Joe Hesch – Bio
Joe is a storyteller in verse and prose. “After 30 years writing for The Man, I became my own Man.” Author of Penumbra and One Hundred Beats a Minute – http://amzn.to/1LkUjXM
For more of Joe’s work check out his website – http://www.athingforwordsjahesch.wordpress.com
December 17, 2017
Life Through Brown Eyes
I looked into her brown eyes
today, and recalled a time
when guile gained no traction there.
Nor in her heart.
I recalled studying
another pair of eyes
just like hers once.
Soft brown and hopeful.
They looked out at life
with such high expectations
and unspoken exclamations
of “Gee whiz” & “Oh boy!” too.
Now I look into her eyes
and see life’s hard lessons
have punched her in the face.
Just like they did to me.
That’s when I spied her
peering into my eyes.
She wore a knowing expression
I couldn’t quite place
until I passed that mirror.
December 10, 2017
This poem just completely describes my life, my feelings, my emotions, my everything at this stage of my life. The what ifs and lost loves are like so many crushed leaves and broken windows …
Beyond My Reach
My life’s temple is collapsing,
the figurative version of it
shattered by forces both
within and without,
the actual one sick and weak
and ready to fail.
Life was so much easier,
when I kept it boarded up
like an old house,
its clapboards stripped,
gray, cracked and whistling
as the cold winds blew through.
Back then, you would walk past
and not notice it except
for the birds occasionally
bursting from the attic.
And now the birds are gone,
scattered like leaves in the wake
of the semi truck that just
ran me over, blowing past,
pulling at my chest,
tearing my eyes, these windows
of my decrepit soul that
she opened when first I held her.
And now is beyond my reach.
Maybe I’ll cry tomorrow. But for now, I’m just empty.
December 3, 2017
Faces False and True
The lab smelled of dirt and plaster. It reminded Dr. Jacqueline Bird of the houses around the Akwesasne Reservation her father would help renovate on weekends to help pay for her education.
Jacquie smiled at the memory of her dad coming to the door covered in plaster dust save for his hands and eye sockets when she’d arrive with his lunch and a beer. Later, she’d spot the empties tossed in the haul-away dumpster. Their brown glass cast an amber glow onto the broken wall lath within, like browned ribs of the long-dead man arrayed before her on her work table.
“Daydreaming, Dr. Bird?” Jacquie’s boss Dr. Raoul Dumont said as he popped up behind her in the archeology/anthropology department lab in Syracuse. Her reverie disappeared like a puff of white dust from the protective plaster covering she blew off the remains of this soldier. She’d unearthed them herself from the dig site on the western shore of Lake George.
“Not exactly, Dr. Dumont. And I wish you wouldn’t jump up behind me like that while I’m cleaning and examining these remains. This man suffered enough without me further torturing his bones,” Jacquie said as she removed her safety glasses and appeared as the dusty echo of her father.
Dumont moved closer to Jacquie and reached out to move his finger down the page of her notes. As he did so, his hand once again brushed against Jacquie’s. His head floated just behind her right ear.
“So you believe this subject was scalped, Dr. Bird? You yourself have said that even postmortem head wounds can leave behind signs of hemorrhaging in the cranial etching. I do not see any signs of such hemorrhaging here. What proof do you have he experienced such torture? Couldn’t these just as easily be postmortem predation caused by scavenging…,” he paused and breathed “animals?” into Jacquie’s ear.
Jacquie recalled a conversation with her bachelor’s school friend Edie Blaine in the instant the hairs on her neck assumed an upright and locked positions.
Edie, a professor of anthropology at Dumont’s previous university, had warned her of Dumont’s reputation for harassing female students and colleagues alike.
“He gets away with so much because of his connections in the World Archeological Conference and the Society for American Archeology,” Edie told her. “Plus his uncle’s a ranking member of the Senate Education Committee. Connections and direct access to the money tree make him a tough little bastard to cut off for any university. Yours has more shine, so he jumped at the chance for more professional prestige and fresh sweater meat.”
“My report will prove my theory, Dr. Dumont. But let me show you how I believe my subject suffered at the hands of people may have been some of my ancestors,” Jacquie said.
Sliding from her stool, Jacquie looked Dumont in the eyes as she held a pointed probe in one hand and a scalpel in the other.
“I believe the man was a French Marine or Canadian like your forebears, sent down to stir up distrust among the Mohawk and English settlers on the southern end of the lake. I’ve seen wounds like this before and read documentation of their sources,” she said.
