Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Old Woman and her Dog

Wrinkly Sharpei Dog

by CJ Heck

In the town where I used to live, there was a wonderful walking path down by the river. It was lovely, complete with benches, porta-potties, flower gardens, totems carved by a local artisan, and a wooden footbridge so you could cross over to the other side. 

On any given day along the scenic three-mile walk, you might see ducks, geese, groundhogs, heron, deer, and even an occasional skunk -- though this wasn't something you actually looked forward to seeing. I remember once, while speed-walking with a friend, seeing a baby skunk in the grass beside the path just ahead of us. We steered a very wide berth, just in case mama skunk was nearby watching her baby.

I used to love going there for a walk, or with a good book, when I needed to unwind. One fall afternoon I sat reading on my favorite bench, which was set in the grass under a tree, several feet from the path. I was enjoying a rare day off from writing and editing. Even with my eyes closed, I could tell it was fall. The heady scent of decaying leaves hung sweetly in the air.

The usual quiet was suddenly breached when a flock of Canadian geese flew overhead. Looking up, I had to smile as one honking straggler tried desperately to catch up so he could take his place in the perfect "V". It really was a beautiful day -- a really fine day.

Then I saw the strangest thing I've ever seen. This all came about as I was turning a page in my book and just happened to look up for a second.

Sitting on a bench kitty-cornered across the path from me was a heavy-set old woman wearing a long pink dress. She was noisily gumming a soda straw poking out of the hole on the top of a Pepsi can. I almost laughed, because she reminded me of a starving baby nursing at its mother's breast.

The woman's round face looked older than ancient. Her wrinkles had actually wilted into tiers. It vaguely reminded me of the time I was in a hurry and frosted a cake when it was still too warm. The icing slowly slid down the sides of the cake in much the same fashion.

The old woman's eyes were deeply set and nearly hidden, almost like two dark asterisks set into the folds of her flesh. I tried not to stare. I tried just turning away, but I failed miserably at both. I had to try even harder not to laugh, I really did, and I didn't actually lose the battle -- until I saw her dog and what he considered his role to be with this strange woman.

At first glance, I only saw the woman, but all at once, with a high-speed upward-outward motion, this hulking canine face popped out from between the woman's legs down at ground level. I thought to myself, my God, that is the ugliest dog I have ever seen!
Wrinkled Sharpei
The dog's face was framed on either side and above by the woman's long pink skirt and nearly engulfed by its own collection of wrinkles. His eyes were like two lumps of coal stuffed into a wad of brown dough. The mouth was gross, a gaping, slobbery pink hole that housed a pink tongue that hung all the way down to the bully-boy collar around its neck. Just above its mouth, also poked into the brown dough, was what I presumed to be its nose.

The total picture looked so insane! It was hilarious! Here was this grotesque old woman's head, and down below, her massive ugly twin peering out from between her legs! The wrinkled, toothless woman perfectly mirrored the animal beneath her.

But that's still not when I lost my battle to laughter. Up to this point, I had managed to contain myself pretty well, although I will admit, I did look around to see if I was on Candid Camera …

The old woman finally finished her Pepsi and got up from her bench. Slowly, she shuffled towards a trash can that was bolted to a fence post near the edge of the path. Sure enough, the dog was just behind her.

After dropping her soda can into the barrel, she turned her head to the side and with a series of revolting sounds, she belched loudly and hawked up a wad of phlegm -- a loogie of vast proportions, I might add -- and she promptly spat it on the sidewalk. Without missing a beat, the dog waddled over to the mess and promptly "cleaned it up" for her.

I was so busy trying to keep my gag and retch reflexes in check that I missed where the two went after that, but when I recovered my composure, I took a quick look. The old woman was back on the bench, the dog below, its enormous head again neatly framed in the pink folds of cloth and once more peering out at the world from between her legs.

It was that final picture and the improbable role reversal between dog and human that finally eroded what remained of my self-control and I drowned in a sea of laughter. My only thought was, thank God I didn't know her -- and I grabbed my book and ran before I peed myself.

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Reality of Rules

I remember one of the hardest things about growing up was learning all of the rules of ... growing up.

