with a sore back
on your fake wood floor
your forearm as a pillow
you catch the sour scent
of your own sweat
and recollect it in others
from a time when such niceties
weren't ghosts misbehaving.
In the shower this evening
my insides began to fall out.
I was surprisingly unalarmed.
It seemed like a natural progression.
I didn't notice while lathering
since parts are chopped
and added daily
to a body being borrowed.
That sting of the soap
is what gave it away.
The mucous membrane there
was affected and sent signals
to a place where thoughts occur
and fears are born of dreams.
This random revelation
was accepted as the latest
so I tucked myself
back in myself
grateful for limited taste buds.
We've had this rule
unwritten until now
for years of unbridled grace:
I'm only allowed
to love her sometimes.
13 lucky years ago
I did her dirty.
Since then I've been the reason
for her lack of self-esteem.
My penance should be paid by now
but you and I know
how history works
on the minds of inner children.
In the wake she goes for winners
out of jail and into hitting.
I was never that bad
though her psyche tells her different.
She gets drunk at Mahoney's
with the queers that she's befriended
and beckons me to drive
up the road that I hate most.
Usually we sleep
at her place with "Roseanne" playing
since she can't rest without it.
The script invades my dreams
But the last time she came south
and held my hand through dinner.
She took a page from mine
and paid while I was pissing.
We fucked like we were dying
faster than we are.
In the morning
while I brushed
she walked out to catch a cab.
I used to make her breakfast:
waffles, scrambled eggs.
Now I'm just a thought
in her cubicle
She's dating someone new.
I never had a crack
at a second up at bat
for all the times I answered
when the pipes would soon be calling.
The word sounds like
a precocious writer of essays
standing with shoulders squared
and hands hanging stiffly.
It's not that I hate it
for making less sense
but rather, since I can't dance
pauses through line breaks
compensate for my deficiencies
in whichever life is real.
We sleep because
it's easier than waking
in a one-horse town
that pisses uphill in unison
thirsting for love
and choking on lust
that isn't worth it
compared to our collective
succumbing to loneliness.
Stanzas left to be discovered
like bobby pins on windowsills
depth charges in the darkness
slice and carve and operate
on tile floors in bathrooms.
Pretend you're unaware
that the blood will dry to brown.
It's not a lie if you believe it.
Gamble, spit, suffocate
and fuck with killer rhythm.
It's been in my apartment
for over two months
outlasting most relationships
I've had in seven years
but when a seven-year-old boy
runs up three flights of stairs
to deliver a birthday balloon
in your misappropriated honor
for merely managing to exist
for another forlorn year
there's little motivation
to start being an adult
by popping and discarding it
in a manner that won't
strangle distant sea life
down the line.
The helium's dissipated
substantially so it hovers
two feet down from the ceiling.
This lack of persistent gas
has transformed the celebratory token
into a miniature ghost ship
floating through rented rooms
poorly passing for a home
like a renegade Zeppelin
that's evaded Allied flak.
Air currents that I wouldn't have
suspected in its absence
push the stubborn aircraft
around the empty space
between walls I've tried to enliven.
Late at night after dinner and wine
it creeps into my peripheral vision
often times startling a man
who's grown accustomed
to a motionless environment.
Too many Stephen King books
on one of several dusty shelves
conjure images more macabre
than its bright and festive colors.
It's in that contradiction
that I'm reminded of its source.
There's a child who still loves me
when I forget to love myself.
There's a painted lady
who's seen better days
beside a road I don't travel
Even at a speeding glance
I can see that it's in a state
of careful renovation.
The porch is missing
its fragile roof supported
by a battery of lumber
cut and angled
to provide ample support.
The craftsmen I most admire
are the ones who accept
this breed of task
boldly saying with surgical skill
"I can restore this.
You make sure the checks clear."
That silent confidence
is what defines the line
between a violin virtuoso
and a fool with a fiddle.
Take note of the man
who owns but one hammer.
He probably knows
how to use it.
The whirring in almost dog tones
commences for the night.
