Sitting in the car just around the corner. Street light beaming through a foggy windshield, illuminating my hands, my chest, my mouth. But not my mind, groping in the dark for its best answer. Do I? (Sure.) Should I? (Why not?) Can I? (Of course.) What if? (I think it would make you happy.) But what about…you know? (Yeah…and? You want me to fight dirty?) I’m just sayin’… (It’d be best for everyone.) Everyone? (Especially you.) Mmmmaybe, but… (Always “but.” What’re you afraid of this time?) The usual. (It’s right there around the corner. What you wished for.) Maybe tomorrow. And before I could hear the reply, I started my car and pulled away. No headlights, straight down the street, past one corner's dim streetlight to the next. Occasionally I looked back at the lights on the yesterday corners not taken and wondered why they always looked so much brighter than those on the tomorrows. For Day 2's Poem-A-Day effort, I combined the NaPoWriMo prompt with Writer's Digest's. The former asked for a poem about the writer's "road not taken" and how it might've affected his/her life. While WD's asked for a poem about our idea of what our futures hold and to use that idea in the title. Competing ideas, I know. Boom!
The sun will shine today,
walking its way horizon to horizon
across my provincial little plot,
taking its longest time until next year.
But I know it’s not really moved.
This dust mote rock on which I stand
is the one actually spinning daily
along its elliptical path ‘round
our own little star.
And in our arrogant, top-of-the-foodchain,
we actually prefer to think
the largest entity in this
insignificant portion of the vastness
of the Big Banger’s creation
is the one trudging like a burro
around the mill grinding out
our oh so historic days.
You know that Earth has spent
its millennia trying to escape
from this cosmic servitude, don’t you?
Sun’s tether is just too strong.
keeping our servile ball
of egocentric existence
situated just-so, so Man can believe
the Sun’s the one in Our thrall.
But really, when one day,
out in the indistinct future,
when the great curveball in the sky
goes black, our planet
will slip it’s gravitational leash
and could be hurled, a giant snowball,
into the void. In light of this,
who gives a shit if I mispell “misspell,”
wash new jeans with white sheets,
eat room-temperature potato salad,
or short-hop a bases-loaded 3-2 fastball?
Not the Sun.
I tell you this because
I care about you.
On a summer day,
when the Sun takes its own sweet time
walking horizon to horizon.
And here’s the pitch…
Writer’s Digest’s Robert Lee Brewer suggested writing a “summer” poem today. So I sat down and turned loose my creative wolf for the first time in too many months. And along the stream-of-consciousnous way, I remember a story my friend Steve Adamek and I eavesdropped on in a Montreal bar many years ago. A gaggle of Philadelphia Phillies. Late season pennant clinching time. I’ll attribute it to relief pitcher Tug McGraw, but I’m sure he heard from an old pitching coach of his. I’ve always called it the “Tug McGraw Frozen Snowball Theory of Life.” Steve will know better who should get attribution. It’s funny how life and lessons come back to you once you remember life is more than the time spent worrying about what you did yesterday and what will happen tomorrow. Or sooner. Thanks, Steve. Don’t know how I’m gonna integrate “No one sucker-punches Roger Freed,” into a poem or story. But I’m not going to worry about it. Someday I will.
The pessimist might be the best
at predicting the future,
since they might never suffer
for being wrong.
If their prediction of something
calamitous comes to pass,
you can hear their “Told ya so”
in obnoxious sing-song.
But if their prognostication goes
cockeyed, people glad for the error
might give the pessimist a pass even
for being wrong all along.
However, should the optimist’s
prediction go down in flames,
dashed expectations are likely
to incite the milling throng.
This is why I tend to lean toward
the negative call, since I’ve found
safety in not coming on too brightly
Now I’ll end this piece, positive
in predicting your negative reaction
to my forcing these “-ong” rhymes
way, way, way too long.
A “prediction” poem on Day 14 of this poetic death march to May, when I try to write a story every day.
Prediction: I won’t.
Life is a short thing
we can make seem longer
just by thinking about it.
A night can be long thing
we can make seem shorter
by not thinking at all,
simply closing our eyes
and allowing sleep to snip
short the string we follow
from today to tomorrow.
Time is a river, so they say,
a constantly moving stream
of here to there in its own
temporal course. It has its
gently flowing stretches where
joys float within arms length,
as well as it rippling runs,
swirling eddies of stasis
and buffeting rapids where
Time can speed you along
as easily as it will beat you
fearsome sore for the toll.
I’m speeding by one of the final
waypoints on my journey.
Only now I spend my time
sorting through the remaining
recollections of this trip,
though not as much as I ponder
the flotsam of memories
I’ve lost to the relentlessly
I see only a life unspent
playing out in the spaces
where missing experiences
once were laden, albums
and journals lost, floating me
lighter and higher,speeding me
along to some great sea where
I’ll become another drop,
a vague dream, drifting eternal
in a night never-ending.
Another week has peaked and waned
and here I lie to wonder,
“What is it that you’ve gained
from living seven more days under
a plan with no plan contained,
in this life of blunder after blunder?”
Oh, I’ve seen seven suns rise
and watched them seven times fall.
But life no longer offers a prize
on the ride where you must be this tall.
Adulthood offered only losses and ties,
barely chance of winning at all.
So I guess this is a lesson learned
over time and rock hard ground,
that my life’s happiness is earned,
not serendipitously found.
That each time the Earth it turned
was my shot to make laughter’s chiming sound.
Maybe it was for a nebulous tomorrow I’d pine,
a today out of reach, a chance not yet blown.
A day where I could seize a ring so fine
on the ride not dependent on your joy alone.
So tonight, when I row in at sunset, I’ll be fine,
savoring the day I hooked all on my own.
As she flumped down onto the macramé throw covering her grandmother’s old sofa and clicked on the television, Alice Ann Gibbons was thankful for the bag of Cheetos, the can of Dr. Pepper and the coming escape from reality in the new show she’d discovered on channel 66.
She didn’t know its title because it was always on and never broke for commercials, which made offloading that Dr. Pepper a last-second decision. She could barely tear her eyes from the screen while she had it on, and she had it on every day now.
It’d been another day at Jackson Junior High School like all the others. One in which Alice Ann wished she could be home-schooled, or maybe just disappear altogether.
Things weren’t much easier in elementary school, where the kids always teased her about her too-big nose and too-little eyes, but junior high school had become agony. This was where she’d been shoved into the interior of more lockers than a week’s worth of bologna sandwiches. Where whispers and giggles about her thick-lensed glasses became jeers and howls while they were tossed about the classroom. Where the choice left to a sensitive 13-year-old girl of being bullied every day or totally shunned and isolated was never a decision. She was either or both and never by her own choice.
But here on the saggy old couch in her grandmother’s basement, where she’d always spent her after-school afternoons and early evenings waiting for her grandmother to get home, she would always read teen urban fantasy books, books about teen heroines in dystopian societies and science fiction novels with spunky girl lead characters. All the type of girls she longed to be, but knew she never would.
One afternoon, having finished her latest book and with nothing left to read, Alice Ann turned on the television and clicked through the channels, hoping against hope she’d find something as interesting and full of imaginative possibilities as her books. Her grandmother’s basic cable service offered a quite limited menu of options during the hours: comedy reruns, twenty-year-old crime dramas, cable news, vapid teen and tween shows and alleged reality tv programs. She went from channel 0 to 60, the end of Grandma Gibbons’ basic cable tier, but kept her thumb on the clicker, flipping through five channels of snow and white noise until it hit channel 66.
There she saw a girl her own age staring into the camera as if she was looking directly at Alice Ann. She usually was dressed in tight-fitting outfits of stretchy material that Alice Ann would be embarrassed to where, but intrigued her nonetheless.
“What in the world is this thing?” Alice Ann said to herself the first three afternoons she watched. She’d watch the girl push buttons with her thumbs on the surface of, and talk into, a shiny flat instrument as thin as a third of a deck of cards. She’d see the girl, whose name she learned was Allie, look right at Alice Ann but talk to girls named Bella and Quinn. And sometimes the room would be empty, save for the flashing of lights and the gurgle of Allie’s aquarium.
