Poetry from Rick Hartwell


He seemed to enjoy not answering greetings. Although you couldn’t really tell that from any facial expression. He seemed to enjoy leaving them in quandary as to whether he had ignored them or merely not heard them due to the noise of the street scene. Or the subway. Or the suburban cacophony of sprinklers and familial spats; of skateboarders and cyclists; of minor celebrities as they arrived home.


Most considered him reclusive. Most, if they thought of him at all, thought him rude and abrasive. Yet, he had never responded to their inquiries as to his health or state of mind, or remarked in agreement or dissent as to the quality of the weather. Still others believed him to be hard of hearing, or even fully deaf, and quite unqualified to participate in the meaningless verbal badinage of everyday discourse.


Regardless of the basis of their disdain, they all considered him to be a nonentity, not even a cipher of daily life. And the left him alone and compounded this lack of consideration by forgetting immediately each encounter. And he disappeared entirely from view.


Even after the explosion, the few survivors on the subway platform couldn’t recall seeing him. They tried for weeks, but no one could conjure a plausible reason for his explosion. He wasn’t unknown, just unremarked.




I hit a wall going from sixty-four to sixty-five. By the time I saw the wall I could name it. The wall was “Purpose” and I struck its massive bulk about two weeks into the second grading period of my seventeenth year of teaching emerging adolescents, those between eleven and fourteen years of age; the hormonally challenged, as I call them. Actually, I have taught more than seventeen years, at least four or five more in private high schools, private schools for the emotionally disturbed, and even in the US Army. On some days it would have been difficult to describe any differences among them all. I have even been a university lecturer for summer and extension writing classes.


The wall I hit, “Purpose,” had not just appeared in front of me unexpectedly. I had seen it’s shadow looming ever larger over the past two or three years. But even so, I did not brake in time. Perhaps I had slowed up just a bit, taken my foot off the accelerator, so to say, but I had not applied the brakes. I even passed up an opportunity to apply for a non-classroom position. Perhaps that would have made a difference, like the intersection accident that happens in your lane just moments after you had passed.


But what of the wall itself? What was the “Purpose,” into which I plowed nearing sixty-five? For seventeen years I had been teaching in public middle schools in Southern California. I crashed into the wall at only slightly diminished speed. Under doctor’s orders, I left the classroom. I finished the school year on accumulated sick leave, having never used a day in seventeen years, and then retired.


I managed to shoulder the traumatic memories of Vietnam more than forty-five years, but am finding the stress after leaving the profession of teaching nearly to be overwhelming. I wonder if other teachers have encountered this form of PTSD? And so I search for alternative service.


*     *     *


When listening to the dire economic news today and then noting a new promotional advertisement for China, it occurred to my wife and me that it is high time we position ourselves to be employed by the Chinese. Two of the best possible careers would be either laying railroad track through the vast stretches of western and northern China and, perhaps more sedentary, doing laundry in the new Chinese gold mines. Both of these appear to be likely candidates for Americans seeking Green Cards in the near future for the growth of the New China emerging into the Sun. Our counsel to all: don’t hesitate, emigrate!

Balsa Boat on the North Bay, 1955


Even in sinking

she was graceful,

marked by

no trepidation,

slipping beneath the

chop and crests,

still in flames;

a last explosion

saluted her demise,

a splintered oil slick

declared passage from

this day’s voyage

to a nether world.


No longer a

buoyant bulwark

against aggression,

she was likely to become

the basis for a reef,

providing life

instead of death;

no longer

a symbol of war

now abandoned

by all, save two,

to the peaceful depths

of the bay.


With that final

firecracker ignited,

the boys in the dinghy

pulled for shore,

threw a lighter

overboard and

continued to chew

dried glue from

their fingers;

the harbor master

bore down on them

like an enemy

patrol boat.

Richard D. Hartwell
When hate is in the seeds, you can only harvest weeds. Ernst Jünger, The Glass Bees
In joined hands there is hope; in a clenched fist, none. Victor Hugo, Toilers of the Sea
An eye for an eye only ends up making the world blind. Mohandas Gandhi, The Mahatma