Friday, April 29, 2011


By Joseph Hesch

I sat twirling the pencil in my fingers.
I had carefully sharpened it four times now. 
The faint green notebook page on the desk
could have been a paint swatch
for redecorating someone else’s bathroom
for all the good it did me just sitting there.
Occasionally, I would rub my eyes,
hoping for a red-tinged glint of a vision. 
Or I would scuff my feet
on the carpet under the desk,
briskly comb my fingers
through my hair, and reach out
to touch the lamp,
perhaps expecting some static-charged
electrical spark inside my head
would nudge the pencil across the page
in something resembling chains
of subjects and predicates. Iambs or trochees.
And then, I think for no reason,
since I wasn’t anywhere near that memory,
I thought of you. 
That’s when something bubbled up
from beneath the rock of my heart,
through my hand, onto that page,
and I was happy, for a blessed little while. 
Are you Beatrice or Old Will's
"muse of fire, that would ascend
the brightest heaven of invention?" 
No, you are the other,
the one that launched
my thousand thousand dreams.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Still Standing

By Joseph Hesch

The smell of raw wood
struggles to fight its way over
the oily exhaust of the chain saws.
It is a contest these resinous exhalations
lose as surely as the maple and pine
eventually bow to the keening teeth of steel.
For years I was hushed
by the gnawing growl of the city,
my heartwood ripped by neck-tied woodsmen
wielding telephones, email and arrogant lies.
When I eventually fall
to their maleficent ministrations,
I won’t scream and crash
with the powerful gasp of the plummeting timber.
I will no doubt go down with
the push of an OFF button,
a click of a pen,
and post-straightline silence.
Until then, unlike the wind-strummed forest,
I won’t stand and whisper.
I will scream and crash and
thrash about on pages cut
from those who fell before me.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Her Power

By Joseph Hesch

She loved this time,
the first instance each show
when she broke from behind the curtains
and into the lights.
She can feel her power
to draw the attention of men
as well as women
to her beautiful face,
her seductive body,
her magnetic being.
She reveled in the fact
that every man out there wanted her
and every woman
sitting with that man
secretly wanted to be her,
sinuously slinking down the catwalk,
head high, stride strong,
to stop at its end,
right hip, POP
left hip, POP
swirling turn, and
show them the rear view is
as good as the front.
The lights, she thinks,
it's the power of the lights
that helps bring this power
out of me.
I love the light and it loves me.
And this crowd loves me.
Just listen to them,
"Can I give you a push,
Mrs. Marmelstein, love?"

This poem was written in response to the photo above as part of One Stop Poetry's One Shoot Sunday. At first this photo made me feel the sadness and rage of old age, and there most definitely is that in so many of the elderly. But there are some for whom their bodies are merely vessels in which their memories and imaginations still live a vibrant existence. My character here, Mrs. Marmelstein, is one of those lucky people. And her memories...oh my!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


When the rain stops I must get back to work.
I want to work on playing in the puddles,
a grown man getting wet feet, stained cuffs
and sensations felt best by small boys.
I will gather myself on the run to leap high,
high as I can, 
to soar over that wet window in the ground
through which I can see the sky, trees
and, just for a second,
Burdened as I am by the gravity of time,
I’ll break that skylight into millions of pieces
of cirrus lambs, arthritic maple fingers,
and falling man.
For those moments suspended, though,
the wind will brush my cheek, my eyes glisten,
and I’ll glimpse that kid
in the wavering reflection again.
We’ll be flying.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Les Danseuses

By Joseph Hesch

The dancers I’ve known
hardly ever showed much joy,
except while they moved to the music.
It seemed to soften the diamond hardness
of their bodies and faces,
like they were appearing on Degas' stage,
all shadows and smeared pastel smiles.
But, when the music stopped,
and you saw them on the street
away from their cosmetic camouflage,
their armor of knits and tulle,
and their funneled electric suns,
you understood who they really were—
heroically tiny, ambivalently starving,
radiantly tired, and gloriously pained girls,
in conflicted relationships
with their art.

I wrote this, one of my favorite poems, in response to a picture prompt from With Painted Words Magazine. The painting used as the prompt is the one above, by Maggie Barra, a fantasy artist and illustrator from Lake Oswego, Oregon. When I saw it in its tiny size, I didn't see forest faeries. It reminded me more of the dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet and the Twyla Tharp troupe I met when I worked at Skidmore College. I let my memory and my imagination take it from there. I submitted the poem and it ran in the magazine's December, 2009 issue.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Vespers II

By Joseph Hesch

Before dusk, feathered greyfriars chirp vespers,
while a woodpecker drills for dinner in the
pines behind the neatly furrowed,
crops of red brick.
Jingling wind chimes announce the huffing
passage of a Jack Russell terrier.
Madly circling his owner, he's a rogue satellite
straining against the gravitational pull of his leash,
lest he spin off into the unknown,
the lengthening shadows and benign dangers
of this suburban galaxy.
Each afternoon he and his rotund master planet
course around the development,
each cyclical foray another chance
to slip the similitude
of the little fellow’s days.
I feel the strain against the leash, too, 
always hoping to break from just a little
of the gravity that holds me captive to a life
made of circles, cycles and birdsong reminders
that tomorrow will be one more transit
toward a hoped-for someday when I don’t
have to carry so many worlds on my shoulders.