I ask her if she hears it
not so much to test her ears
as to question my flickering senses
while we gulp white
from safely stemless glasses on the couch.
She confirms the presence of sound
aside from my half-drunk rambling.
I state that it's also audible
outside my apartment
as it has been for seven years
seemingly swirling down
from the street lights overhead.
Her theory involves a vent
though that's as far as her words go.
Perhaps she's referring
to a spherical globe of slotted tin
that spins atop a roof arbitrarily
but I play coy for argument's sake
stating instead that the noise
is the voice of God
that we mere mortals can't decipher.
She looks at me like I'm a madman.
Maybe for a moment I am
but the droning has stopped
and stays silent
as though one of us
who tends to shoot left
has suddenly hit
when it mattered.
"The Beast God Forgot to Invent" by Jim Harrison.
All I wanted was enough coffee
to pry my eyes open for driving
through the headlit dawn.
Inside the nearest gas station
a retired Irishman
and his Middle Eastern counterpart
froze their morning screenplay
upon my quiet arrival.
The latter stopped punching numbers
and grabbed a can of electronics cleaner
to blast counters, screens, and keyboards.
His luckless customer stood looking
like a man guilty of espionage
in a country that still beheads.
I poured my share, paid the clerk
and made my way for the exit.
The script picked up again
as the white-haired hopeful
declared his precious numbers
in low tones used in confessional booths
since I was out of earshot
and his secret would be safe.
The rest of my day had no more subtle sins.
Without belief in magic
there can't be such infractions.
Leaning on a boulder
that lines my uncle's fire pit
I put myself in the kid's shoes.
When I was his age
there were cousins to chase
in the basement before dinner.
All he's got at almost eight
is a brother who's watching him
char up his hands
with a stick he's pulled
from the embers.
We say our goodbyes.
He's been well behaved.
On the ride home he sleeps
on the plastic tray of leftovers.
I hope that tomorrow
when he wakes to soak the day
the smoke smell on his hands
reminds him of our blaze.
"The Hemingway Patrols" by Terry Mort.
SHM seeks SWF, 24-35;
smokers not discouraged.
Vague emphasis placed on dutiful desire
to court, help train replacements.
Coitus interruptus only a temporary solution.
Must love children.
Should appreciate barrel-chested physique
of Hemingway in his thirties
minus the ability to box, fish
take life of any kind, write objectively
or find beauty in bullfights.
men who love Hemingway anyway.
Should appreciate Hemingway.
Pension will only appreciate in value
unless it fails.
Underdog lovers a plus.
Those amazed by merit
in the negative
like how a pound of bacon
cooks down deliciously
jump to almost the front of the line
second only to nurses.
An ability to comprehend
the meaning of the phrase
"so successful in the jungle"
strongly favored over cutters of cookies.
Points given for baking skills
and an affinity for chocolate.
Garlic is life.
Firearm friendly only.
What's a cowboy without it?
Might have stopped speaking
of beautiful things
once their frequency diminished.
It took three blown bulbs
in as many weeks
before the fixture was decommissioned.
It's found on the floor
of your apartment
by two friends from your hometown
who've never been here until now.
Some sort of crystal
the color of your morning sink spit
after a night you've smoked too much
an inch-and-a-quarter long
with hexagonal sides
and a point on each end
cloudy in its interior;
it's probably plastic
like the rest.
You wonder where it came from
and if you've bedded a witch lately
or your landlords have cast a hex.
Cocksure without marching powder
you toss it on the dining room table
playing down its odd discovery
with another tale of undue glory
from nights you barely remember
making note in gray matter
to investigate its origin
on a morning much like this one
with a scratch on your thigh
from the heel of a stiletto
bought for a song
and a growling dog dream.
Consuming from dented cans
It's not a secret
if two people know.
She's that cigarette
you find on the floor
of your passenger seat.
You have to try
although you know
it's long stale--
One puff to be sure
before it's tossed
out the window
at a late model sedan
that's been tailgating
Local moguls will concur
that the merit of breakfast in bed
can be argued
but the West is rather wild.
Trust me since I've been.
