Going Under

Lately, this same dream comes to me every night. It’s a dream in which I’m treading water in the middle of a vast ocean on a night of the new moon. I rise and fall on the swells of this inky deep that fills the great depression beneath me. I can tell I’ve been in this water a long time because my fingertips are pale prunes and my eyes sting from the tear-like waters that splash my face. Occasionally in my dream, I sense a vessel approaching, but my voice makes not a sound, my words, my cries for help lie stillborn. I am silent, invisible, mere flotsam as far as they can tell. Often, I recognize the passing craft, perhaps as if I launched it myself or I once sailed with it in my younger days of even a great grey ship of the line bearing a USS (insert some President’s name here) on its prow. And as they drift by my silent kicking and stroking that keep my head above the dark void that would consume me, they toss something over the side. I always hope perhaps it’s a life preserver or line with which to haul me free. But it inevitably turns out to be more ballast that snugly tangles around me and smugly seeks to pull me down, down, down below the surface again. Sometimes it succeeds. But I’ve always had sharp teeth and a sense of survival and place to know in which direction to swim for the surface again. Lately, though, I’ve lost my bearings and the weights have dropped upon me all at once in a tangle of knots and cables I can’t seem to chew through. And I’m going down, down, down. The interesting part of all this dream scenario is that I don’t think of the things above, below and all around me in any concrete terms or even ideas. They’re all just vague faces floating around in the darkness that consumes me. It’s all dark clouds, but not in any poetic sense. Almost literally dark clouds is all my brain can conjure. And when I finally find the emotional and intellectual wherewithal to chew on something for a moment, it just gets covered up by all the other things spinning around me. This sounds scary because to me it isn’t scary anymore. It’s nothing. I’ve become nothing along with it. I believe I’ve gone under, disappeared for good this time. I’m alone, and the dark grows darker and I’m exhausted beyond words from the fight, and just as my breath is giving out, I close my eyes and let the nightmare take me. Then, with all hope lost that this dream will ever end, I finally drift off to sleep.

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Heaven, From Eleven to Seven

Finally asleep at 1:30,
awakening again around 4:00,
and here I’d hoped
I’d see this affliction no more.
The thoughts that prod me
and keep me from sleep
have changed over the years
yet still tend to seep
out from my heart
and into my mind,
even though I recognize
them now as all of a kind
of confusion, delusion
and hope I can’t reach
from this place on my back
where even experience didn’t teach
me to leaven with sensibility
the gut feelings of sense.
Which is why, after four hours,
I awaken, staggering but intense,
fighting my way through the fog
that comes with this deprivation.
And yet, once again by day’s end,
I’ll lie here in resignation
that I can’t control the world,
you, your future or the past.
Maybe that’s why I toss until
I drop into darkness at last.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give
to nod off by eleven,
awaken around seven,
and worry less about you,
and the sadness you live through.
I’d lay my head on the pillow,
where soon sweet dreams would billow.
In peace, eleven to seven,
knowing that you
are sleeping peacefully, too.
Yeah, that would be heaven.

Surge et Carpe Diem

The daylight times feel
so short now, and sleep
holds never more than
a handful of hours.
Life runs away like that
for the old man whose spirit
sees no age in him,
but whose body stabs him
to wakefulness along
the dark trail to morning.
It drops him without warning
into a drowsy torpor while
daylight, who knew him
so well, still calls
from the window
to come out and play.
He ponders where the
remaining shards of each day go,
as if they’re hiding in the pocket
of some thief of latter days.
He realizes no one stole
these missing heartbeats,
these warm knowing gazes,
these potential walks and talks,
these stories left untold.
He’s the one who lost them
to another sunset and he’s
the only one who can steal them
back from each new dawn,
if he’d let his ageless self
rise and seize this day.

Photo © Joseph Hesch 2017

White Lines, Dark Heart

This cunning minx came
slinking up on me
like a movie villainess
only without the swelling
heartbeat theme music and
sudden silence before she
took me. The air warmed,
like a sultry lover’s breath,
and I thought I saw the car
begin sucking up the dotted
road lines like they
were spaghetti.
Their snaking movement
mesmerized me, simmering me
in their pale-striped pyrexia.
That’s when her hands caressed
my face and things went black.
Somehow, though, I fought off
her womanly wiles before
she could turn up the radio,
then switch it off and
everything went sideways.
This time.

Seeking Shelter from the Storm

“… where storms sleep lightly … ” ~John O’Donohue

I found the bedclothes
knotted around my legs,
as once again I awaken.
This for the fourth time,
that I can remember at least.
When you sleep only four
or five hours a night
your mind can forget what’s real
and what’s imagined.

Notice I didn’t say dreamed,
for dreams don’t come often
in the stormy state that passes
for sleep in my hazy experience.
I’ve awoken with a gasp,
as if I’d been held underwater
to the limits of my breath.
I’ve leapt from my bed
in a flight-or-fight frenzy
no nightmare provoked.

I’ve dropped into slumber
at my desk, in mid-conversation
and at the wheel so many times
it brings me to tears as easily
as anger. But I show you neither.
I just walk through each day
in a waking dream, where reality’s
gummy stuff clinging to my eyes.

I see things in a twilight
at noon, as if through
the torrential curtain that falls
on both the living and dead.
Through green eyes I see your hours
of nocturnal shelter from this storm.
And I’ve looked at the peaceful rest
of the grave and think,
“How wonderful!”

Wrote this right out of bed (again), in response to the prompt of that quote at its beginning. It’s courtesy of my friend Sharyl Fuller from her Writing Outside the Lines site. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that sleep (often the lack thereof) is a common theme of the Hesch oeuvre.

The Face of Caer Ibormeith

Illustration from The Dream of Aengus, by Ted Nasmith

It’s a world I cannot find
when my eyes, like day’s,
close in the darkness.
I wish to see that face,
hear the stories she can tell,
follow it where its may lead.
But I only lie in silence,
with an eye-blink, lids down
and snapping back open,
seemingly in a slice of a second,
yet six hours passing.
In that speck of time perceived,
she my forebears called Caer Ibormeith
never appears, doesn’t invite me
to her realm, and I awaken
with my mind’s hands empty
of what you take for granted
yet I never grasp…
Dreams.

Lying Upon a Bed of Nails

I tend not to dream and I awaken
long before the alarm does.
The music I don’t wish to hear
again plays and there
you stand smiling above me.
My subconscious pulls the covers
off me, leaving me awash
in thoughts into which I’d prefer
not to wade. They often
keep me awake on the other side
of each night’s ford across
the river to tomorrow.
They pull me out and wrap me
in a different kind of blanket,
one of your knitting and my
weak attempts at rending.
It’s not that I don’t wish
to surround myself with those
soft thoughts of impossibility.
I’d prefer their comfort as I stare
at the ceiling from this bed of nails
I built and continue to lie upon.
Just like I’m lying awake again.
Lying alone. Lying here. Lying now.
Lying to you. Lying to myself…
Supine upon every lie I drove.