Life has loveliness to sell. ~ Sara Teasdale
If I had the strength, I’d
steal some, because I don’t think
I’ll ever trade for it once more.
I recall it felt like holding you,
your eyes piercing mine, inspecting
the inventory left upon
the shelves of my soul.
That’s what loveliness feels
like, like holding you in my
ever-weakening arms once more —
priceless, though it’s cost me
so very much of my life.
Would that I had more days
I could barter for that loveliness,
but my stock has grown scant.
I exchanged them for moments
of the loveliness I felt you share
in my daydreaming yesterdays.
I’m not feeling too well these days and mortality has suddenly become my wingman. And, like a lot of people who feel thus, I go back and audit the balance sheet of my life’s black-ink experience versus the red of its too many hopes and dreams, and I’ve found how much I’m in arrears. Don’t waste your life’s assets, children. Splash that ebon ink all over your ledger’s pages until it’s full of nothing but black and the balance reads zero. It’s like they say, “You can’t take it with you.” This poem is in response to my friend Annie Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines prompt up there of a quote from the prolific early 20th Century American poet Sara Teasdale’s poem “Barter.” Hence, my title.
The first time I heard you
in ‘68, I stopped as if
a rider pulled my reins and
I heard a someone shout, “Whoa!”
It was my own voice.
When I finally saw your face,
those big hot chocolate eyes,
the Cheshire cat lips from which
came an angel chorus that could
coo babies to sleep or roar
the rust off a battleship,
a lifelong crush began.
Now your gift is silenced.
But older me maintains your
image and voice inside,
where that boy keeps burning his
torch to the nail-hard, yet
cloud-soft spirit carrying you
through your days and mine.
The youngsters can’t yet know
what it means to fall in love daily
for half a century with the
unattainable nonpareil. I do,
each time I spin “Heart Like a Wheel.”
Then, it’s so easy to fall in love…
Every now and then, though I try not to think about it, I realize what we lost when Parkinson’s Disease silenced the brilliant gift of singer Linda Ronstadt, the artist I’ve crushed on since 1968. This poem reads like teen-aged fanboy blathering because one wrote it. It just took about fifty years in the writing.
The gull gray clouds
atop this Spring day match
the gray atop me.
Both the sky and I hide
our sunny selves behind
our silver shields.
Yes, I possess
the light and heat
to illuminate and warm you,
just not as certain as
we know the sun eventually
will break through.
In my Armageddon-black-hair
past, the times when light
escaped from within
were more likely
bolts of angry lightning
triggered by the merest shift
in my storm-swept mind.
But as you and age burned more
of my clouds away,
the more my light shines
like this Springtime day.
Heartwood, © Joseph Hesch 2013
I found a picture today
of when we were young,
a crystallization of time
that blossoms into recollections
The expression you’re wearing
beams with a joy I’d forgotten
we could share, for we share
so much with one another,
yet seemingly shared so little.
That’s how we are, though;
that’s part of our commonality.
Always the brave face expected,
required, our shield.
But I felt your hurt and
I hope you sensed mine,
because even though we’re
from the opposite poles,
we’ll always be tied together
by heartwood others never see.
It beats between us today,
and will forever.
You asked me to smile and
the twisted expression with which
I answered disappointed all concerned.
The failing smily guy within this
punkin head then boards up these
windows to my soul like a derelict house.
Photographic proof exists that smiles,
like bison, once roamed my stubbled planes.
But most look faded and could portray
any ticklish dark-haired kid who
thought life was worth at least a grin.
That was before the years marked their
passage through this troubled territory,
slashing wrinkles from my scorched-earth
hairline to these gravity-submissive chins.
Occasionally, though, when no one’s watching,
miracles happen where the nerves align
with the stars and muscles fire in a
memory of when we’d make hobby-horse rockers
of our lips and ride them, like children,
toward one another in a roundup of joy.
The young ones I watch are so often
double-seen. While I glance at them,
they’re often examining themselves,
scanning windows, mirrors, maybe even
their phones, for reflections upon
their relative appearance.
In a world made compact enough to fit
in their pockets, I shouldn’t be
surprised at the tightness of their
self-focus. But that’s the nature
of youth, if I recall. Didn’t you
at least sneak many an assessing
side-glance at yourself in some
honest piece of glass when you wore
your hair so long and you your skirts so
I stopped such severity of my self-view
when the pain of getting out of bed
matched the pain of seeing a world
gone to hell. When my concern for
the thickness of my lawn equaled
that for the thinness of my hair.
When the number of inches around
my waist overran the number of candles
on my pyromaniacal birthday cake.
When I was the only one left watching me.
And then today, when I left off my glasses
and never wiped the steam from the mirror
when I shaved in the dark.
Just to be different, since I was the invisible boy, remarkably unremarkable in almost every way save one: I spent much of my childhood as a moving bookmark, my nose wedged between the pages even as I walked the book home from the library. But I was looking to stand out just a little from within the covers, as well as from beneath them.
So when I’d scrape together enough nickels and quarters, I’d stop at the Woolworth’s on the way home from the library and buy one of the newer 45 rpm discs of someday classic pop and rock. Once home, I’d put it on the Motorola and become a bookmark lying between the two speakers — each pressed to a corresponding ear — and play the B-side over and over and over.
I’d learn that tune until I could whistle every bass line and guitar fill and listeners on the street (and in the house) would think I thweeted seemingly dissonant passages “God Only Knows” when the other kids moved to the transistor or jukebox that spoon-fed them “Wouldn’t it Nice?”. And I felt better because I knew “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” when all everyone else really wanted to hear was “All I Really Want to Do.”
Things haven’t changed too much since then. I was the Deep Cut guy, the cut-out bin diver, for the LPs in college, the listener to the unknown songwriter/bar band who someday came to rule the CD and radio charts. (Where we’d part company.)
These days, when they count overnight downloads in the millions, you’ll hear me whistle the harmony parts of Jason Isbell’s “24 Frames” or Over the Rhine’s “All I Want Is Everything.” It’s okay. I don’t get beside myself when you tell me to learn to carry a tune. I’ll always be that guy, not beside myself over your packaged, promoted and programmed brickbats.
Just B-Side, myself. Period.