“And what, pray tell, was that, Dr. Bird?” Dumont said with an amused grin.
“In the documented case, the raiders kidnapped, raped or killed both white and native girls. My Mohawk ancestors captured one of them. As you know, theirs was a matriarchy of sorts and such crimes were often handled by the women of the clan. In this case,” Jacquie jabbed at Dumont’s crotch with her probe, “repeatedly piercing his pelvis with sewing needles, before removing his genitals. Very effective deterrent, don’t you think?”
Dumont recoiled from the probe poking at his crotch.
“Excuse me?” he said.
“They let him bleed out, hung from a rack like a deer. Before he expired, though, they removed the scalp from his exsanguinated skull, sewing it to his crotch, like a merkin. Hence, more pelvic scratches. Total demasculinization. Like to see the method they used?” Jacquie said, putting down her probe and reaching for Dumont’s toupee with scalpel still in hand.
“No! Thank you, Dr, Bird. I’ll leave you to your work,” Dumont said, looking like he’d seen a ghost. He scurried from the lab with his hands shoved deep in his pockets.
Jacquie returned to her work with a small smile. She saw the reflection of her dust-covered face on her blank computer screen and wiped the plaster from her cheeks.
“Have to call Daddy later to tell him how Granny’s stories of her grannies’ grannies’ grannies cut off another white dick today like they did in the old days,” Jacquie said to herself. Then she blew more dust off the bones of another man who didn’t recognize who he was dealing with.
Wanted to write up a quick flash piece for my friend Dan Mader’s weekly 2 Minutes. Go! flash fiction feature on his site, Unemployed Imagination. Wanted to keep it under 4,000 characters, but some first drafts just take on lives of their own. Not exactly sure where this came from, maybe a subconscious mashup of the current news and my penchant for frontier New York history. It’ll do in a pinch for a writer in the depressed doldrums.
November 26, 2017
Thankful for Never Writing ‘The End’
NOVEMBER 23, 2017
This morning, I opened my eyes
in the still-dark and, no surprise,
wondered if it was worth being grateful
since I usually awaken feeling so hateful.
That sounds defeated, and wickedly depressed,
but that’s how I felt this morning, nonetheless.
A mountain of woe I’ve built, like fortune by a miser,
yet to recognize this, not many would be the wiser.
They could be standing next to me, say,
this brooding Jungfrau of Jungian clay
with which I’ve sculpted a life of quiet desperation
that echoes in these sour nothings of dim desolation.
Which is why I switched on the light and arose from bed,
thankful that I could try to get out of my own head
and greet a day before it could rise.
I guess I needed to stare right it in its eyes,
and tell it how tired I was in living these lies
of commission, omission, and plain ugly disposition.
And so I thank my stars, lucky and ill,
that this morning I’m living this life of mine still.
I’m fortunate to have not once written The End
to a life I filled with choices, each my story did bend.
So today I thank you for the ear that you lend
ever open to my tales, my cries of joy or the wails,
your kindness punctuated not with “.” or “!”, but “Amen”-ed
NOTE: A jump-out-of-bed, spur-of-the-moment thing that abruptly started rhyming. I thank whoever or whatever holds sway over presenting me with choices and abilities for you readers. We are few, but all the better to share this interesting form of intimacy that helps me defeat some of the desperation and desolation I spin around each day. Thanksgiving blessings to us all.
November 19, 2017
What a wonderful piece about family for this week of Thanksgiving!
NOVEMBER 13, 2017
The gale pushes its way
past doors locked and sealed
with hope and prayer.
But they will not
withstand the cloaked
forces of Nature between
dusk and dawn.
I know that darkness
cannot last longer than
a new sunrise, and storms
eventually give way
to a new bright promise.
If you believe your hopes
securely lock the entrance
to your sacred space,
or that prayers hold fast
the door of your sanctuary,
I can’t say you’re mistaken.
I only know another
dark storm has shattered
the door she opened
in me when first I saw her
open her blue eyes.
Joe’s Note: I started writing this down as just scribbles while I watched my granddaughter use the freshly sharpened #2s from the circular pencil box on my desk. I had written “Sharp Pencils” at the top of the page because that’s what we were using. Hence the title. She likes the pink gel pen, too. But, c’mon…
November 12, 2017
Such a fine memory
I have of you.