Things were always either black or white, good or bad and, to parents and the rest of the world, it seemed everything was either right, or wrong.

To this child, there really was no grey area, that safe place in between the extremes that we all enter as we grow older.

The way I learned best, of course, was through listening and minding my parents. But I also I learned by testing the very rules they imposed and finding out there were consequences for breaking them. (I spent a lot of time thinking about rules in the "naughty chair").

From a child's vantage point, grownups have it easy. They can stay up as late as they want. They don't have to go to school and sit in a classroom. They can do anything they want to do AND they hold the key to just about everything in a kid's life, too -- what they should eat and when; what they should wear; where they can go; when to come inside; when to take a bath; when to go to bed; when to get up; when to pick up toys or clean their room; even what they can watch on TV.

I remember growing up couldn't come fast enough, just so I wouldn't have any rules ... anyway, I wrote this poem from my inner child's point of view:


Parents sure have lots of rules,
things to do and not do.
I’ll be glad when I get big
and growing up is gone through.

I won’t need a dentist
or a barber for my hair,
and I’ll go buy a chocolate cake
that I won’t have to share.

Maybe, I’ll stay up all night,
eat junk and watch TV.
If I want, I’ll sleep all day.
No more rules for me!

“How will you get up for work?
You might get fired”, Mom said.
“You won’t make any money
by sleeping late in bed.”

Why would I need money?
Who needs money anyway?
Rules are bad. When I grow up
I’ll do fun things all day.

"How will you pay your rent?
How will you buy a car?
How would you buy your grownup clothes?
(you’ll be bigger than you are) .

You’ll have to buy the food you eat.
You’ll have to have a phone.
How will you pay your heating bill,
‘cause surely you’ll have a home?"

I hadn’t thought of all of that.
I can’t do that stuff!
It doesn’t sound like fun at all
and I just don’t know enough.

Mom said as I get bigger,
the rules get bigger, too,
but if we start at my age,
it's not so hard to do.

She said, "People grow like houses,
step by step, and brick by brick.
That’s the way we all grow up
and having rules is part of it."

There's an irony here.  We're finally grownups.  Now we miss those days of childhood innocence with its gentle, black or white, good or bad, right or wrong rules ...

(From the book, "Barking Spiders 2", by CJ Heck)

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saturday Morning Epiphany

One with Existence

This morning after Robert left for work, I sat in the living room with my coffee, looking out my front window. 

Although I saw nothing spectacular there, nothing actually drawing my attention, I was suddenly aware that I was aware of nothing.

 In the prevailing silence, I realized something significant.

The wind was blowing my wind chimes and I could hear them tinkling. The canvas awning over the patio gently rippled and I could see the fronds of the fern on the glass table swaying.

 It was mesmerizing and I had a sense that I was floating and it seemed so real. I felt I was the wind, even though I knew I was only a witness to it. In the quiet, the wind and my awareness of it had become one, and everything moving in the wind had also blended with me.

It suddenly became clear to me. Everything and everyone is connected through awareness. We are a part of all things, even though they do not define us. We can sense our thoughts and feelings, just like the wind, but we are not those either, only a silent witness to them. We feel pain, sorrow, anger, doubt, happiness and joy, and those still are not who we are.

Spontaneously and naturally, these things all arise on their own within our awareness. It is important we recognize and validate their passing as part of our growth.

Even though I knew these things, I learned again that no one thing, or feeling, or feature of the universe is separate from the whole. The real me, my true self, is a part of the whole of existence.

That was profound.

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

His Hands: by CJ Heck

His Hands
I was thinking, you can tell so much about a man by looking at his hands. 

Hands are so expressive. They can be kind, generous and loving, or they can be tough and aggressive and very unkind.

Are they working hands, calloused and rough, yet gentle?

 Are they hands that live at a desk, always clean and smooth and forever busy?

 Are they well-manicured and neat, or nervous, their nails chewed to the nub?

Are they wild and expressive, flying this way and that in a conversation?

Or, are they shy and pocketed, subdued like their owner?

However hands look, they seem to have their own personality.

And, maybe, just maybe, they're magically connected to a man's heart ...