Let's take the idea presented in the shadorma "Vespers," and expand on that theme.


By Joseph Hesch

Before dusk
feathered grayfriars
chirp vespers
in the pines
behind furrowed red-brick crops
in suburban fields.

This bit of verse is in a form called a Spanish form called Shadorma.  It was written in response to One Stop Potery's Form Monday prompt. The form requires six lines with a syllable count of 3-5-3-3-7-5.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


By Joseph Hesch

He checks the mail every day,
hoping to find that message,
something unsolicited, not in
reply to his soft, first serve of
inviting words. He so hates
that image of himself, begging
behind a mask of rhetoric.

When it never comes,
he crafts another alms cup from
zeroes and ones to send
to those he wished would care.
Those, or just one, he hopes
would feel as he does, braving
a different kind of spidery
consummation from across the web.

He's hoping on a dream he knows
will never come near true.
But dreams have kept him company
forever, it seems,
in that darkness before sleep,
when he sees a face, and feels a touch,
and breathes a taste of imagined joy.

Even with the immediacy of light, modern communication still boils down to two people expressing themselves to one another. Yes, it still takes two, no matter how hard a compulsive and obsessive "one" wishes and frets. Just as in the wax-sealed words on paper days, sometimes the message is in what you don't see or hear.

Monday, April 4, 2011


By Joseph Hesch

In the chill of the pondside dawn, 
the rushes part and feathered
bundles  trundle ashore.
They’re difficult  to see in the dim light,
given their formal attire of  gray and black,
their great bodies topped like cellos
with long curved necks and headstocks.
They applaud their own entrances
upon the morning stage, great wings
stretching. beating and refolding.
You can hear their humble efforts at
playing like Yo Yo Ma, all squee-unks and chuffs,
yet there’s an enchantment in the echo
and fade of that music.
From each of the itinerant players
comes a greater magic in their voices– 
frosty clouds of white, explicit in their
warmth, greeting, calling, community.
Their morning messages form,
then lift to drift and disappear within
the crystalline cloud that slept with them
on the pond last night.
Shortly, the northbound ensemble shoves
off from its marsh moorings, rising in a
ragged, streamered vee, disappearing into the
newly-risen cloud voices calling it home.

Update (9/19/11): Today I walked past the spot where Mollie and I saw this story unfold and it's messed up with construction equipment and half-built concrete buildings. Sigh. That makes me sad. At least I have the vision of this poem to remind me that once we were a way station for those travelers heading to and from their North and South homes.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fading Memory

By Joseph Hesch

The best I can say is
your memory has begun fading
from my mind, but
not yet from my dreams.
Certain, I am,
what little you recall
of Us
already is lost to you.
Too late, I learned
how little of your true self
you gave, acting more as
a wished-for mirror,
an inarticulate echo,
an adorable, unpettable pet,
for this lonely soul
merely searching for a friend.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Billy and Me

By Joseph Hesch

What would I ask him –
the poet Billy Collins I mean –
if I had the chance? 
Hmm. I’d say,
may I call you Billy?
Well, Billy, how do you do?
How do you do what you do?
Do you set aside a time or place
to record those thoughts,
draft that verse,
clean up that pratfall puddle of
your own blood, sweat and/or tears
you dripped onto the page?”

“Or do you lay on your back
in the dark and let those voices
that keep you awake eventually
sing you to sleep,
hoping you can remember
their tune in the morning,
to scratch onto a pad
while you wait for your fool computer
to blink awake so you can write
the silly things you do for your day job? 
You know, the ones you could do
in your sleep?”

My dear friend Helen Gionet Schmidling wrote to ask me what I would ask Billy Collins if I ever had the chance. Now, that's not the kind of thing you sit and ponder on a daily basis, so I came up with something lame to ask. The next day she wrote to say she had attended a reading and Q&A by Collins. This poem describes what I might ask him in a more private setting. It also describes what I do while waiting for my computer to boot every morning. Sometimes the writing expands past the time when the desktop photo casts its light on my face in this darkened room at 7:30 AM.  And that's a VERY good thing, isn't it?