma and taste. Though you’re looking particularly nice today from this seat.
Whenever I hear any songs
we listened to that night,
I almost think of you.
These years’ve smeared so much
of my memories, it’s as if
I smudged your pastel portrait.
I regret those tunes we heard
(my knee clumsily nodding against yours)
no longer mine the treasure of your face,
sniff the essence of your perfume,
feel your cheek’s softness glowing
warm against mine,
nor hear your chiming laugh.
See, I never switch off those songs
lest my insensate memory lose
the taste of your mouth I stole,
and ran away with in a sack
made of pounding heartbeats.
Here’s the last, for now, of my exercise in using one sense to takes on the role of another. I don’t think I really succeeded in this piece, where Hearing takes over for Taste. But the poem, a free write fiction, stands on its own decently enough for a first-draft 100-worder. So there ya go.
“You’ve got to eat something,”
she said after plying me
with enough tea, soup, broth,
seltzer water, still water
(I even snuck a beer back to bed
on one of my many bathroom runs)
that my stomach sloshed like
a half-full bucket as I rolled away
from her in a miserable display
of modern millennial manhood.
“Doh,” I said. “Dot huggry,
add it dudt make a diff’red.
Cadt s’bell so evry-thid id
gray fladdel id by bowth.”
Congestion robbed smell from
my sensory toolbox converting eating
to a fruitless (literally) exercise
in deciphering gustatory Braille.
It also robbed me of my bed,
these virus germs and I banished
to another room where we laid and
played jazz oboe all night.
As Day Six dawned and I cracked
the crust off my eyes and the
white-caned mucilage off my tongue,
a pot of coffee and pan of sausage
tossed five of their seven veils
in sinewy dance over the transom
to my left nostril and I
slavishly slippered my way toward
their sizzling seductive stage.
My meek effort, was soon rewarded
with a tasteful tease of tomorrow’s
production number of spaghetti
and sweet Italian salsicce,
I requested in sotto voce,
“Two eggs scrabbled, couple dohs
piggies add sub of that coffee,
two sugars, plead.” My taste buds
and I, Lazarus-like, had reemerged
from the stone-rolled sepulchers
of my sinuses and so, to new life…
Day Four of my mini-arc of one sense taking over the role of another sense. Not sure I hit that mark here, Smell and Taste so closely affiliated, but it’s written and a little fun. One more to go…maybe.
I didn’t have to look.
When Father’s Day came around,
as all those Junes ago did,
I think I recall the Old Man
doing what he mostly always did
on any other Sunday morning.
I knew he’d be there in the kitchen,
the invisible trail of perking coffee
preceding the cloudy footprint
of his first-of-the-day Camel.
And, above it all, the blessed aroma
of smoke, sizzle and salt, the price
some porcine martyr paid for the sins
against the good health gods we’d
soon share. It was Heaven.
Years later, I might sit and talk
with the Old Man, but almost never
look him in the eyes, those
once-scary glowing sapphires I wish
I’d inherited from him instead of
this III at the end of my name.
I never got the chance to wish him
a proper goodbye before he was taken from us,
of course, while he was making morning coffee.
I think maybe that’s a good thing.
I’d never want to trade my final
olfactory image of him I hang in my memory —
of cigarettes, motor oil and cans of Genny —
for some hospital room’s antiseptic memory
of my Old Man. For that, I’m glad…
I didn’t have to look.
A Father’s Day theme to my the latest exercise in my little arc expressing the what one might glean from one sense by using a different one. In this case I used Smell to express Sight. And what I wouldn’t give to get a good whiff of the Old Man one more time. And, yeah, that towhead in the snappy two-tone Thom McAn’s and snap-on bow tie is the same scribbling guy whose hair would turn black as Dad’s and then silver as Mom’s.
I must admit to feeling the chill
of a February day, followed by the scorch
of an August afternoon, repeated in
sine wave oscillations, like freezing
and flaming merry-go-round ponies,
when you spoke in my presence
that first time. You wouldn’t direct
your voice to me for quite a while afterward.
When you did, I became an ice cream cone
dipped in warm butterscotch,
inevitably, comfortably a puddle
of gooey sweetness. So odd for one
who spent life dispensing vinegary ripostes
to a bitter world of echoes
rippling one over another,
like a pond’s face in autumn rain.
Your voice became my favorite sweater,
warm, soft, an aural hug bringing me
everyday joy I too soon unraveled,
leaving me cold, frozen to the talk of others.
Their voices raveled into confusing,
cacophonous snarls, tripping and dropping me
into the dank well from which we were lifted
If you would speak to me one more time,
I’m might feel some similar feelings
to that first time, probably from fear
and embarrassment. Or perhaps deafened
numbness of a man who never listened
to his own words before they snipped
the knitted purls binding us together,
yarn by whispered yarn.
Poem Number Two in my self-imposed quest to express the senses by using a different sense. In this case I used Touch to express Hearing, though admittedly hearing something quite special that the speaker eventually lost to his own inability to listen.
It can start with a flash,
a silver-white blast of temporary blindness
you soon wish could extend
to all your senses. After that,
the place in its aurora of intensity
can be determined by its place on your body.
The burn on my wrist was a red-line jump
from the barracuda-bite of sightlessness
to its ember-cherry sizzle that I recall
six decades later. The blows to my head
started the same way, but left me with
an ultraviolet glow that drove me to the dark
so I could see how hurt I was.
When it constricted around my heart,
there was no light, no color you could see,
smothered as it was within.
It thundered as it rolled and echoed
it breathtaking way through a rainbow
and back again, driving me to the floor.
But since I cracked this flicker
of a gasp of a shell of my heart
with a piece of the ruins I helped
make of yours, it’s draped itself
in constant midnight, the numbing color
This piece begins a new arc of poems I want to try in which I offer impressions of the senses told in the language of other senses–but not name it except in the title. Or at least that’s the thing I’m willing to try.
Mollie (Photo © Joseph Hesch)
In our old days, driving southwest on I-88
somewhere between Albany and Oneonta,
my dozing young retriever Mollie would jerk
to wakefulness and jam her nose through
the gap in the passenger side window.
You’d hear her snort-snuff-snort
and see her body quiver all electric
in excitement over something I couldn’t see –
more than if she’d inhaled the arresting aroma
of a maverick hamburger a little kid dropped.
My Golden girl had picked up the pungency
of hamburger on the muck-caked hoof, though –
a dairy farm just behind the roadside trees.
With Mollie, it’s always scents before sights,
her canine early-warning system.
Yesterday Mollie snort-snuff-snorted
along a scent trail in our backyard head-first
into the chain link fence and then
into its fencepost. In her slowed-down age,
scents before sight had new meaning.
I never had such seeming prescient sagacity
with which I could sniff out upcoming instance.
Instead, I too-often raced headlong into
cowpies of woe on my way to I-knew-not-where.
Mollie and I have slowed down to sniff out more life.
Scents before sights, Joe.
Sense before sight.