It's become a unit of time
in a makeshift hermitage.
Two aloes every Sunday
in the eastward kitchen window
receive their pints
rain or shine.
The weeks shrink shorter.
Today the water filters through
overflows from underneath
covering the sill
with excess undesired
like proposals scoffed
by ears too proud.
A towel's spread to soak it up
so the paint won't swell and chip.
The landlord will keep the deposit
regardless of this effort.
Their roots will suck the remainder
through capillary action.
Each molecule contributes.
Shoots will sprout their flowers.
Where nature's fooled
both art and science
is the inconsistent thirst.
What's measured and poured
and savored for months
is too much today
It's been months
since he's been over
but he struts through my threshold
like Patton over the Rhine.
Not missing a chance to narrate
he describes what's new
and what's changed here
since his return.
At seven he's already
a master storyteller.
Entering the living room
he spots a foreign souvenir
stationed atop a bookshelf.
"I bought that for you on vacation
with mommy," he explains
while stroking the ship in a bottle--
visions of the Caribbean coursing
through his brain.
I grin and thank him again
for a gift that he can't understand yet
holding back a sermon
on other feats
that seem infeasible.
My second-favorite bartender
of all relative time
pops into the passenger seat
of a truck that's outperformed
its owner in ways the commercials
would never dare to mention.
Hypocrites ain't big on history.
It's hard to believe that I was 17
17 years ago, but my truck's
not like a rock.
It's almost her turn
to watch old men drown themselves
next to a murky river
but she's asked me to stop
on my way home from the same.
A white plastic shopping bag
laden with food containers
is placed on the floor
between her legs--
two places I know well
as she smirks at my amazement.
I notice that the tape
holding one of her hair extensions
is showing through the ponytail
she's thrown up in a rush.
She tells me that it doesn't matter
since she's not able to see it.
Pleased with her good deed
she exits, clad in black.
Before I shift the transmission
to head back where I hang myself nightly
I lean forward from the seat
to rub the surgical scar on my back
feeling the raised suture sites
and wonder if the doctor
removed more than he said.
Cleaning out closets
on a nearly pantsless Sunday
you drag bags and boxes
from corners you've never seen
since you were working
during the move.
She painted accent walls
put your books on shelves
though you'd begged her not to
because the order made sense
in your head.
Seven years later
you're bursting through beams
so it's time to purge
the person you evicted.
What you find brings you back
to an era more stable.
You see her hand
in the placement of things
and recall her brain's operation.
Cans of paint and some brushes.
Sheets that don't fit your bed.
A dress that you've never
peeled off her
still hangs from a hook
in the back.
The GPS that you bought her
though without you
she found her way easily.
There's a gray plastic bag
with a knot that's not yours.
You open it, expecting Pandora.
Some makeup, shampoo
a toothbrush, a razor
and a T-shirt
you can't help
but shove to your face.
It smells only now
of cast aside cotton.
Every ounce of your discovery
winds up in the dumpster.
San Francisco's too far
to ship and to handle.
A wasted day at work
warrants a new wine.
Abortions are best
put to rest by a bottle.
This Sauvignon Blanc
from Southern Australia
lured me with its trout
on the label
like a fish in the aisle.
2014 was a better year
so it was worth a shot.
The notes, as described
reflect citrus and tropics.
There's nothing I hate more
than a liar put in print.
A tab on the left says
"To Remember, Peel Here".
I do so and look on the back
of the paper
but it's enviously blank.
I read the front again:
The brand, region
year, and varietal.
It's only a note
to stick in your wallet
for the next time
at the liquor store
in case you can't recall
I shove it down the empty neck;
a meaningless message in a bottle.
I won't need the token.
Their marketing is brilliant
could be made
if it helped to forget.
My better hand rubs
a crooked coat of arms
and tries to bury a decade.
I wonder if I'll have
the tools I'll need for tomorrow.
Before the big date
some cleaning's in order
but don't go overboard.
You've got to sweep
the cobwebs just enough.
If it's spotless
you're a serial killer.
Make it look lived-in
Make it seem normal
though no one after 30
knows exactly what that is.