But on the fifth afternoon, Alice Ann’s natural curiosity hit a wall when three things happened.
First, Allie started typing into a keyboard of some kind that she balanced on her lap, speaking as she typed: “May second, 2077.”
“What”” Alice Ann said.
“Today, I think I found a lead on my great-great aunt. Turns out she’s that famous author…”
“Alice Ann, I’m home!” Grandma’s voice called from upstairs. She was home an hour early and Alice Ann hadn’t cracked a book for homework yet.
“Um, down here, Grandma,” Alice Ann said as she muted the television and opened her Math book.
“What in the world are you watching, honey?” Grandma Gibbons asked.
“Oh, just this weird show I sometimes turn on while I do my homework. Mindless stuff. I’ll turn it off.”
“Why bother, Alice Ann. All that’s on the screen is static.”
“What? You don’t see…?”
“Dinner in thirty minutes, honey. You keep your Channel 66 white noise on and keep working. Just don’t flip it over to that stupid MTV,” Grandma said and scooted upstairs.
“No, of course not, Grandma. Thanks.”
Alice Ann turned to the television screen and saw Allie smiling while staring intently into the camera. She turned the sound back on just as Allie said, “Yup, now I’m gonna find out more about you, Aunt…”
“Allie, dinner!” A tall teenaged boy poked his head into the bedroom and shouted.
“Get out of here, Gio. I’ll be down in a minute. I just need to close this research file for my family history project.”
Who the boy left, Allie turned to the camera once more and clicked something on her desk.
“Okay, you, I know your real story’s out there somewhere and your either gonna tell me it or I’ll dig it out myself. I know this back cover bio is bull,” Allie said to no one but just as easily to Alice Ann.
She held up the book and Alice Ann saw the blur of a book cover framing a photo of a dark-haired woman with a prominent nose and close-set eyes.
“Yup, now that I’m sure, I understand why I always read so much of your stuff and want to write my own stories,” Allie said as she looked at the back cover. “And now I know where I got this silly name of mine.”
Before Allie put down the book and headed downstairs for dinner, Alice Ann caught a look of the cover of the book Alllie held. On a blue field were the words, “Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today,” and below that it read:
“By Six-Time NY Times Best-Selling Author A.A. Gibbons.”
For Day 2’s Story-a-Day May piece, I was charged to write a story based on the following prompt from best-selling author Jerry B. Jenkins:
A socially awkward girl in her early teens is a latchkey kid, alone at home after school as usual. Flipping through channels she lands on one she soon realizes only she can see—and it’s from the future.
I worked pretty quickly, but this is the first draft sketch of an idea for a story about as far from my wheelhouse as I want to reach. And that’s what makes Story-a-Day May so damn much fun.
The first December snow
came upon us overnight,
laying its frozen breath
upon the grass, turning
car roofs into smooth igloos warmed
by internal combustion engines.
I decided to let it rest
upon the driveway, delaying rising
from my chair to remove it.
Neither of us were in any hurry
to move, let alone remove.
Sometimes it feels like
I’ve reached the first week
of my life’s December, the sun
not rising as high as it once did,
its days shorter, nights longer
and my body colder in the lee
of these long shadows cast
o’er top of me. They conceal
the imprinted memories of what
lies behind me, this anti-snow
broadening its lightless view
of a trail ahead without footprints
to leave or follow, only a hope
that somewhere beyond is yet
another first spring rain –another
chance to splash in its puddles
like a child once more.
Photo © Joseph Hesch 2016. It’s by the author from his writing aerie above the back forty, where he contemplates his past, present and future in all-day twilight today.
The only light to be seen was the wash of white from the half moon in our faces. Any shadows we cast could not give us away to the horses in the corral nor to the sleeping family in the farm house.
“You know if they see us they might shoot us for this, right?” I said to Will.
“Yep, and if they catch us, they’ll shoot us, or hang us. Or maybe they won’t see us or find us and we’ll have horses to get out of this county and head someplace where there’s food and water and not so much law,” Will said.
“Or outlaws,” I said.
“Yep. Now be quiet. You know what to do.”
Will was new to this stuff. Who wasn’t? But he figured we could, gentle as angels, drift close to the corral, slide open the gate, coo our way close to a couple of the horses, tie the ropes we carried stuffed inside our belts to their halters and lead them out to freedom. Our freedom.
It actually went pretty much to plan until we saw a small light inside the farmhouse window turn into the bigger light in a lantern, and that lantern moved toward the back door of the place.
“Damn it,” Will hissed. “Someone’s up. Probably headed to the outhouse.”
That was when a couple of horses got real nervous and started to snort and cut up, their ears all pricked forward. I tugged mine, a gentle little thing, over toward the gate and stood her between me and the house. But Will had trouble with his, its ears flat back, and it gave out a roaring sort of sound and that was that.
It gave Will a kick and started a chorus of squeals with the other four horses. Will was on the ground when his horse kicked him again, this time in the shoulder, just as the back door opened and the farmer came running out of the kitchen with his drawers at half staff because he held the lantern in his left hand and a shotgun in his right.
“Who’s there? Show yourself, ya thievin’ bastards,” he yelled. As he grabbed for his pants with that his right hand, the shotgun under his arm, I tugged my filly out of the gate and ran like hell toward the woods with her. Didn’t look back until we were about ten yards out of the light.
I heard Will yell, “Don’t shoot, please don’t shoot.”
“Get up. Show yourself,” I heard the farmer say.
“Yessir, here I am,” Will said, his hands up and his rope in one of them.
By this time another couple of armed figures ran out of the house toward the corral and I figured it’d be a good idea if Misty——I’d already named the filly——and I put some distance between ourselves and the scene of the crime.
About a minute later was when I heard the shotgun blast.
Misty jumped a little and I did, too, but we didn’t have time to worry about what was behind us. I fashioned a set of reins from my rope and hopped from a tree stump onto her back and we trotted out of the woods and onto the moonlit country road headed south.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Will and I were farm kids, lifelong friends and schoolmates when the war began. Will was in the agriculture school and I was in what he called the “aggravatin’ culture” school. He meant I was studying literature and mathematics and stuff he found, you know, aggravating. On mathematics, we agreed.
When the war broke out, there was nothing anyone could do but try to fend for themselves and their loved ones. It was harder than anyone expected. Barely anyone knew what to do, could never imagine such a situation that could place them in such a state.
There was no way for Will and I to contact our families, so we decided, since the school wasn’t doing much schooling anymore after the first or second major battle, to find a way to get home. Or at least a way to get somewhere we could fend for ourselves, protect ourselves, just survive.
We heard that the government was shut down and communication was next to nothing. I guess you could yell from one hill to another. That was almost how bad it was. Will said, since nobody knew anything of what was going on and had no idea what the hell to do, we should find ourselves some food and water and a way besides shank’s mare to get where we had to go. Wherever the hell that was to be.
We stole some knives, containers for water, cheese and ham from the school kitchen. Then we tossed what we thought we could carry into our school bags and lit out south, headed for home or wherever we could get before the war turned the world crazy.
It didn’t take long.
Just like it didn’t take long after dawn for Misty and me to run into another band of travelers on the road, only headed north. I saw a couple of them point at me and then their leader sort of shushed them. They came walking toward us as smooth as you please, saying. “Hey, pal,” and “‘Morning,” from about fifty yards away. I knew they were up to no good and kicked Misty in the ribs just as they came running right at us.
I always figured even the bravest or stupidest of folks don’t want to take on a galloping horse coming right toward them. These boys were something else. Their leader pulled a pistol from his coat and aimed it at me, while Misty and I rushed into the middle of them. I heard the gun go off and felt a sharp pain in my leg. Misty squealed, too.
In two jumps, we were through and past them. I looked down at my leg and saw a knife sticking out of it. Peeking behind us, I saw three of those ramblers lying down on the ground, but one’s face was just a smear of red. We must have hit their leader’s arm and—BANG—one of them was down for good. I pulled Misty up when we were a mile or so down the road.
I slid off Misty’s back and pulled the narrow bladed knife from my leg. It wasn’t in too deeply but bled a lot, even down Misty’s side. When I swiped the blood off her coat I saw the cut across her flank and I didn’t know what to do. Before the war, I knew what I’d do, but now…?
I washed my own wound off with some of my water and then wrapped it up with my only clean shirt from my school bag. But Misty? She was hurting and I felt horrible for taking her away from her home. Hell, I felt horrible about everything since the damn war began.
I was Skyping with my mom, talking about my next visit home, taking the Southwest flight out of Baltimore to Dallas, when…nothing. Then the lights in the dorm went out. I grabbed my cell and it lit up, but there was no phone, no internet, just a fancy flashlight.
People up and down the hall were flying out of their rooms as the battery operated emergency lights went on. I heard someone say they heard the news that the threats finally came to a head between our country and the other guys——the Russians, Iranians, Chinese and some wild-ass cyber-terrorists from who-knows-where and what-does-it-matter-now.
The whole Earth’s gone black. They’d all blinded and crippled the world’s transportation, financial, communication, electrical, you-name-it systems. In essence, the politicians and hackers had cast us back into the 18th Century. And for what?
So people ended up roaming the countryside of every continent, I’d imagine, trying to stay alive and most of us not knowing how without a computer to tell us.
I held Misty’s face in my hands and she nuzzled me with her soft nose. It was then I realized that’s what was missing. What we’d been missing since I was born and maybe before. The touch of another, the face-to-face expression of ideas, feelings, emotions between beings instead of through some artificial means.
I think it was when I felt the tears on my face and Misty gave it a good lick that I knew what I had to do. I took the reins off Misty and just let her go. But instead of me telling her where, I let her tell me. If it was back to that farm, fine. I’d tell them I found her on the road running from where her thief got shot by one of those roaming gangs like the kind that cut my leg.
I’d ask them if I could stay with them for a while until my leg got better.
And if she just wandered off to a stream, a field, I’d follow her lead. She knew to take care of herself. Maybe she’d find others of her kind to support her, protect her, bring her along on their journey. I figured she was hard-wired to do what horses did for millennia to survive, instead of what a dumb, unplugged millennial didn’t know what to do.
Who knows? Maybe tomorrow the grid might go back up, or maybe our new world might finally come to a real end, instead of this virtual one.
This is the short, dashed-off first draft I wrote this evening of a story idea I had over the weekend. What if all this world-wide Internet manipulation and grand-scale hacking turned into an all-out war. It wouldn’t be The Bomb that would take us down. It’s be something as simple as switching everything off, over and over, until finally our modern world broke. Still a lot of work to do with this premise and story, but I thought I’d share it with all of you folks I only “know” through this silly machine you’re reading, as a reminder of what really counts in life.
The darkness never lasts,
even if clouds still cover you
like bedclothes come dawn.
Earth still spins, sun still crawls
eastish to westward.
You’ll have to trust me on this.
I’ve lived in shadow
all my life, attempting
to ignore how light,
dim or bright, eats darkness
like a final meal.
Though it never turns out
to be that last repast,
though. Like I said,
darkness never lasts.
Light nips it from my
shaking hands each time.
Light’s insatiable, but never
goes hungry. That’s because
darkness is eternal, inexorable,
the chocolate life dips day in
to lay upon your pillow.
Spring’s spring long ago sprung,
the bounce and suppleness
either stiffened or sagging.
It’s a most discouraging disparity
at 6:00 AM, when the gales blow
from the alarm clock and
my limbs and branches creak and
crack as my windward changes to lee.
Now summer’s vibrant verdant life’s
fading to some sere shade of sand,
as if dribbled from an hourglass,
with each later and later sunrise.
The grass and leaves lean toasted
and curved in this oven of latter years.
Even the weeds, habitual and
nagging as they be, have passed
into some crusty form, as if pressed
between the pages of my book of days.
They’re all just reminders
of where I stand today in this garden
I’ve sown, tended, ignored,
forgotten and now chronicle its
changes with sunset’s scarred and
wrinkled hindsight from a window
above it all. Still above it all.
A birthday poem, written in the aerie seat where I still can soar, one more year closer to being definitively old.