Of you walking by me
in the moonlight glow
from the window.
I remember sensing
the scent of you
that night like
your silhouette wafting
though your nightgown.
Such a fine memory
I have of you.
Of you beside me
all those nights,
so close I could not sleep.
Of your warmth
touching my body
as your kiss.
Such fine memories
I’ve carried of us
all these years,
how you’re always there
when the music plays,
when the room goes dark.
But there never was an Us,
never really was a you.
Just fine memories.
November 6, 2017
Joe is a man of many talents … here are a few of his wonderful black and white photos. The more I look at black and white photos there more I like the texture and detail that can be seen in this simpler form of photography.
October 29, 2017
A Surge et Carpe Diem
The daylight times feel
so short now, and sleep
holds never more than
a handful of hours.
Life runs away like that
for the old man whose spirit
sees no age in him,
but whose body stabs him
to wakefulness along
the dark trail to morning.
It drops him without warning
into a drowsy torpor while
daylight, who knew him
so well, still calls
from the window
to come out and play.
He ponders where the
remaining shards of each day go,
as if they’re hiding in the pocket
of some thief of latter days.
He realizes no one stole
these missing heartbeats,
these warm knowing gazes,
these potential walks and talks,
these stories left untold.
He’s the one who lost them
to another sunset and he’s
the only one who can steal them
back from each new dawn,
if he’d let his ageless self
rise and seize this day.
© Joseph Hesch 2017
October 22, 2017
Chocolate is my weakness … just had to share … Scroll to the bottom of Joe’s section to leave comments!
The candy bowl sits
on the hallway stairs
by the front door.
Once again, it proved more
than we needed, meted
out to a smaller number
of children than last year.
And last year fewer
than the year before.
“These bags of candy must be
getting bigger every year,”
I say, enunciating
like a high fructose
Demosthenes around the third
of five Snickers minis whose
empty wrappers will crackle
as they crinkle in my pocket
en route to the kitchen.
It’s not that I’m hiding
evidence from Herself
of winnowing the leftovers.
The bowl’s growing emptiness
is my snacking gun.
I’m hiding (denying)
how consumed I am by
my shaky resolve,
my spooky weakness
for the wee candy bars
I’ll scarf during those
first days of November.
And then I catch a glimpse
of my profile in the mirror
on the way to the trash.
Ohhh, the HORROR!
October 15, 2017
Black-eye Susans and Brown-eyed Suzie
By Joe Hesch
I sat on the back steps, the afternoon sun on my face and a six-pack sitting beside me, keeping me company in the afternoon chill. It was the first day of Spring and my fancy had turned, as it always had, to thoughtless love.
Not my thoughtlessness, though. I had plenty of thoughts. Probably one for each swallow of beer and the beer wasn’t helping drown them, as if it ever really does.
According to the TV weather guy, the Sun was about to come back across the Equator from its Winter place. So I started thinking of Her again.
Okay, I was thoughtless, but that was years ago and she never really understood how I felt.
“I never knew,” she said the day I told her. It was in a tone that carried with it a sense of lost possibilities. No, lost probabilities. She’d already left her longtime fiancé and moved on to someone she said opened her up to a new life that most certainly wouldn’t include me.
All those years, I played the honorable soldier, and now the resigned swain. So I swallowed that bitter pill, washing it down with plenty of beer.
But every year around this time she would walk that sinuous walk of hers back into my consciousness. I always said it was because the sap was running, but I didn’t necessarily mean in the maple trees. I’d hear a song, almost any song, and form some sort of connection between its lyrics and us. Even though there never was or would be a Capital “U” Us.
The only Us that existed in my life was me and my Border Collie, Suzie. Okay, I’ll admit to naming Suzie with just enough of my Spring obsession’s name to make myself miserable, but she looked like a Suzie, so that’s who she was.
“Suzie, you fluff-butt, stop digging over there,” I called to the flagging tail flying over a spray of moist soil where I planted the flowers that She liked. Of course, a dog, even a PhD.-level intellect like a Border Collie, is not going to respond to a simple imperative sentence beyond its name and one or two-word command.
Suzie gave up digging just long enough to turn her head toward me, her red-brown eyes regarding me with what I construed as affection and indifference. The same I observed in You-Know-Who the last time we spoke. That’s what Spring will do to me.
I drained another bottle, slid it into its cardboard berth and withdrew its neighbor, popped its top and glugged down about a third of its mind-fogging elixir.
“Hey, Fluff, c’mon over here like a good girl. Leave those flowers alone,” I called again, this time with a bit more beer-muscled edge. Again, a turn and that look, the reflex reminder of Her eyes.
I’ve imagined those eyes many nights as I was lying in bed. I’d see them in the dark, on the ceiling, with mine closed, my head under the blankets or pillow, in the face of the girl who checked my license and sold me this beer, in my neighbor Mrs. Benedetto’s stare as I talked to Suzie like she was a human girl. Yeah, I saw Her eyes everywhere. Sometimes I liked thinking that she thought about my eyes, maybe seeing them in somebody’s face on the street or through a store window on a mannequin during a midday walk, if she still walked the route we’d walk when we were still
“Suzie, come. I mean it. Bad dog. I’m having enough trouble today without you digging up stuff. C’mon, Suzie, come,” I said. I emptied that bottle and noticed I only had one more left to drink. The contents of two bottles had disappeared without me noticing. Just as the past two hours had disappeared.
But the feelings of being the stupid good guy who followed the rules, too late to the fair (damsel), and living with regret, a Border Collie and only one more beer overcame me. Just as they had every year since I lowered my emotional guard and got a gut punch for my trouble.
“Suzie,” I yelled. “Get your fluffy ass out of those flowers now.” I was pissed, but not really at my dog. I planted those flowers and pretty much ignored them because it pained me to tend to them when I knew what they represented. But I couldn’t dig them up because…I knew what they represented.
I took that last bottle and tipped it up and drank most of it down in one long chain of swallows. Might as we’ll end the day and the beer going out big, because the feelings were still big.
I lowered the bottle with eyes my closed. I’d had enough of feeling sorry for myself. Yeah, these feelings were always there, most especially on this day. It was on the first day of Spring when I finally sowed my feelings for Her with hope they’d grow into something beautiful. For years I’d dreamed someday she’d look back and think, “Oh, wait…what if…?” But it’s really too late for that. I’ve lived too long without gathering what I’d planted with such hope. I realized a while ago I could live with that “without.”
I opened my eyes and found Suzie staring into them. She’d finally come over to me. In her soft mouth she clenched one of the Black-eyed Susans from the plot where she’d been digging for the past hour. I looked over and saw that it looked like a roti-tiller had torn it up for a new plating. Suzie dropped the flower between my feet and pressed her head against my knee. She’d chewed off the center of the bloom and the black eye was replaced by brown. I reached out and rubbed between her ears.
“Okay, I get it. Thanks, Fluff-butt. You’re my girl, huh?” I said. “It’s over. We’re stuck with one another and that’s okay. What do you say we go down to the dog park tomorrow and see if we can dig up something besides flowers and foolish memories.”
I picked up the flower Suzie gave me and put it in that last near-empty bottle. Then we both went into our house. The sun had just slid over the Equator and the roofs to the west and tomorrow new life would begin.
Joseph Hesch is a writer and poet who lives near Albany, New York. Many of his poems and stories are inspired by his 350 year old hometown, but most spring from his many travels between his right ear and his left ear.
Member of the staff at dVerse Poets Pub and one of Writers Digest Editor Robert Lee Brewer’s “2011 Best Tweeps for Writers to Follow.”
October 8, 2017
A MORE PERFECT UNION
Joseph Andrew Hesch
As the latest election newscast droned on, the old man sighed and muted
“Y’know, I’ve met a couple of presidents. And some presidential candidates, too,” Grandpa Ed Duryea said to thirteen-year-old Grace one afternoon.
“You did? Which ones?”
“Well, there were Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter back during the Bicentennial. That’s 1976 to you youngsters who may not care that this country has a proud history spanning almost 250 years.”
“I know that,” Grace said with a tiny pout.
“Even met Trump and Hillary Clinton, though neither when they were running for President then,” Ed said.
“Yup. Then there was Rodney Schuyler Beauchamp.”
“Who?” Grace said, her eyes widening.
“You never heard of Rodney Beauchamp?” her grandfather said.
“Of course not. Nobody by that name ever ran for president,” Grace said.
“Well, that’s where you’re wrong, Gracie. And Beauchamp was probably the most presidential man I’ve ever met,” Ed replied. The old man then walked out to the kitchen for another mug of coffee.
“You can’t just leave me hanging here with that bit of information and just walk away, Pa,” Grace said as she followed her grandfather into the kitchen. “Who the heck was Rodney Beauchamp?”
Ed stirred some creamer into his mug of Colombian Suprema. He clinched a larger smile down to his wry grin; the one that Grace knew could bring on a great tale of his reporter days or an even greater lie.
“1972 it was. Rodney lived on a farm with his brother Roland near Mooers Forks, up on the Quebec border. Got tired of all these hippies and privileged draft dodgers running through his place day and night to sneak into Canada,” Ed said, nudging his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
“I read about that. Some guys refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War and ran off to Canada. Right?”
“Correct, hon. It was as divisive a time in our history as I’ve seen in my sixty-odd years. Peaceful protest turned into violent police, even military, pushback. Racial strife leading to flaming riots in big cities from coast to coast. And Rodney’s orchards and pastures became his own Ground Zero of protest. He was ticked off at the government and wasn’t going to take it anymore,” Grace’s Pa said.
“So that’s why he decided to run for President?” Grace asked. She rocked her chair closer to her grandfather.
“But you said…”
“I said he was ticked off, but there’s a little more to the story. See, those bachelor farmers don’t have much of a life but cultivating, herding and milking, from before dawn to after sundown. Their pastime is reading their Bibles and the news. In the Beauchamp brothers’ case, that wasn’t just the Adirondack Enterprise, but included the Montreal Gazette…a major newspaper without any biases here in the States.”
“So?” Grace said, blinking.
“So Rodney and Roland looked at the whole American geopolitical scene as world citizens, not just North Country farm boys. And they didn’t take kindly to how we got neck-deep in the Big Muddy of the Mekong with that whole Tonkin Gulf decision letting LBJ essentially declare war, when it’s actually the role of Congress, not the President. They felt the powers-that-be had ripped and set fire to their Constitution. That and all those boys tearing up their farm on the road to Canada settled Rodney’s decision.”
“To run for President…”
“Actually, to BE President. He figured if the Constitution was no longer the law of this land, he’d make it the law of his own land. So Rodney declared his two hundred acres the sovereign United State of America and himself as its President,” Ed said with that grin again.
“Awww, Pa…” Grace said, pushing her chair back and turning to leave the kitchen.
“After the United State army——Roland——chased off some conscientious interlopers by seasoning their backsides with light shotgun loads and rock salt, the State Police found out there was a new country between the old United States and Canada. Rodney and Roland chased them off, but then US marshals declared war on the United State. They stormed the farmhouse before dawn. Roland was ready, but outgunned. That’s when Rodney declared an armistice. The Feds put Border Patrol officers on Rodney’s boundary with Canada and the influx of ‘undesirable aliens’ coming through the United State’s national cow pasture dropped a trickle,” Ed said.
“Sure, Pa,” Grace called from the living room.
Ed shook his head and recalled the last words he heard Rodney say before they hauled him off to jail and put Roland in the back of the coroner’s station wagon.
“You have no standing in my country. You don’t have jurisdiction to make me do or not do anything. I’m President and a citizen of this United State and here, under our constitution, I decide those things. And you can’t stop us. This is just the beginning. Your so-called United States no longer has a moral or political center, no rudder. You’re adrift. I don’t think you’ll ever get back to being the real United States anymore,” Rodney Beauchamp said.
“That was one tough old bird,” Ed said under his breath.
He pulled his laptop in front of him and pulled up the New York Times’ site. After reading a few stories there, he visited the Plattsburgh Press-Republican’s site. After ten minutes, he returned to the den where he and Grace had started this history lesson. She had changed the channel from CNN to Fox, which she always laughed at, but her grandfather shook his head at both channels.
“You know, Gracie, not too many days have gone by since they took old Rodney away that I haven’t seen something that made me think he was onto something with that ripped-up Constitution idea. I’ve seen it twisted and folded and sometimes mutilated by the ruling class and the common man alike,” he said, slumping into his leather chair. He knew he couldn’t stand to watch any more election fallout stories. His constitution couldn’t take much more.
“Would you turn on the PBS station, please, Gracie? I think it’s time for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. I think I need my sense of right, wrong and the fair treatment of your fellow man…or tiger… reinforced.”
October 1, 2017
The Artist Awakens
By Joe Hesch
Last time I saw her was when she gave her Alfred back to the lake. By that time she was living out West. But she told me she’d always remember the poetry of the wind coming down the lake and the color of the water the first time she saw it back in ’08. But she was glad she’d never come back.
I was just a tot back then, tethered by a strap to my mother so I wouldn’t wander into the lake. The lake is Lake George, the so-called Queen of American Lakes. To Alfred’s family and mine it was home, though not so much to her.
First time I saw her was one day she walked into Dad’s store in the village after picking up their mail from New York City, where she and Alfred lived most of the year. Like a lot of New Yorkers of any means, and Alfred’s folks had means, they would escape the summer in the city for the wilds of upstate. For many, that meant the Catskills. For others it was Saratoga. But more than a few took the train all the way up into the Adirondacks to their great lodges. Alfred’s family owned a farm on the lake in the Adirondack foothills. And that’s how I came to meet her.
“She looks like a goddamn man,” my dad would say whenever she came into our store. But that would be well after she left to go back to her studio shed on the farm. And it was kind of true. My big brother Bob said she had what he called a hatchet face. She did almost always wear this most stern and snotty look on it, kind of superior but with the threat of punching you in the mouth just because you looked at her with what she considered the wrong look.
“I think she smells like a barn,” my mom would laugh. “But a new barn, fresh painted with a whiff of turpentine.”
“She’s a painter, Mother,” I’d say. “I’ve seen her on the shore with an easel and paints. And I’ve seen her wandering around the farm then, all of sudden, crouch down and start drawing some flower and then dabbing on some watercolors like grandma taught me.”
My grandma, Mother’s mother, was from a once well-to-do Albany family, canal and railroad money. They lost almost everything in the Panic of ’73. As a privileged girl, she studied music and art, two things she never gave up even after having to move up to their summer place on Diamond Point. She played piano and taught me to draw and paint before she passed in 1913 after she heard about the Titanic. Something about a boy she was in love with as a girl.
I can understand that. You never know when and how love will strike you. Or to whom you’ll lose your heart the first time.
I happened to think this woman smelled just fine. Like an artist, just how I wanted to be. Not like her Alfred, who carried the aroma of rotten eggs around with him. She said it was the chemicals he used to make his pictures, photographs of people and buildings and life. He also made what the visitors to his family’s farm called “images” of people with no clothes on, including his wife. I never saw those until she invited me in one day when I came across her having trouble carrying her equipment from the lakeshore back to her shed studio.
It didn’t bother her one bit that I saw her naked there in shades of black and white. She even put on a little grin because she knew how scandalous it was to someone who didn’t understand art. But the photographs that captured my imagination were the ones Alfred took of her beautiful hands. He captured those long fingers in various poses, almost like ballet dancers, sometimes just against a dark piece of wood or canvas, others framing her somber face.
“Thank you for showing me what you and your mister do up here,” I said before I headed back down the lakeshore to the village. “It means a lot to me because I want to be an artist someday, myself.”
“What kind of artist, uhh… What did you say your name was?” her face took on a somewhat softer expression.
“A painter, just like you,” I replied. “And my name is Catherine.”
“Well, Catherine, the career of an artist isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, your heart has to develop a skin as tough as the sole of your shoe because rejection and isolation is as much a part of it as an easel or even a camera,” she said.
“Well, that’s what I want to be,” I said.
“Then stop by Tuesday and meet some of the New York artists Alfred is having as guests for the week. They are a motley bunch of malcontents and zealots, but they all are, by definition ‘artists.’ They make art.”
I left the shed stumbling on my “Thank you, ma’am’s and “I’ll surely be here’s.” But I didn’t tell Mother or Dad because if they found out, they’d lock me in the root cellar until school started again in September.
I think it was that day I fell in love for the first time. Even though I’d watch her work from hiding every day, it was Tuesday I wandered up to the farm and heard a commotion like a meeting in the village hall about raising taxes.
There were a couple of painters, a dancer named Isadora, a newspaper lady named Agnes Meyer, a writer named Kerfoot and in the middle of it all was Alfred, like he was a conductor——railroad or orchestra, it didn’t matter——keeping the conversation, or argument, going. She sat on the outside, taking it all in.
“Come on over, Catherine,” she said over the clamor of the artists. She beckoned me forward, leaving my fear down by the lakeshore, with a balletic wave of her alluring left hand, something I doubt Miss Duncan could manage.
She patted a spot on the porch step next to her and I sat there, eyes wide and dry mouth agape, I’m sure, at the sight and sound of what I would later learn were some of the movers and shakers of modern American Capital A Art.
“This is Catherine, a schoolgirl from the village. She wants to be an artist someday. I thought she might learn something about ‘Art’ from listening to you birds,” she said.
The group gave me a nod and sideways look and continued their chatter. It was intoxicating and I’m certain I looked every bit the country schoolgirl they considered me. I began to feel out of place and was about to slide off the step and head back down to the village and my pencils and books when she put her hand atop mine and gave me a knowing look. I do believe I melted in that August shade.
“Alfred,” she sternly said, piercing and taking the air from the palaver like a sewing needle a balloon, “before we potentially lose this girl to the drudgery of a humdrum existence here on your beloved Lake George, would you please address her question of a life in art?”
Alfred, even then not a young man, his silver mustache bristling, seemed knocked back by the strength of her order. It definitely wasn’t a request and even he, a giant in modern art, seemed to quail in her power. He then gathered his own shattered power off the porch floor and directed his attention upon me with his whole being as any artist, or wolf, might a lamb.
“Young lady, the people you see here today are artists, but not because they are deemed such by a society who may never fully accept us. Photography is not an art. Neither is painting, nor sculpture, literature or music. They are only different media for the individual to express his aesthetic feelings…”
I’m sure he could here me gulp as a stony silence came over not only his guests, but seemingly the entire lakeside.
“You do not have to be a painter or a sculptor to be an artist. You may be a shoemaker. You may be creative as such. And, if so, you are a greater artist than the majority of the painters whose work is shown in the art galleries of today. Probably better than anyone you see before you right now,” he said.
“Yes sir,” I said and got up to run home armed with knowledge I wouldn’t appreciate for more than a few years as a failed painter and a reporter for various New York newspapers. But I couldn’t run. Her strong hand clutched mine and I was her prisoner.
“Come with me Catherine,” she said, leading me to her shed, which had taken on a golden glow as the sunlight sifted down below the pines atop Prospect Mountain.
“Ah, the Golden Hour,” Georgia said. “Light, illumination, is everything to an artist, Catherine. I hope you’ve learned a lesson, been illuminated, today.”
“I…I…think so,” I said, and I didn’t mean strictly about my future as an artist, but my future, period. I was totally smitten with her, her piercing eyes, her confidence, and those beautiful fingers that now held mine.
“Look, I’m not sure I’ll be back here next year. No offense, but I think I need to open my horizons and head back west, both for my art and myself.”
“But you can’t,” I said, suddenly panicking that I’d never see her again.
“I see a lot of me as a girl in you,” she said. “I see a seriousness, an inquisitiveness, a certain kind of yearning about art and life that instinctively puts on a new trail each day, like a wolf maybe, while we hunt for and take a big bite out of the objects of our desire.”
And then I kissed her.
Her face took on that hatchet hardness, but her eyes a sadness I’d never seen her show.
“You’re young, Catherine. Spread your wings; never settle for the first sketch, the first draft. Obey your mind as well as your heart. And always, always listen closely to the sound of this earth, so closely you can hear its poetry, even hear its colors. Tell the world its story however you decide to make your art.”
She pressed a wooden case into my hands and nudged me toward the barn-like door of her studio shed.
“I’m leaving for New York with some these people you met today, but I want you to have this. Maybe it can help you can find your true calling as an artist. Now, I think you’d better get moving along before night falls all together,” she said, closing the big doors behind me.
I cried all the way home and for the next two days when I didn’t see her by the lake or in her studio. It wasn’t until after I graduated from Skidmore College, where I met and fell in love with my Betty, that Alfred finally died and she came back to Lake George with his ashes that I found her while I was visiting my parents and walking along the shore by what was once the Stieglitz farm.
She looked up quickly, with a dark and suspicious expression on her sun-burnished face, but it softened as I drew closer.
“Is that you Catherine? Have you become one of those reporters who sneak up on people to catch them in moments of weakness or sin?” she said with a grin that I hadn’t seen in nearly twenty years. She turned and dumped something into the lake.
“No. Sorry to hear about Alfred. I’ll never forget the day he, and you, ‘illuminated’ me about being a true artist. I wish I could thank him,” I said.
“You just did. Walk with me and tell me about the artful life you’ve created for yourself.”
With that, Georgia took my right hand in her still beautiful left and we listened as the poetry of the morning breeze combed the trees and turned the surface of the lake to blue-green corduroy.
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