Sweep, but leave a few dust lines.
Wash that pile of dishes
but not the French press
like you made coffee this morning.
Show her that you function
on a daily, healthy basis.
The ashtray's always empty
since you hate that you smoke
inside at night
when you're sipping wine
with a box fan in the window
so don't worry about that.
Think of Hemingway;
the wars he was blown up in
and watched from the sidelines.
Remember how it happened in Spain.
Your friends would urge you
to toss the tablecloth.
It's been there for you
through too many nights.
The burn holes only add character.
Under the influence of estrogen
clinging to clarity
and notes that you've saved
acknowledge the fact
that you've checked three times over:
There is no change
for the high altitude recipe.
Scratch your trigger finger
on a nightcap
and suck down the rest.
That dead fly you found
in the bottom of the fridge
has never heard of a husband stitch.
I hunted down this print
I'd seen in an art show long ago.
At the time I couldn't justify
but soon after I regretted it.
Years later I found it again
and the photographer
as a bonus.
For a short time
we created together
though these collaborations
tend to ebb.
Then I was left
with a 20 x 30
and the memory of her taste
250 shy of my next antique rifle.
My allure made sense
after our fling had flung.
A visiting uncle recognized
a mental institution, now closed
where three of my family members
had worked in the 70s.
Its source was awkwardly confirmed
on a night of too much Pinot.
With absence comes appreciation.
Redemption's far more rare.
For a year it fought
the good fight
on my living room's best wall.
The shadow boxes
and display cases
containing local war relics
closed in like rabid Huns.
Eventually it stood out
too much for wayward guests.
I took it down;
replaced it with another
frame of dust.
Last week I walked the line
from my kitchen to my bedroom
staring at the brick
that faced me from the wall.
Twenty feet of focus
through a doorframe
sparked a thought.
I hung the photo in that spot
with two nails and a level.
It helps to have a goal in mind
even if it changes.
There was a time
when I'd light candles
for shit like this.
Now I answer the door
in day-old boxers
and bitch if they toss their keys
on my glass-topped coffee table
like the scratches in its surface
Sloppy after alcohol
the teeth rub freely.
Adam should've pulled out.
Now it's all gone nuclear.
She lies on my chest
a leg thrown across
my heaving abdomen.
"That hurts," I protest
on behalf of my bladder
too sweaty and drained
to go empty it.
"Did you miss me?" she asks.
Hating when they fish
for tenderness long gone
I reply in the negative
and cling to transparency
like a buoy with a hole.
"I don't miss anyone
It's more convenient
to lie for both of us.
when she senses
A carpenter's apprentice
is started inside closets.
My fuck-ups are on display
with arms too short
to box with God.
The strangest acquaintances come briefly
but hard with the Universe's sole intent
of making you grateful for your own
set of unwieldly problems.
toothpaste model motherfucker
had months of unemployment benefits
forged by his shacked-up whack-job
whose fake tits he bought
after leaving his wife for fellatio.
I went to the trooper barracks with him
when he found the Walmart receipts.
I was also there when the local PD
came another time during one of their several
domestic disputes fueled by Bud bottles
and pills he was once prescribed.
It was an odd home to have dinner in
for those wild months in Marlboro Country.
was deathly allergic to seafood
so that was off the menu.
She drove me unfairly nuts in her own way
despite our lack of carnal relations
though I'd seen all the silicone
and her Holiest of Holies
by Scout's Honor accident one afternoon
when that sociopath called me into his den
while seated at his obsolete computer
watching an amateur porn he'd made of them
complete with less-than-special effects.
People are fucking weird, man.
What pushed me over the edge, however
was the exaggerated way in which
she pronounced the letter T
at the end of a word
as though it added legitimizing emphasis
to whatever dull point she was making.
It sounded like a toddler
in an alphabet exercise.
It sounded like muted hi-hat cymbals.
It sounded like venom being spat
from a whore who'd never got the hang
of swallowing her trade.
Why do I ponder this now
seven years later
with a hefty mug of gin
and a handful of unfinished orange bottles
since I hate their evil contents?