His Hands

His hands should have
their own identity,
a name, perhaps,
befitting each vocation
they enjoy:

Skillful Hands --
Finely tuned,
they hold every tool
with equal panache.
Each callous earned,
a trophy,
but self-aware
and gentle
as they browse
my every curve.

Comical Hands --
The right one
scraping whiskers,
razoring down
a field of white
revealing trails of
pink-skinned angles.
I laugh at the silly poses
skewed by the left
so the right
won't miss a spot.
My just reward,
a foamy kiss.

Angry Hands --
His driving hands,
hands that slap
the wheel
as assholes
go too slow
or cut in front,
turn signals
up their butts
with their heads.
I'm glad the
angry hands
are only known
to live in cars.

Those hands --
I love his hands.

[From the book, "Anatomy of a Poet", by CJ Heck]

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"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck

Friday, May 10, 2013

End of a Marriage

I saw this on another website today and it touched me deeply. I don't know who wrote it. The only thing I could find as to the author was this: Credits: Prince (NBBC)

End of a Marriage

When I got home that night as my wife served dinner, I held her hand and said, "I've got something to tell you." She sat down and ate quietly. Again I observed the hurt in her eyes. Suddenly I didn't know how to open my mouth, but I had to let her know what I was thinking. I want a divorce.

I raised the topic calmly. She didn't seem to be annoyed by my words. Instead, she asked me softly, "Why?"

I avoided her question. This made her angry. She threw away the chopsticks and shouted at me, "You are not a man!"

That night, we didn't talk to each other. She was weeping. I knew she wanted to find out what had happened to our marriage, but I could hardly give her a satisfactory answer. She had lost my heart and I have given it to Jane. I didn't love her anymore. I just pitied her.

With a deep sense of guilt, I drafted a divorce agreement which stated that she could own our house, our car, and 30% stake of my company. She glanced at it and then tore it into pieces. The woman who had spent ten years of her life with me had become a stranger. I felt sorry for her wasted time, resources, and energy but I could not take back what I had said because I loved Jane so dearly.

Finally, she cried loudly in front of me, which was what I had expected to see. To me, her crying was actually a kind of release. The idea of divorce which had obsessed me for several weeks seemed to be firmer and clearer now.

The next day, I came home very late and found her writing something at the desk. I didn't have supper but went straight to bed and fell asleep very fast because I was tired after an eventful day with Jane. When I woke up, she was still there at the desk writing. I just did not care so I turned over and went to asleep again.

In the morning, she presented her divorce conditions. She didn't want anything from me. What she asked for was one month’s notice before the divorce. She requested that during that one month, we would both struggle to live as normal a life as possible. Her reasons were simple. Our young son had exams in a month’s time and she didn't want to disrupt him with our broken marriage.

This was agreeable to me. But she said something more. She asked if I remembered how I had carried her into our bedroom on our wedding day. I told her I did. She requested that every day for the month’s duration, I am to carry her OUT of our bedroom every morning and to the front door. I thought she must be going crazy! But to make our last days together bearable, I accepted her odd request.

When I got to work, I told Jane about my wife’s divorce conditions. She laughed loudly and said it was absurd. "No matter what tricks she tries, she has to face the divorce." She said scornfully.

My wife and I hadn't had any bodily contact since I told her I wanted the divorce, so when I carried her out on the first day, we both felt clumsy. Our son clapped behind us, "Daddy is holding mommy in his arms!" His words brought me a sense of pain.

From the bedroom to the living room, then to the door, I walked with her in my arms. She closed her eyes and said softly, "Don’t tell our son about the divorce." I nodded, feeling somewhat upset. I put her down outside the door. She went to wait for the bus to work, while I drove alone to the office.

On the second day, both of us acted more easily. She leaned into my chest and I could smell the fragrance of her blouse. I realized that I hadn't looked at this woman carefully for a long time. I realized she was not young any more. There were fine wrinkles on her face and her hair was graying! Our marriage had taken its toll on her. For a minute, I wondered what I had done to her.

