By Heartwood Still Beating

img_0145

Heartwood, © Joseph Hesch 2013

I found a picture today
of when we were young,
a crystallization of time
that blossoms into recollections
bittersweet.
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.

A Smile for the Last Roundup

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.

Reflections on Reflections

image

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
succinctly short?

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.

B-Side, Myself

God_Only_Knows_single_cover

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.

Roofies

1449722382abetterindexph1

On the Colonie Central School roofs, if the heat didn’t get you, the hilariously volatile combination of a barely post-pubescent prefrontal cortex, gushing teenage testosterone and vacuous flexion of maturing muscles might.

I worked a flat-roof replacement gig there one summer. Under the August sun, the viscous-but-no-longer-vicious erstwhile dinosaur I toted in that 40-pound bucket, could cost you dime-sized drops of epidermis if you got sloppy in your work. But to pour the new, you had to remove the old, scraping off post-fossilized roofing of solid tar-encased gravel.

I’d lug its strata to the eaves, where I lobbed it into a rollaway thirty feet below. I always made it a point to remind myself, “let go before you throw,” lest my proximity to summer sun above and all that empty air between me and terra firm below turn me into an 18-year-old Icarus, tarred, feathered, fallen and run out of the Town of Colonie on a gurney, not a rail.

The remuneration for this summer job sucked, but you couldn’t beat the shirt-off-all-day tans we boys carried back to school in September, along with a deeper appreciation of our language’s Anglo-Saxon roots.

I looked like burnished leather, save for those pink polka-dot reminders of why there are professionals who do that work and I’m the soft-handed dude from the literary profession relating my tar black on gravel white impressions of melting away one of my summers as an apprentice roofie.

And today, upon my middle-aged parchment of summer tan, I have the faded periods punctuating this tale to prove it.

Some hot sunny yard work Saturday unearthed the old hydrocarbon-induced erasures on my skin, like someone rubbed lead pencil upon my all-too-mature prefrontal lobe. I decided to write it down and share it before age washes these memories away, like so many others, through the holes in my brain’s now-leaky roof.

Like Striking a Chord to the Svadhishthana

13713121325847

I remember a February evening sitting on your dorm room’s twin bed in the dim nightlight glow, watching you across the way on the other, a bottle of strawberry wine on the floor between us. You held your Martin like a mom holding her youngest, softly moving up and down its fretboard like you were smoothing powder on its E-minor bottom. Your long hair fell across its body and you closed your eyes as if waiting for kisses in 3/4 time. I was like a poor father, bouncing my Sears Roebuck Silvertone upon my knee, a fractious child throttled to dissonant submission by my left hand. When you offered me your Martin, I cautiously strummed a G-chord and felt its gut-punch tone straight to my Svadhishthana chakra, another lesson about strumming you taught me that night. I experienced that same response from your goodbye kiss in May, when you said you’d never forget me, like I never forgot that F-chord you showed me where I wrapped my thumb around the low E string and left the high E open. Sad that I can’t remember its name. And oh so much sadder still, I can’t remember yours.

A rainy day bit of semi-fictional half-recollections. But then, most recollections of a guy like me these days could be semi-fictional.

Deadline

7035-journalistsorbloggers

Um, good afternoon, I’d like to speak to Jason Lafleur, please. Oh, hi, Mr. Fletcher, this is John Berdar from the Press-Republican. Heh, yeah, the Republican Press. I hear that a lot.

Anyway, I was hoping you had a minute to talk to me about…. No, nothing to do with that. I never heard about any DWI. Not anything with your name attached. I just was kinda wondering if you’ve heard about the State Police looking for your cousin, Loyal.

No? Okay, thanks. Oh, wait a second, please. You don’t know anything about Loyal’s disappearance, but maybe you can help me fill in some blanks the troopers won’t. I won’t have to use your name or nothing. You could be what we call a source close to the family. Funny, huh? Someone in the family being called close to the family. I’ve got only one brother left and I don’t think I’d want him to be that kind of a source, close to the family. He’s a real dick.

Oh, oh, I’m sorry, you don’t need to hear my sorry story. Let’s get back to Loyal. You two grew up together, right? Uh huh. Sure, up in Chateaugay. Love how you local folks say that, shadda-gee. Sorry, I’m from Albany. I’m sure you think I’ve got my own weird accent.

So, you and Loyal grew up in Chateaugay. Would you say he was a quiet kid, kinda a loner? You know, like how the neighbors always describe their neighbor who chopped up his mother and fed her to the cats or sprinkled her on his salad or whatever.

Oh, yeah, sorry. You were saying he was a hell raiser then? I hear you kinda ran together back in the day. Were you the quiet one in your dynamic duo? Kind of a balance thing. Funny how nature likes that balance. Human nature too, I guess.

Anyway, the troopers tell me, what little that is anyway, that Loyal once got caught outside your Mom’s house holding something they later connected to a beating he must’ve given a guy named, ummm…Steve Yaddeau? Yeah, he must’ve been a tough kid. You didn’t see that did you? Him beating up Yaddeau? You two always together and all, I figured. Yeah. Yeah, No, of course not. Not you. He ever put a whupping on you? Oh, sorry.

Just a few more minutes. You’re being a great help. My editor, Teddy, he wants all this background stuff and he’ll cuss me out something fierce if I don’t come up with something. Hate to lose my job over just a conversation between two guys, couple of poor kids who grew up with some rough guys around our family. Ya know?

Thanks, I appreciate it. Now, you say you were around when Loyal put that whuppin’ on Yaddeau? Uh huh. What about the time he got caught joy-riding in your dad’s Chevy? Oh? You tried to stop him? Rode with him so he wouldn’t get in any more trouble. Your a good friend, Jason. Sorry, can I call you Jason? You can call me John. How’s that?

I guess having the under-sheriff as an uncle helps in times like that. Oh, no, I wasn’t saying that. Of course not. That’s just how my silly mind works. No filter, as they say. Just BLURGH, out it comes. Sorry.

So you and Loyal were caught joyriding in your dad’s car. Glad he didn’t press charges. Woulda been a terrible thing. Family and all. And I know how families are, believe me. You can be going along your whole life like brothers, even closer, and BANG something happens between you two and it’s over. Happened to me and my brother. Don’t speak anymore.

I’m not prying or anything, you know, but were you and Loyal still on speaking terms lately? Just as background, mind you. My editor Teddy will be asking how credible my source is. And who could be more credible than the cousin and one-time best friend of the deceased.

Oh, I’m truly, truly sorry. Did I say deceased? I meant missing person. I’m sorry, you’ve been a great help to me for the story, talking to me all the way from Watertown and all. You moved away after your grandfather died, right? About six months ago? Was that when you and Loyal had your falling out? Man, I know how those tough guys can be about personal stuff like that. Emotions always close to the surface. Sorry for your loss, Jason. I’ll bet you were your grandpa’s favorite weren’t you. The good grandson.

Oh? Go figure. You two being his only living kin and all. I figured, you know, that balance thing again.

Oh, yeah, I’m sorry, taking up so much of your time. I really really thank you. My editor will skin me with a pica ruler if I don’t get a couple more facts. I promise.

Anyway, I’ve got this friend over in the probate court. You know how it is, young reporter from the Big City, Albany, and a sweet girl originally from Rouses Point. Sweet girl. Yeah. Anyway, she told me that your grandpa left most of his estate to Loyal, with you as secondary heir. That can’t be right, can it? I didn’t believe that.

No, no, strictly on deep background. Just so I understand how Loyal ticked. A bad kid who connived his way into his grandfather’s good graces, an Eddie Haskell-type sucking up to his elders while being a creep to the younger kids. You ever see Leave It To Beaver? Sorry if the analogy is… Oh, you knew about that. No Kidding. Must’ve been a real ball breaker, you’ll pardon my French.

Anyway, I want to thank you for your time, Jason, Mr. Lafleur. You’ve been a big help. My editor will only have to skin me from the waist down now, ya know? Heh…

So thanks again. You have a….

Oh, one more thing. I’m so freaking stupid. You said you saw Loyal at your grandfather’s wake, right? Oh, you didn’t? I would have sworn you did. Must have been that funeral guy I talked to from Brown’s. Said he saw you guys in the parking lot that night. All those Elks and Knights Pythias herding around, I don’t know how he could, but there ya go.

Said you two were having words, but he coulda been mistaken. Coulda been an Elk and a Knight or a Rotarian arguing about the Habs or Democrats or something like that.

So I want to thank you for your time. I’ve gotta make another call to get a second source. Yeah that’s the rules around here. Yeah, ain’t rules a bitch. No, I won’t use your name in this story. Not today, nope. Hey, and you have a great day, okay? If I hear anything from the troopers or sheriff I’ll be sure to give you a call if you like. No? Okay, you’ve been a great help anyhow. My editor… Yeah. Yeah. You too. Yeah, have a great…

Ouch. That was a loud one. Must’ve hung up with a baseball bat.

Hey, Ted! You might want to look at my notes here, but first I got one more call to make. Yeah, troopers. Want to go over my notes with them, too. Think I might be able to wrap this story up for ya with a big bow by 10:00. Just hold another seven inches on A-1. No, I’m not shitting you. No. Then come on over while I call Troop G.

Sheesh. What a grouch. Wish he’d stop calling me Li’l J-Bird. Demeaning shit. Oh, hi, sorry, good afternoon. This is John Berdar from the Press-Republican. Hah, Republican Press. Never heard that one before. Anyway, I’d like to speak to inspector Gallo? Yeah about the Loyal Lafleur murder. I got some new questions, shouldn’t take more than a couple of… Sure I can hold, but tell him I’m on deadline.

Story #7 of Story-A-Day may. One week in the bag. Wouldn’t you know it, the day after I wrote a story using practically all dialog, the prompt from Julie Duffy is for a story written…you guessed it. All dialog. So I decided to write one that’s all-dialog, just only with the reader hearing one side of it. I hope it works. Drew from my nascent reporter days for the setting and character(s). This is, as are all of my Story-A-Day postings, a first draft. It’ll change quite a bit should I decide to revise it into something more palatable for editors and discerning readers.