Like I told you before:
People are fucking weird, man.
It must be monotonous
managing a grocery store
so events like this are cherished.
Name tag freshly polished
she reprimands my leaving
of coupons near corresponding items
tucked into metal shelves
for unsuspecting strangers to find.
She asks me to come
to the customer service desk.
I comply for sheer amusement
unaware of what is waiting.
A man in a black polo shirt sweats profusely.
He asks to see my discount card
and depletes its 456 gas points
through four seconds of keystrokes
after I hand it over.
Once returned, both employees
inform me that I'm lucky to receive
a verbal warning as opposed to
fullest prosecution allowed for violators.
Lacking the patience to ask of laws
I proceed to the nearest checkout
foregoing the rest of my list.
My ride home rife with confusion
reminds me via radio spot
that I haven't played badminton in 24 years.
Fighter pilot or not
it takes five to make an ace.
The ones we spare today
are the ones who'll shoot us tomorrow.
"History of the Great Iron Chain" by Francis Bannerman.
I found it in a pile
and set it aside
like a handwritten shrine.
Paid in full"
scrawled beneath a date
that seems closer
than it is
below an address label
from the gallery
across the street.
Jay met Jackie once
and hugged her
like he knew.
For her birthday
two months later
I bought her the piece
with storefronts and trees;
duality, the change
that she loved.
I wonder now
as I've switched
from wine to beer
for the night
if it's hanging
in her condo
for sale in Chicago
or covered by feet of garbage
waiting to turn to dust.
We parted when she thought
she carried our kin
mistakenly, running again
with bourbon on breath.
it's the task of a writer
to tell the truth
but that's boring.
Her basement apartment's
20 degrees colder than what
the digital thermostat reads
when I show up after her shift.
My feet feel the frozen concrete
through the cheap tile
once I've removed my sneakers.
The forecast calls
for negative overnight temperatures.
This improvised icebox is
the last place I want to be
after working in the elements all week.
No airflow's felt from the vents.
She says it's been like this for months.
Her landlord threatened to evict her
when she complained about the furnace.
I inform her that it's not that simple
and he's the one breaking laws.
Her boundless victimhood
and fear of confrontation
refuse to believe me.
Though not each other
we know our roles.
I yank the control
free of the wall
to check its connections.
She's got no screwdriver small enough
in the toolbox her father assembled
like a lackluster consolation prize
for letting your child down your whole life
so I use the tip of a steak knife
to back out the screws labeled R and W.
Nothing happens when I jump the system
by touching the wires.
The furnace doesn't hum
through the drywall.
The heat doesn't pour
from the ducts.
Usually it works as an override.
It's a party trick of mine
like using a toothbrush
until the bristles are mashed flat.
I don't bother explaining the concept
as I reassemble her thermostat.
We sit and shiver on her couch
unable to ignore the chill.
I offer to speak to her landlord
the next day, set him straight
like a company foreman.
The subject drifts south.
She lies a few times
but I catch her
and turn into the skid.
That's reason enough to leave
without seeming cruel.
It's another party trick of mine
like attending funerals
to make sure the departed
"Hemingway on War" by Ernest Hemingway.
I live a desperate
rifle shot from the foot
of a mountain.
No one's ever tried.
It's another rich assumption--
a posthumous treatise
on the merit of an uppercut.
Over six years here
and this new noise has arrived:
a creaking back-and-forth
like the rigging on a frigate.
I know it's only copper
of the heat pipes rubbing wood
but I'm grateful that it's waited.
For this I would have paid extra.
You think that you're the only one
who's asked these arms for waking?
Sirens in their songs
don't deviate from form.
Regardless of the calendar
they start to taste the same.
In dreams they all forgive me.
We sleep, and nothing more.
Though the cold spell's
frozen birds to power lines outside
Hector feels the sun
on his shoulders and his neck
as he gently flips eggs
on a morning.
The rest of him
by the shade
in his apartment
but where the rays land
There's got to be a word
for this, he thinks.