On the fourth day, when I lifted her up, I felt a sense of intimacy returning. This was the woman who had given ten years of her life to me. On the fifth and sixth days, I realized that our sense of intimacy seemed to be growing again. I didn't tell Jane about this. It became easier to carry her as the month slipped by. Perhaps the everyday workout was making me stronger.

She was choosing what to wear one morning. She tried on quite a few dresses but could not find a suitable one. Then she sighed. "All my dresses have grown bigger." I suddenly realized that she had grown so thin. That was the reason why I could carry her more easily. Suddenly it hit me. She had buried so much pain and bitterness in her heart. Subconsciously, I reached out and touched her head.

Our son came in at that moment and said, "Dad, it’s time to carry mom out." To him, seeing his father carry his mother out had become an essential part of his life. My wife gestured to our son to come closer and hugged him tightly. I turned my face away because I was afraid I might change my mind at this last minute. I then held her in my arms, walking from the bedroom, through the living room, to the hallway. Her hand surrounded my neck softly and naturally. I held her body tightly; it was just like our wedding day, but her much lighter weight made me sad.

On the last day, when I held her in my arms I could hardly move a step. Our son had gone to school. I held her tightly and said, "I hadn't noticed that our life lacked intimacy."

I drove to the office and jumped out of the car swiftly without locking the door. I was afraid any delay would make me change my mind. I walked upstairs. Jane opened the door and I said to her, "I'm sorry, Jane, I don't want the divorce anymore.

She looked at me, astonished, and then she touched my forehead. "Do you have a fever?" She asked.

I brushed her hand off my head. "I am sorry, Jane," I said, "I won’t divorce her. My marriage was boring, probably because she and I didn't value the details of our lives, not because we didn't love each other anymore. Now I realize that since I carried her into my home on our wedding day, I am supposed to hold her until death do us part."

Jane seemed to suddenly wake up. She gave me a harsh slap and then slammed the door and burst into tears. I walked back downstairs and drove away in my car. At a floral shop along the way, I bought a bouquet of flowers for my wife. The salesgirl told me to write something on the card. I smiled and wrote, "I’ll carry you out every morning until death do us part."

That evening I arrived home, flowers in my hand, a smile on my face, and ran upstairs, only to find my wife in the bed, dead. I later found out she had been fighting cancer for months and I had been so busy with Jane I didn't even notice. She knew she would die soon and she wanted to save me from a negative reaction from our son, just in case we went through with the divorce. At least in the eyes of our son, I’m a loving husband.

The smallest details of our lives are what really matter in a relationship, not the house, car, property, or money in the bank. These create an environment conducive for happiness, but they cannot give happiness. So many couples give up, not realizing how close they were to success when they gave up.

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Doppelganger ...

Daddy and Mama
Robert and I moved to Florida in September 2012, from Pennsylvania, just a couple of months after my father passed away. 

I was very close to Daddy and this past couple of years has been a slow, but necessary, time of healing.

Loving it here in Florida has helped, and I often think of the many conversations I had with him about our possible move. Daddy was all for it and already planning to come down and stay for a week, or a month ("Or forever", he teased).

I miss him terribly, but I know in my heart that the move was good. Robert has been wonderful and my rock through it all.

The other day, I was puttering around town in our golf cart doing some errands and enjoying the beautiful weather.

 The honeysuckle was in full bloom along the streets, its sweet scent intoxicating, and I noticed my favorite trees, the crepe myrtles, were greening nicely everywhere, soon to wear their deep color flower bunches.

 Once, I even pulled over and parked in the grass so I could smell a huge flower on a magnolia tree. It was so peaceful and relaxing -- it really is paradise here and I'm continually amazed by the native plants and animals that are so different from those up north.

I wasn't in any particular hurry as I shopped for groceries, picked up a couple of things in the hardware store, and then headed to my last stop at CVS for vitamins. My mind was filled with thoughts of my new book and ways to market and publicize as I headed toward the checkout and got in the short line.

Suddenly, my world flip-flopped, taking my breath away. The man just in front of me in line was Daddy. How could that be? I asked myself in disbelief. But this man did have the same build, the same thinning hair, clothes, and he was sitting on a red motorized scooter like my father used because of his painful knees and ankle.

