Monday, May 30, 2011

Declaration of Twilight

By Joseph Hesch

Many have lived long
but chosen not to live much.
Others have lived such a short time,
but filled it to overflowing
with the richest marrow of existence.
Me? I have lived not so long
nor so short, but forgotten most
of what I've done in my frugal, yet
misspent time. Apparently, its treasure
went unsaved in the broken vault
of my memory.
Now, as the shadows of my days
grow longer, I crave the need to live,
to experience a fuller life
(whatever that means) in whatever
currency I can spend among the living.
Age has assured it won't be
everything it once might have been,
but if I can, it will be all--
all I can be, all I can love,
and maybe all you can remember.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


By Joseph Hesch 

When some old combat soldiers
tell me over beers how they got to be
what people called heroes,
they seem embarrassed,
saying they only did what their buddies
would do-–even the dead ones.
Then they put on sad faces, 

like pinning on their medals.

One whispered his sorrow that
the real heroes died and he didn’t.
Moving closer, he rasped that courage
might really be what the guys had who,
when the shit went down, 
turned in the wrong or right direction
(it didn't matter, he said)
and were lucky enough to make it out.

For whatever reason, I thought of

the old soldier the other day--his claim
that what people who weren't there
think is courage might just be so much wind.
Right there in front of me, 

a swirling, breeze-blown potato chip bag
chased two squirrels
up a tree.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


By Joseph Hesch

Saw you swing through the downspout of
floodlight in the backyard last evening.
I thought you were just another evening bug,
a red buzzer in zig-zag flight.
But you were saturated with radiance
after you zipped from the shower of photons.
I could see the glow of your afterburner
in the dark over by the shed.
Unlike the other bugs, you avoided
the porch’s cone of brightness,
confident out there in the dark.
You appeared to wear the crown
of the incandescent

Suddenly, you were joined by a host
of fiery friends, blinking messages
only your kind might comprehend.
I think I understood something
of what you were saying, though,
when I flipped off the switch
and joined you in the night.
I too became illuminated, aware that
when things are at their dimmest,
we must make our own light
to help us find the way,
to have confidence we aren't going
to be alone in the darkness.
Not for too long.

Mistakes Were Made

By Joseph Hesch

I hear the lying hairdos in the suits
with tiny flags on their lapels say it
without a blink or twitch all the time:
“Mistakes were made.”
I tell you, brothers and sisters,
these grammar grifters are sinning
right in your face because that statement
is a lie, a dodge, a bit of verbal
legerdemain and subterfuge,
It’s also passive voice, darn it.
The mistake is an act,
or the result of an act.
It needs an actor (though actors are,
by definition, hoaxers, too,
come to think of it).
“Mistakes were made,” is
the “Check is in the mail,”
the “Dog ate my homework,”
the “Of course I love you, baby,”
of socio-political discourse.
And it’s a sin. A sin against
all that is good and all that is
direct and correct. Most of all,
though, it’s a sin against
the Holy Trinity:
God, Strunk and White.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Flash

By Joseph Hesch

It always seems to start with a flash,
something soft and sudden that,
nevertheless, catches your attention
with a gentle pull at the corner of your eye.
If you’re lucky, the two of you
are drawn to one another like
shipwreck survivors on a night sea,
fearful, yet hopeful that the light each sees
can be a friend in all this lonely dark.
Once together, you’ll share each other’s
reflected light.  Maybe a flame springs forth
between you as each brings heat,
as well as illumination, to the other.

If you’re not careful, you could start a fire,
which is never a bad thing if you can
keep it under control, you know,
like in a hearth instead of in a dry forest.
Such blazes take constant attention,
and without care even the most roaring
can wane, maybe damping down
into glowing embers. Some even end up
gasping to expire as shallow black ash.
Then the only light you’ll share comes not
from the welcoming flash of youthful ardor,
nor the flame or warm glow of together.
In the empty darkness of two who are none,
it’s the cold angry spark of flint on steel.

I've posted this poem in response to a request by poet Brian Miller at the wonderful One Stop Poetry community site.  Brian and his wife are celebrating their 15th anniversary and it's finally Spring and that's when young (and old) men's hearts turn to thoughts of Love. Brian asked us for a love poem or an un-love poem. I think I split the difference, with maybe (forgive me) a lesson in there, too.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hiding in Plain Sight

By Joseph Hesch

Living life alone,
even in the midst of a crowd,
a family, a love affair,
is not so different as the life
of a hermit.

I can be as solitary in those circumstances
as any Essene on the lam
in the mountains of the Holy Land.
But instead of hiding and meditating
in a shrub-shrouded cave,
I stare at you from behind
this living amusement park,
a charade of light, noise and motion,
keeping your world entertained,
at bay, by abruptly changing direction
and emotional altitude.

It works, even sometimes sending you
away from the show the worse for the climb,
like a heretic-hunter worn from the search
for my spiritual fore-bear.
My head, this cave of seclusion,
is where I ineveitably
pull back when I can't push away,
crouching in its darkest cutting crevices,
cold, relying on its dim light
for illumination enough to contemplate
why I would want or need to stay
hungry and naked like this.

Even more, I wonder
why you keep trying
to pry me out of here
when you don't really want me

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blues for Billy

By Joseph Hesch

Billy was a true Blues man,
the happiest purveyor of the downtrodden
black man's art I ever knew.
He riffed licks by the cotton-picking bagful,
bending strings to pitch-perfect extremes
and bending hearts as if caressed
like the body of that Strat
he hugged to his own.
Growling or shouting,
crooning or oozing a low moan,
his bloodshot angel eyes
glowed beatific no matter where he turned
personal hells into harmonic heavens.

The empties, brown and green,
stacked on the Marshall at his back
stood deep like the fans, white and black
who came for the show and left for the better.
They called him Wild Bill and
the wild truly lived in him,
poking and pulling his gentle soul
over the boundaries of too much and too late
into a darkness soon too awful and too awfully soon.
That night my little brother died,
we all floated down tear tracks
to that place I'm told the Blues was born,
a delta of sadness, memory and 12-bar deliverence.

Thursday would have been my brother Bill's 55th birthday. He was a brilliant self-taught musician, regarded as one of the best Blues guitarists in our neck of the musical woods. The experts tell me he would be regarded as such outside of upstate New York and western New England, too. But here with Julie, Christine and Suzanne was Home. He died suddenly seven years ago and our world is sadder and darker now. Musicians with whom he shared stages still note in their bios they played with "the late Wild Bill Hesch." I played with him too, just not the Blues. This one's for you, Bill. Hope I hit some of the right notes. I'm not used to solos.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Together Alone

By Joseph Hesch

I remember the final scene
of the great western, The Searchers,
when John Wayne, as brave and vile
Ethan, is framed outside the doorway
of the Jorgensens' home,
where what's left of his family had
left him standing in the
dust-blown daylight.
He stands a solitary monolith
in the mid ground of a shot
of Monument Valley.
And then the door slams shut,
abruptly turning the screen black,
leaving us to wonder
about the future of a solitary man.
But what about the people left in the dark?
Don't they each have their own
disappointments, failures
and fears yet to carry?
When the winds of time come to pull
the roof off their dark hiding space and
the sun shines down on each of them
and upon each of us, as well,
do you think we'll realize
that we are like Ethan
and his family?
Alone together?
Together, yet alone?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


By Joseph Hesch

The delusion left
as swiftly, as completely
as it came.

Of course, it faked its way past others, too.
But how can I expect to become something more
than I’ve always been? 

Filling your world’s space as just
another one of those guys,
the faceless names and nameless faces on the street
you don’t hear and don’t see

every day

as you’re so involved,
checking your reflection
in each pane of glass
you pass. 

There, you did it again.

You’re always looking at who you are,
or think you are. 

I’m looking for who I might be.

We’re both wrong.


When I tuck in for the night.
I can’t fall into sleep
without my ankles crossed,
feet clenched like field birds:
hidden tense, twitching
under a grass blanket;
ready to burst forth to
anywhere but here.

At the other end of
my twisted rope of spine,
there sits a mind
just as knotted,
just as tense and twitchy,
waiting for something to trigger
its flight into an unknown place:
a hoped-for dream.

That escape never comes.
It's always the same snarled darkness
until the alarm kicks us loose--
flushes us from cover like
a spaniel raising a covey of quail--
into another day of blind flight,
toward another night of

Monday, May 9, 2011

Down at Dawn

By Joseph Hesch

I saw the green-capped marine
by the dusty roadside,
a disheveled pile of khaki
drab on the ground by his side.
He frantically shifted his gaze
down, up,
down, left,
down, right,
In-place he paced, amid
frenzied fight-or-flight indecision.
They never saw their attacker coming,
nor even where he went
in the dawn's dark shadows.
He cannot (can he?)
leave behind the crumpled mass
that was his partner, his comrade.

I'd heard that mallards are like this,
but I, myself, never saw it before.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Comments Enabled on Stories Page

For those visitors who have read the story "Tagged" on the Stories page and would like to drop a comment, I have enabled comments on that page. I appreciate the feedback you give me on my poems, and will also be happy to hear from you about this story and others that I plan to post in the future. So, if you have a thought to share about my short story, feel free to leave a comment on the Stories page.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Space Between

By Joseph Hesch

The high-pitched metronomic peeping
 of the frogs ceases,
though isn’t yet replaced by
the arias and white-noise cheeping
of the robins, wrens and flickers.
Before the evening performance
curtain of mist falls on the water
and the dawn’s footlights know enough
to glow, there exists
but a mere moment where nature rests.
It’s as if the new day is coiled,
waiting to explode in light, hiss in heat,
holding back its grand entrance
to increase the tension in an audience
of flower, animal, and man.
I often wake during that instant,
my senses empty of the outside and
no longer full of the dark imaginings
of the inside, and I wonder
for that same moment,
have I crossed over?
It's such a hopeful thing, this.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

On the Beach

By Joseph Hesch

I’ve spent life with damp big toes
and dry hair; never dove in,
never got those pruney fingers,
just the guilt and jealousy
of watching you happy amphibs
while I itched from sandy shorts.

I’m told it’s an itch that can’t
be scratched, the only relief
would come from standing tall and
striding into the waves: waist deep
would be enough, I should think,
to get that feel of real life.

That’s also deep enough to
drop the shorts and let currents
do the work of pulling sand
and inhibition from places
I hid, not because I feared
getting in, more getting out.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


By Joseph Hesch

I painted my name on a bridge today.
Tagging, the kids and cops call it.
It’s a young person’s game that
guys of fifty-something years
probably should not do.
And they definitely shouldn’t be caught doing.
Not that the aforementioned cops
wouldn’t have an easy time netting
an old dude gripping the outside of an overpass
and his breath
with one hand and exhaling urban art
out a can of spray paint in the other.
I painted my “Jo-Ho wAs heRe” in red and yellow,
not because they’re my gang colors, but
because black, white and gray are what my life
has become – the stuff of row upon row of
blurry obituary gravestones on a newsprint field.
The Great, Mediocre or Poor American novel
never sprung from my mind and fingers, nor did
anything else of note or semi-permanence.
So I decided to autograph the bridge where
each day for fifteen years I’ve rat-raced past
“Bobby & Lou ’72.”
Thirty-eight years of notoriety seems
like a lifetime -- and an instant -- to a guy
who life tagged in black and white and gray
too long ago. Yeah,
and I willingly held its hand and
slipped it the cans.
Tag, Life, now I’m IT.

The first line of "Tagged" came to me one morning on my commute to Albany. It's the first line of one of my favorite songs by my favorite band, Over the Rhine. The line banged around in my head as a "what-would-it-be-like" idea and I just ran with it, listening to its vacuum sucking up dust and sensation around my brain. (While I should have been doing the straight job, I must confess.)

The poem happened pretty quickly, as most do. I liked it right away, as most don't, and submitted it to Boston Literary Magazine, whose editor, Robin Stratton, selected it for publication in the Spring 2010 issue.

As I said, I liked the concept and that line, so I used them as the first sentence and theme of  a short story. As a writer, I don't waste anything! Wonder of wonders, the story "Tagged" was selected for publication as well, this time by Foliate Oak Magazine.

On May 2, 2011, I came home to find a manila envelope in the mail from Foliate Oak.  Inside was the publication, "The Best of Foliate Oak - 2011." In that publication was the story "Tagged." So, in honor of the little line that could, I give you "Tagged."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Waiting Room

By Joseph Hesch

Each new one shuffles in, poking a
silver-fringed or bald head inside the glass
to murmur or cough a reply to
“Any changes in insurance, dear?”
Around the room, rheumy eyes lift
and drop again, while the latest visitor scans
for an open seat, with no one on either side,
because you can’t be too safe these days.

This room is full of folks poring over
publications they normally wouldn’t pick up
to swat a wasp.  But there’s not much else to do
except sit and fret about their ailments
or to fume over the fact
their appointment was scheduled
for a half-hour ago.

Perhaps they could look around,
trying to determine what one another's
troubles might be.  But it would take
a mighty diagnostician to ascertain their problems
when all one can see are the tops of
forward-leaning heads, and all one can listen to are
quiet coughs or the buzz of even quieter conversation.

Me?  I don’t want to know why they’re here.
I'm waiting for the Over-50 exam, which is
to medicine what the Early Bird Special is to dining.
Besides, I’ve got my own problems.
According to this magazine’s menu of maladies,
I’ll be having a delicious, malicious, pernicious anemia
…with a side order of andropause.