There probably is
though his grandmother's
From the bedroom
the tossing and straightening
He scoops the better eggs
onto a plate
for Rose of No Man's Land
or the most convincing facsimile.
In his dreams
they all forgive him.
a lightly used muffin tin
when it dawns on me:
I don't miss
the newly absent
that for six years
hung next to the oven.
It had been rigged
once by the tenant prior
but the last two screws
I drove through its flimsy panels
while late for medication
on Christmas Eve
split the remainder
sealing its dumpster destination.
Unfastening it from the hinges
I straightened the pots
and pans inside to make them
to any potential guests.
At peace with this latest state
I continue to wash the dishes.
What's a cabinet
but a shelf with a door?
Since I don't have television
I can better hear the sounds:
rusty water gurgling
through inefficient baseboard;
the aloes on the windowsill
slurping down their pints.
No one in Bridgeton
knows why I'm in Bridgeton
least of all myself.
Out of boredom
I read my prescription's description.
It claims to contain a chemical
that suppresses the portion
of the brain that triggers coughing.
What other parts
can scientists pinpoint
A Yuletide airplane
glistens through my dusty window
and I wonder when
the overdue meteor
will arrive to deliver mankind.
Don't let the textbooks
and strategists fool you:
The best place to be
is backed into a corner.
The cough syrup
goes down much smoother now
than it did as a kid.
You remember how your mother
always said a Spanish prayer
calling upon the names
of Fathers, Sons, and Ghosts
as you took your shot
of what would later haunt you.
Your fever dream delirium
brings news of another overdose
a Jezebel from long ago
whose death was overdue.
In the incubation of your contagion
you've been quarantined for days
lost in an algorithm
like a whore who lies about sailing
to anchor more free drinks.
The infection's moved to inner ears.
You feel it creeping from your throat.
While the hacking rasp is painful
you've enjoyed the lack of speech.
A woman you've never known
delivers soup and festive cookies.
Another whose anatomy
you could draw left-handed
from memory begs to pay a visit.
A third you should have married
thirteen lucky years ago
ends her day with invitation
to her couch, and tree, and more of that soup
but you decline for her sober sake
since the season of giving
doesn't preach of influenza.
It's mercy in old age;
brings in the Yuletide
with your greatest fear.
You think back to that prayer's preamble:
"Holy Father, Good Father..."
its Latin praise trailing off
and wonder if those words would still work.
Your mother never caught your ailment
though that's since
she wasn't afraid
scream Mandarin obscenities
through a spine that's prone
for imposters on the body.
It's frontier justice
in the sanctum sanctorum--
an aggressor from within
that cares not for confessions.
That concubine on the gurney
tasted like home
for a moment
as the defrocked sodomist
made apologetic gestures
to atone for party fouls.
Daggers drawn from backs
slit a few throats in turn.
Is that a sunrise or a sunset?
The photo fails to suggest.
mean ample wine is catalyzed.
Crafters of killing-steel
put blood gutters in blades
Don't be taken
by subsequent sleepyheads:
Your enemy's enemies
are your enemies
A man with a bigger head once said
that matter can neither
be created nor destroyed;
Things don't simply
or do they?
I can't explain to you
why I'm suddenly in the market
for antique Spanish swords
from our war against Iberians
in Teddy Roosevelt's Caribbean
but here I am
hoping that geographic cures
A call to arms
that only the wounded
It hurts to be so sober
on a Friday, half past eight
scouring Bannerman catalogues 110 years old
for militaria that one can no longer purchase
though if your love has left you
then perhaps you can relate.
A product description
catches my eye:
"SPANISH INFANTRY OFFICER'S SWORD,
with blade and scabbard broken in two.
Probably done so as not to surrender
Blade is Marked...
Captured in Cuba.
Instantly I want it
but the time machine required
is almost as improbable
as Jackie coming back.
We Spaniards are so stubborn
even in defeat
and some of us still breathing
never came back from battle.
"The Rough Riders" by Theodore Roosevelt.
You walk the line
of sycamores shooting forty feet
straight up from the sidewalk
and wonder which was there first.
