When Every Night’s the Longest Night of the Year

They say tonight’s 
the longest night of the year. 
But I’ve already had at least 
a dozen dozens longer since January. 
That makes this the year’s
shortest day, too. But days, 
no matter how long, go by 
in just a blink when you live 
from one sleepless night to the next.
Each day’s just another little box 
full of meds, each with a lid 
wearing a 3-letter signifier 
that it’s WED or SUN, which is
the one where I refill them for another 
seven blinks without a thought and 
seven more dead-bodied stares while
my mind’s milling around
about you and them and sometimes me. 
That’s when I compose my best work - 
the stuff that never gets written. 
But actually, that best’s more like like 
a drunk’s singing voice or his irresistible charm. 
Except a drunk’ll fall asleep at some point. 

Snowflake Warm As Summer Rain

Over my many winters, or maybe 
just this long one and only, 
I have stood, sat or lain here 
and watched the snowflakes fall. 
Some I’ve followed from the heavens 
to my feet. Others blown away from me 
by the cold winds that have chilled 
my heart and frozen my soul. 
A very few have deigned to spiral 
and swoop to land upon my lashes, 
catching my eye more than I caught them.

Then there’s you, who I spied one day 
in your earthward glide, toward me and away, 
then blown back by winds I never felt 
but you did. You’re lways defying gravity 
out there in front of me or 
at the corner of the corner of my eye. 
If you ever were to land upon me, 
I know you’d feel as warm there as 
summer rain or perhaps a tear on my cheek. 
One I'll never wipe away.

Winter’s Always Coming for Someone

I can’t recall if it was so gradual 
I didn’t notice, or all at once, 
like I suffered some kind 
of emotional trauma, 
but the pines catching snow 
on their needles reminds me 
of when I found my whiskers 
had begun going white.
I can’t say it bothered me 
all that much, not like when my hair 
turned from salt and pepper 
to a pilar NaCl without the spice
and from there to a skinny
low-sodium diet from my ears up.
But nature certainly has a way 
of letting one know Winter’s coming,
whether a guy's looking at a pine tree
in November's falling snow or his face 
in the mirror on the weekend.

By the way, pilar is an adjective meaning “of or related to hair.” I chose it instead of hirsutal because it was less work changing one letter from one of those Doric columns lining the fronts of old public buildings, rather than a whole mess of spell-checked letters in that swishy thing attached to the ass end of a cowboy’s mount. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty hirsutal thing, too.

Smoothing Away the Eldersnow

 The flurries fall, 
 filtering through empty trees, 
 to touch the coarse eldersnow, 
 hardened by mid-winter 
 sun and raw winds.
 The jet stream jetsam shifts 
 from west to north on its path 
 to due south on the map 
 of my window frame.
 Drifting through maples and oaks, 
 I notice there are no birds 
 upon the branches, 
 to catch those frosty feathers 
 upon their own.
 Even the crows are absent,
 their nails-on-chalkboard voices 
 silent against slate clouds;
 so silent I can hear 
 this whooshing flock whisper, 
 “We’ll take it from here,”
 as it smooths away the crusty
 old regime.

Ice Cold

We used to walk along this shore, telling secrets and lies even we liars believed. 

During those cold December walks, we’d watch Winter grow its skin across the pond, pressing down the rippling mirrors that would catch your eye and pass its attention to the ones next to it. And they, in turn, to their neighbors, echoing it all back again.

And when the snow began to fall, light as a lover’s touch, it would cover the sheet of ice with lace, teasing us to guess if we could trust the ice to support us yet if we dared step upon it together.

“C’mon,” you’d always tease me as I tapped on the ice with my foot, “Where’s your sense of adventure? Haven’t you ever taken a chance in your life?”

And I told you I was taking a chance right then. To which you’d reply, “No you’re not. And believe me, you won’t fall.”

I think you meant fall through the ice. I thought of it as falling another way you’d never worry about, but I did. And wanted to.

I wanted to know what those others knew, the hidden knowledge that I’d only imagined. I wanted to feel the pleasure with you that others felt, but was afraid to take that step. Walk after walk, winter after winter.

“C’mon, take my hand,” you say and I finally feel the warmth of your hand in mine. You pull me toward you and grasp my arm as if we are a couple strolling along the edge of the ice-covered pond. But I know we’re really just two people sharing the same path, the same conversation, the same lies.

“All right,” you say, “I’m going to walk you out a bit and you go the rest of the way.”

“No, I don’t think so. I’d prefer if we just walk along like this,” I say and put my hand over yours as you squeeze my arm. The wind blows the snow across the ice as if it’s some ghostly skater carving edges like your fingernails are carving little moons into my hand.

You pull me closer and lean in to give me a kiss on the cheek, your lips warm, your cheek cold, eyelashes netted with snowflakes, the sound snatched by the wind as it whooshes by my ears. 

“Would you do it for me? For a real kiss?” you say, gazing into my eyes with an eagerness you’ve never offered me before. And I’m not sure what beckons me more, the ice, those snow-laced eyes, tempting lips, or my heart. 

“I’ll go with you. I promise. I just want to see you take a chance for once. Just so you can learn that sometimes the lessons we learn from them can last a lifetime.”

I want to do this so much. Not just because of the prize I could potentially receive upon completion of this dare, but also because I need to know what stops me. Always stops me.

“Okay, but I need some more incentive,” I say, suddenly demonstrating more nerve than I had in years.

“C’mere, you,” you say and mush your mouth to mine with a little lick of my lip on the way back to a smile I’m afraid will melt the ice before I get my chance to walk my way to the paradise I think you’re offering.

“Okay, let’s go. I’m getting kinda excited about this,” you say, grasping my arm again.

“Whoa, not so fast,” I say.

You tap the ice and say, “Nothing to worry about. And if you’re still nervous, just close your eyes and I’ll walk you out.”

“Uh, all right. Maybe if I could have just a little more of that warm courage you’re dispensing, I wouldn’t be so…you know,” I say with fear and lust battling in my gut like glandular gladiators.

“Close your eyes, silly,” you say and plant a big wet kiss on my cheek, squeezing me so close I almost can’t catch my breath. 

And then you drop your arms away, leaving me with the echo of that kiss ringing in my head.

“Just a couple more steps, love, then you can come back. I’m waiting right here for you.”

I turn and see you standing closer to the bank now. Your face impassive, like a marble Madonna, not giving any thought, desire, care. Just…waiting.

But I still can hear your kiss and the sound such a long kiss makes, soft, warm and wet, a constricted inhalation, yet sucking in the best of life, giving back such gratification. What a sweet memory today will be.

That is until I also remember it’s the sound thin ice makes as it rips open, sharp and cold, making one gasp, sucking him under, submerged, waking him to the knowledge almost no one else knows. What’s going on beneath that cold white facade? Now I know. Now I know it all.

“You’re welcome,” I thought I heard. 

No, love, it was my pleasure.

Our Angels Fly Low

 The snow’s come back, it’s Nature’s way
 to demonstrate who’s boss.
 And if you fail to know that by now
 then, Baby, that’s your loss.
 That’s a surprise, since loss you wear
 like a parka in the snow.
 No one looks good in those gloomy rags
 but what the hell do I know?
 Life’s fashion plate I’ve never been,
 always it's blue or gray or black.
 Let’s go outside and enjoy the snow,
 We’ll wear all white when we come back.
 Would it cheer you in these darkling days,
 when sorrow’s all around us?
 Lay down here with me and swing your arms,
 and angels leave behind, thus.
 And perhaps other angels we’ll hear on high,
 come some silent night ahead.
 The snow’s let up, our angels fly low,
 wings touching on this bed.
 They say angels are forever beings,
 but ours might be gone tomorrow.
 I pray my words lay forever in your heart 
 and one day smooth your sorrow.

Another Gray Winter’s Day

I don’t take much joy in this time of year.
It’s cold and still dark longer than it’s bright.
And trees, bare-ass or muted around here,
are the contrast to a tableaux off-white.

See, there’s little difference ‘tween the sky
and the ground, since the ground sleeps ‘neath the snow.
Tree-limned horizon interrupts the eye,
breaking gray monotony, high to low.

I’m not sure if it’s winter’s curtains drawn,
or my need for warmth that burns up my joy.
Or perhaps it’s those trees, the view they’ve sawn,
spoiling Nature’s symmetry, that annoy.

Typical, a break in dull tedium
would inflame a poet so… medium.

An Air Evergreen

I like to watch the pines
as they breathe in this cold air.
It’s all theirs, it would seem,
since they don’t have to share it
with their broadleaf sisters
for a few more months.
It is of a different vintage
from the vernal, summer, or
even autumnal variety stuff,
what they take in now. It seems
clearer, cleaner, a steelier ether
that tightens their needlework
about them like old letter sweaters.
Enjoy it while you can,
snark the stark maples,
oaks and poplars, standing and shivering
like under-clothed underclothes models.
Meanwhile, the pines pine not.
They just take in meditative breath
after breath, or heave their chests
in bellowing exhalations that smell
of kerosene in the raw and
Christmas pitched until Opening Day.

I’m afraid I may have clear-cut too many metaphors, analogies and the like in this little copse of evergreen reverie. For that (and that last sentence), I apologize. I’m just praying poetry is a sustainable resource in the forest of my life. Fiction? Well, that is a deciduous dilemma right now. Though I’ve scattered some acorns and whirly-seeds that I hope, with patience and gratitude, will take root and prosper.

Fading to White

Photo © Joseph Hesch, 2018

She flies closer from beyond the hill,
gliding through the snowfall
like an animated gray scale,
white to smoke to stone to black.
And once by my window, she alights
upon the the pristine page outside
and before me, a cast-off drop
and this cascade of ink. She flies off
holding some tidbit within the pincers
of her beak, only to hurry back
to bus more off this tablecloth
spread out before her. She’s cleaning up
while I am making a mess right here.
Now the crow’s gone, fading like my memory,
from black to stone to smoke to…

C’mon, Snow

The two feet of snow
disappeared across
the length of December,
and now Winter looks
like Autumn from my window.
The great smoother
of Man’s and Nature’s
jagged angles has ebbed
its way back into the clouds,
leaving reminders of a job
poorly done collecting leaves.
But one can’t expect perfection
when you are, indeed,
but one.
And that is the lot
of the lone gardener,
the one who wields
the rake or the pen.
Or so I’m told.

I suppose I could go out
into the cold cold afternoon
to gather the leaves
that came after I put away
my toothy tools, just as
I suppose I could sit here
with a heater at my feet
and rake words into
this biodegradable bag
of free verse. Besides,
there’s no one looking
to collect any leaves
until March. Like no one’s
inside looking at poems.
C’mon, snow.