top of page

Joseph Geskey

The Primitiveness of Language

The pain from a one-time event

like breaking a wrist diving

for a baseball that healed

with medication and time,

to the pain of meetings

where so much was said

and so little of it mattered.

The careful effort of inclusion,

where you took pains to ensure

people felt welcomed,

and at home when it pained you

to see loved ones suffer

from various indignities

when all you could do was listen.

Imagine the lexicographer

of pain, limited in space

of what she can enter, wanting

to add, see indescribable,

for the unrelenting suffering

the afflicted experience like eternal punishment in Greek mythology.

She argues for inclusion

of the Latin word, poena,

punishment, an applicable term,

as if the sufferer is sentenced

to serve a life term without

the possibility of parole

and all appeals are exhausted.

Always the landscape of pain,

nomadic or residential,

where even expert translators

have a hard time understanding,

like asking about existentialism

and then wanting to rate it

on scale of one to ten,

something a two-year-old can do.

And reaching the quiet, unspoken

impasse where we must move on,

knowing there are seventy-eight adjectives

for pain, and the sadness of recognizing

we rely on a vocabulary where knowledge

still doesn’t mean knowing.

Cape County Cowboy Church

Just the alliteration alone inspired me:

Cape County Cowboy Church in Cape Girardeau

Driving to St. Louis, passing towns like Festus,

Wondering if they had a feats of strength contest,

Especially since Herculaneum was so close by.

So, it’s going to be that kind of poem you think--

Dad-like quips, riffing off old Seinfeld episodes?

No, it’s going to be about watching a few conifers

Standing directly behind deciduous trees like shadows

Thinking of the sixteen different kinds of pine trees

In Maine and working a month in Aroostook County

Where I met people who had spent their entire lives

Without leaving the county and were content.

They didn’t see the Highwaypedia of signs beckoning,

Proud to inform visitors of their population, state

Sports championships and what they were home to,

Nor tempted by the lane of trees with a few leaning

Like they were anxious teens waiting for their dates

to pick them up and drive them far out of town.

Traveling north, they didn’t see the eastern grass

Tilting back nearly forty-five degrees from the westerly

Wind as an in-your-face boss that makes you want to quit

Or see the streaks of limonite in rock ledges

As if it was graffiti meant to make a political statement.

Instead, I thought of a veteran baseball pitcher

Toiling in the minor leagues trying to perfect his craft

even though his curve and slider don’t move enough

to be able to pitch in the big leagues, and this poem’s

metaphors and similes that won’t get anyone to change

their lives, but still grateful for the journey.

The Limitations of Quantification

The meadow thou has tramped o’er & o’er, -

Yet can I think of thee till thought is blind

-John Keats, “Sonnet Written in the Cottage Where Burns Was Born”

Tubercular Keats, expectorating blood-tinged phlegm,

Walks for hours and stumbles upon a meadow,

Privy to the bloom of thistle welcoming

A solitary butterfly hugging its prickly leaves to feed.

He watches a bee overflow his pollen sac on goldenrod

Coating its hair before being flying home

With enough protein to feed his children

And goes on to write poetry that is read for centuries.

Surely then there is data to be mined in these fields--

The pH of soil, the amount of annual rainfall and sun,

While collecting a multitude of additional variables

so that we recreate a landscape from school

windows to inspire future poets and scientists.

Bringing abundance to where there was scarcity,

Attempting to scientifically reproduce genius

Before finding out the limitations of quantification.

The Lesson of Grief

The flag snaps in the wind

During Taps while the discordant bird songs

Clash with the ringing church bells

As the breath from the trumpet

Can no longer sustain an audible note

Before it silences into memory.

The oldest son cups his hand

In prayer while holding the ashes of his father

In a marbled urn against his chest

Before kneeling on a mat

And gingerly placing it into the grave.

An infant sleeps in a parent’s arm,

School-age children watch a parent sob

And elderly friends stand resolute

In their stoic duty to confront mortality.

What is there to say about loss except

To silently watch the encroaching darkness

As it separates husband and wife

For the first night alone

After sixty-six years of marriage,

Knowing she must wake up

the next morning and start all over again.

The Abundance of Decline

How great distances get narrowed by age

Despite the admonition of the mind.

Knees and hips send unmistakable signals

While the heart and lungs demand rest.

Walks turn into noticing the common

You always wanted to escape from.

Yet the maples, robin and butterfly catch

The late afternoon sunlight, common

Yet reliable. It is time to forget Hebe

And capture the abundance of decline.

“Go on,” you say to those in a hurry,

Now appreciative of all you once ignored.


Joseph Geskey lives outside of Columbus, OH and has published multiple poems in several literary journals and is collecting his work for a first book, Alms for the Ravens.


bottom of page