That's how it works
in this world we've created:
First in, best dressed;
possession is nine-tenths of the law.
The same holds true
for this city itself.
Those who've moved
to its ranch grid of tree streets
and exposed brick walk-ups
have claimed it for their own.
An invisible gate
of vintage rack gentrification
has been conjured in the minds
of the visionary elite
slamming shut as soon
as they've paid their rental deposits
to keep out the rest
of those who would dare
to add to the roster.
You cross a busy intersection
beholding the non-bohemian behemoth
responsible for social outcry
among the congress of conquest.
The smell of the plywood
sheathing the incomplete
first floor hits your nostrils
but doesn't sting as smartly
as the wind that's brought November.
You wonder if the facade
is not the right hue of red
or the intended residents' demographic
doesn't wear the proper flannel.
Why the commotion?
Is life that bland?
A couple in their thirties
approaches the new building.
The woman snaps a photo
that she'll post soon from her phone
as her beau holds the leash
of the dog raised as their child.
It's wrapped in a plaid jacket
to fend off the season's bite
while across the street
in a gas station parking lot
two homeless men wear
a combination of piss-stained denim
and tattered army surplus
from a war with clearer lines.
One of them's named Patrick.
You've given him smokes
and bought him pints
at the dive on the corner
that lets him in
even though he doesn't care
about the game on either screen.
You've listened to his stories
and asked him where he sleeps.
None of this makes you a better person
but it angers you that the mentality in town
is more focused on what they deem an eyesore
than the people who need coats
more than some privileged cats and dogs do.
The menus are vast
and the rent is paid early
but this isn't a place
that you'll ever call "home".
A ditch near a Garrison pine row
reminds me of the time
we helped a driver from the Russian mob
out of a snowy rut one night.
We slowed at the crooked tail lights
of the black Mercedes sedan
which somehow didn't seem his
when we spoke to him through the window.
There was someone he could call for help
but he was afraid to dial.
We could tell.
His hands were shaking as hard as his English.
Maybe he'd just offed somebody.
Barely old enough to buy booze
we shouldn't have been stopping for strangers.
None of us carried steel back then.
We thrived on immortality
and false promises made in song.
Shin deep in salty snow
the three of us pushed stubbornly enough
at that costly bumper to get our Russian friend rolling.
He kept his momentum going--
not a honk, not a wave
not a wink in the side view mirror.
Specifics of the evening's remainder unclear
I can state with firm candor
that details be damned
we chased the elusive unmentionable
and one of us managed to find it.
It used to be
that the deepest cold
was at age 10
with my father
in the darkest time
for a premature sunrise
to a god I still believed in
and mistook every squirrel
crashing through leaves
for a buck.
There are people
cropped and cornered
who are watching
for your fall.
I cross the street
to greet him
as he stands without purpose
outside a corner bodega.
He gives his standard:
"I haven't seen you."
I give mine:
"I've been working."
Pulling my pack
from the plaid pocket
above my heart
I pass him a smoke.
He reaches for it
with unwashed hands
the dirt under his fingernails
a different type entirely.
It's not the job debris
I'm accustomed to scrubbing
or paint from a local drinkslinger's daytime endeavors.
It's the accumulation of time spent
sipping from bagged cans on sidewalks
and sleeping on benches
while tourists take photos of the buildings
that the homeless population can't enter.
I shake his hand
despite the hundreds of times
he's used it to hold himself in alleyways
since his last gas station sink bath
splashing like a day-drunk bird
in grandmother's backyard garden.
"This is harsh," he says
inhaling the clove cigarillo far too deeply.
"You get used to it,"
I tell an expert on wear and tear
who's aged without grace
in a city of fools for the wounded.
I leave the intersection
and forget all about that bearded apparition
as soon as I place my order from the stool.
We the dearly divided
celebrate our birthright
to a vigorous Indian summer
sticklers for the paraphrased
when seeing a man about a horse.
The remnants of a hurricane
that killed dozens
and decimated islands
in the Caribbean
reaches the Atlantic Northeast
giving us a pleasant breeze
for perfect working weather
where the crane cable swings
and the treetops sway
and it still takes a diamond
to cut one.