 When he slowly reached up to the counter to swipe his credit card in the machine, I also saw my father's hand. That's when tears filled my eyes. Could it somehow be …

Then he turned to look at the cashier and I could see his face. No, this was not Daddy. As much as I wanted it to be him, he was just a nice older gentleman on a red scooter making his purchase at the CVS drug store. I wiped my eyes with a tissue, took a deep breath, and struggled to regain my composure.

That's the way life works sometimes. Just when you least expect it, a sound, a song, a scent … or a nice elderly man on a red HoverRound scooter, will trigger a sweet memory.  It tugs at the heart, but it also brings a loved one close just one more time to help us heal.

I wonder, would he have been upset, had I asked him for a hug?

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Anatomy of a Poet: The Story Behind

New Book

"There is a brokenness out of which comes the unbroken. There is a shatteredness out of which blooms the unshatterable. There is a sorrow beyond all grief, which leads to joy. And a fragility out of whose depths emerges strength. There is a hollow space too vast for words through which we pass with each loss, out of whose darkness we are sanctioned into being." ~ Bri Maya Tiwari

That quote astutely describes not only my life, but the poetry in my newest book, "Anatomy of a Poet" .

One of six children, I grew up in a small Ohio town and married my high school sweetheart at nineteen. A Vietnam War widow at twenty, I went on to marry and then divorce two times. 

I made a lot of choices, some good, some not so good, but as one of the poems in the book ["Choices"] ends, " least I made choices. How sad for those who merely hitchhike along, never daring to choose at all."

I have three beautiful daughters, nine grandsons, two granddaughters, and a wonderful partner, Robert Cosmar. I have finally learned that true happiness begins and ends with myself.

"Anatomy of a Poet" was written over a period of nearly forty years. The poetry is rich with memoir, humor, fiction, and at times, it is sensual in nature.

Read an Excerpt of "Anatomy of a Poet"

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"I find in myself with most poetry an impatience, "Oh for crying out loud, just say it" leading to a lassitude and eventual cerebral failure." Not so with this work, her raw emotions and sensuality had my attention. I believe this is the only poetry book that I ever finished. " ~Henry Le Nav

"I would recommend this book to all lovers of poetry and, especially, to all who think they are not."
~Mrs. C. I. Campbell

"Totally open and honestly expressed in a variety of poetic styles, each matched to her emotions of the moment. No cutesy innuendos here. A damn good and honest work." ~John David Lionel Brooke

"I found this book to be a "quick read" on the one hand and yet I keep going back and rereading parts of it ... and then rereading the whole section." ~MaryAnn

"In the pages of this book you will find powerful, thought provoking, sensual, and beautifully written poetry from the heart." ~Susan L. Parkins

"This is a beautiful and touching book of poetry, which has at it's heart a mature, loving, but still raw and passionate woman. Many of the poems, and to be honest my favorites, are about beautiful femininity engaging with men, often rugged. The touch of men on a woman's heart and body features heavily, but not excessively; it's not soft, vapid chick-lit. It's well-rounded, and the works also include verses on urban conditions -- but it's love that makes this book tick." ~Alistair Baillie

"One fine author and a magnificent lady. I highly recommend this book with its compilation of meaningful and thought provoking poetry." ~Tom C.

"This is my kind of poetry. Direct, beautifully expressed and without a hint of pretension." ~Allison Cassidy

"I love this book. The poetry is sensitive and touching." ~Joanne "Joni" Taylor

"Here we have a collection of poems by a woman who writes from the heart; "Anatomy of a Poet" may have been written by a children's book author, but it's poetry for grownups." ~Byron Edgington

"I just finished reading C.J.Heck's, book last night. I enjoyed it very much. She definitely has a way with words, that will make you laugh, cry, and feel things very deeply. I can tell that she writes from her heart and soul, and her words will definitely make a lasting impression." ~Rebecca Carden

"The reader is drawn into expertly crafted poetry and wonders if the Poet has experienced all she writes about. If not, CJ Heck has fooled everyone. Anatomy of a Poet peels back the outer skin of the reader and gets into the heart. I highly recommend this book." ~Karla Dorman

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck