When I Was Born

“When I was born,”
Grandpa’d say,
recalling his youth.
Not, “In my day,”
like other old-timers.
used the expression
whenever discussing
the Great Depression.

Today I’m the same age
he was then,
though not nearly as old.
I see when
he looked back, he saw
each day as new morn,
another time
he’d be reborn.

I wanted to use the last Story-a-Day Week One prompt, “When I was born…”, for a story, but ran out of time. I saw my old friend Joy Ann Jones was running a new series looking for 55-word poems, so I’m trying to do justice to both. And since today is my birthday and I’ve reached “that age,” I decided to write knowledge-of-age poem. So there you go…

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Just Like Every Other Day

I used to remember
those times I
was blown away,
cast like sand
from where I’d stand
to watch you, while
winds capricious
into my youthful visage
carved what now is age.
But not today.

To my mind, you might be
a cloud of dust,
amorphous, nebulous
and just
impossible to grasp.
Though if I could,
I’d hold you tightly,
where I stood,
as in an hourglass,
and you’d never blow away.
Not then, not tomorrow,
not today.

This morning, a moment.
I, as ever, alone and
staring in a mirror at
these ancient scars,
vivid as a clear
summer night’s stars,
those stellar sands,
sifted through my own hands.
And I heard a voice say
“You recall how I got them
like was yesterday.”
“I guess,” I replied,
but it always hurts like
it was just today.”

More mushy verse from my mushy brain for Day Two of NaPoWriMo. A poem based on Robert Lee Brewer’s prompt: “not today.”

Only the Smile Remains

She had a bright smile, as I remember,
and I forget so much these days.
But the idea of what’s now a featureless face,
save for the memory of that brilliant double arch
of inviting conviviality, coquettish charm
and orthodontic perfection, floats
before me and I can’t blink nor rub it away.
Sometimes I can still make out her eyes,
deep brown with a filigree of gold
and ebony surrounding the pupils.
I only got close enough to study them
four times, and of those, only once
was with her knowledge, but not approval.

They were as bright as her smile
and were the windows to her troubled soul.
But now I don’t see her eyes too much.
Perhaps my recollection boarded them up when
she lost the lease on her soul.
It doesn’t much matter anymore, since I
moved off on my way, too. But I admit
to missing that bright smile and the times
I’d bask in its illuminant approval,
hear the chime of laughter from inside,
instead of feeling its bite on these,
my long smileless days, when in the mirror
I reflect on my own eyes, and see, and see,
and see…a candle within.

I was writing a story, and the character stopped in mid-draft to tell me this story about himself and the one who is but a shadow on a cloudy day to him now. I’d better put down my poet’s quill and pick up my writer’s keyboard to see what else is troubling this guy. Perhaps its the quote by the Cheshire Cat as he faded away, leaving nothing but his smile: “We’re all mad here.”

411: Swann in the City

When I was a boy, probably long before you were born, I would deliver newspapers in the west end of Albany’s Arbor Hill.

Before I retired from tossing news to writing it, I suffered not much more than bruises and a knife scratch in conducting mobile commerce with the inhabitants of that eroding neighborhood. Needless to say, the tenor of business changed during and since my times there.

So many days now, I read or hear of another young guy, young like I was then, falling to a gunshot wound in my old streets. Some die. Most don’t. I sometimes worry that I don’t wonder much about it, though. I felt it coming.

I felt it in the steel of a razor on my chest. I could sense the momentum of it like I’d smell the miasma of cabbage and weed and spongy diapers in the hallways of Third Street and Livingston Avenue. Later in life, in my newspaper days, I’d recognize its cousin aroma in jails and prisons, the one with a soupçon or so of filthy bodies. It’s not an aroma you ever forget. Some of my old neighbors carry it on them like their tattoos to this day.

Every now and then, I’ll catch a whiff of it, and with a Proustian flash stronger than any almond cake, I’ll be whisked back to those times, a bag of newspapers over one shoulder and half my attention over the other. Today, the memories were dredged up by a request for a city poem. Maybe I’ll write another.

I’ve written plenty of them about my Albany, the city older than any of you live in across this vast land. It’s a small city, often with big city people moving through it on their way to even bigger ones. A lot of us came back here like salmon to spawn.

But there’s some things all cities have in common. We all have histories written in blood and sweat, which continue to drop on the concrete every day. We all know that young men catch bullets as easily in Albany as they do in New York, Detroit or Los Angeles.

I don’t know if that’s ever going to stop. But I understand where it comes from. I saw the snowball become an avalanche. I left only my bloody initials on the declaration of interdependence we call a street, a neighborhood, a city. I just hate to keep reading whole stories written that way.

Let Sleeping Tigers Lie

Tiger-like, I once would leap with alert body and mind,
uncoiling in hair-trigger lightness from alleged sleep,
to pop the alarm clock within a second of its own awakening,
to grab the phone across the darkened room before
its first ring decayed and a second bloomed in its place.
I still swiftly swipe and silence the alarm,
chiming and flashing on the nightstand,
still jump at that first ring of incoming call, too.

But where I would mash or crash with
the aggressive audacity of an RAF fighter jock
scrambling to his Spitfire to meet incoming bogies
over The Channel, now I tickle my granddaughter’s chin
as she smiles at her granddad from the photo
on my cellphone’s lock screen.
Blitz be damned, no one wants me to leap much anymore.
Old-man moans and cracking bones disturb
the house more than alarms and ringing phones ever did.

Sunrise Again

Day-pioneer

Photo by Joseph Hesch

I’ve missed you, day-pioneer,
first-light blazer of time-trails.
We’ve not met since our friend
left me holding her in final-sigh.

I confess, during this cold earth-rest
I dreamed to join the forever-sleepers
beneath the far, flat margin
of life-light and eternal-dark.

Today you were waiting there for me,
golden-greeter, life-illuminator,
encouraging one more cast
into the eastern sea of tomorrows.

I felt the leash-tug forward,
telling me look not back
at the long, black, only-me
lying at my feet.

Taking a tentative step, I sensed you,
warm upon my face, she,
warm against my leg, and we,
sharing soul-sunrise again.

My Swedish friend Björn Rudberg has asked that we try to write poems with Scandinavian style phrases called kennings. A kenning is a very brief metaphoric phrase or compound word that means “to know” (derived from Icelandic, but exist in many other languages like Swedish and German). It was used extensively in Old Norse (later Icelandic) and Anglo-Saxon poetry to add both color and better meter to the skaldic songs. For instance “whale-road” was used as a kenning for the sea in Beowulf, and “wave-stead” replaced ship in Glymdrápa.

Readers know I make up a lot of compound metaphors because sometimes words don’t exactly exist for my feelings I express that even I don’t understand. This is another 100-word poem, and I think a poor effort, at using kennings to express my emerging from a long winter–of the body and soul. But that photo up there is the sunrise that inspired this piece, and it wouldn’t be denied.

The Road to Boston

The Road to Boston, 620 AM

The Road to Boston, 6:20 AM (Photo © Joseph Hesch)

Tuesday cracked open her bloodshot eye, peeking above the Berkshire peaks’ gauzy blanket.

She wonders why I’d awaken first.

“You’ve never seized any other day before this,” she said.

I squeeze the wheel, knowing where I’m headed.

Eventually I’ll run out of morning, out of road to Boston, and out from that coldly accusing stare.

Here’s a really quick Thursday double-header: a Five Sentence Fiction from Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word, TRAVEL, that’s also a 55-word Drabble for dVerse Poets’ Form for All.

© Joseph Hesch 2013