Sweet tea tastes like diabetes
and a failed Confederacy.
There are only so many bridges.
Seven unlucky years ago
marks the last time
I stayed at a dirty motel
in a New England state.
Our love was on the lam
while were on our way to Maine
and stopped to sleep in Vermont
just shy of New Hampshire.
The bottle of Montepulciano we split
enhanced a joke we'd made on the highway
where lyrics from the songs she'd picked
didn't yet resonate.
She snapped a shot of us laughing
in those yellowed sheets
that she'd later start to paint
though we didn't outlast the canvas.
Mount Washington was closed for the season
when we passed the entrance the next day
so I never got one of those bumper stickers
to put on the back of my truck.
The sex that had us
in that Bar Harbor bed & breakfast
was more out of habit than love
but I've learned three lessons
since those more patient days:
Shotguns are for times of peace
rifles are for times of war
and mysterious cigarette holes
in cheap, rented bedding
are made by men years later
as they finally understand
She insists on turning
the light on for me--
overhead, how I hate it--
though the sun won't rise
for another two hours, if ever.
There it is in white watercolor:
hers and mine;
salt from both bodies.
In her too bright bathroom
I notice that I've forgotten
my bachelor bag of toiletries.
Months of work fatigue
have knocked me off
the trails I once knew so well
and what was required to take them.
A ghost current from Saturday prior
jolts through my skull
like her godforsaken light bulbs
that show all nicks and flaws.
The poor, beady eyed sot
at the end of the bar
with two pointless pints
in hands bound only for himself
stared blankly through last call martyrs
in search of happy hour philosophers
and willing philanthropists long gone.
His dangerous disbelief in divine misfortune
spewed forth across the oak
as even I felt pity for him
over ever having taken home
a strong six at his highest.
I tipped my standard bill and left.
The same subtle genius
who first insisted that a servant
take his place among the ranks
deemed needed for warfare
by the crown
must've also invented the brilliant evasion
of sending a check in lieu of attendance
at a wedding for which an invitation came early.
I hear her packing a poorly insulated lunchbox
with more food than I'll be able to eat in a day
and reach for the toothbrush
standing in the sinkside mug.
I think through the first few strokes,
My mouth's been worse places than this.
Do any Catholics still go to confession?
If so, do they feel that it works?
There's more eyeliner on her pillowcase
than what's left of her face.
Her arms are scratched
like she was attacked by a feral cat
in her sleep.
The bed's coarse
with a thin layer of dirt
from the pot that's pulled
desperately to her chest.
That cactus he'd bought her
punctures the sheets
as deftly as her skin.
She's slept with it
ever since he stopped
when he found those orange caps
strewn about her apartment.
It's aerodynamic rebuke
and inspired clinomania
from seeking the face of God
through street lamps.
He hits the Taconic
at 84's 16th exit
denoting 15 minutes
Six years ago
he'd call Kristen then
so she'd know
when to reheat dinner
that they'd shared
for four years
two of which too long
for the one month
he could stand it
before he switched
to zero dependents.
Now he passes
six days out of seven
but no clock, road sign
can tell him
and that last curve
than the state's
The sun tries its best to lighten the air
as rumors fly in the parking lot
like germs between unwashed handshakes.
Mostly clad in black
true troopers find ways to laugh.
The rounds are made with tactical dodging.
Women cry in tandem
while those gone gray feel guilty.
Two boxes of photograph prayer cards
perched above the book of names
are empty, but an usher reassures
that more are being made.
It's his job to offer falsified comfort
short of shallow hugs and a drink.
An employee choked by a crooked half-Windsor
is cursing at the printer in an office no one sees.
A wandering vagabond smiles with eyes
remembers the shots of Sambuca at Larry's
while loitering in a room of folding chairs
that's carpeted like the Titanic
and freshly festooned with flora of the purest.
"Hot off the presses," that usher jests
when he sees a laminated likeness in hand
unaware that his flippant remark
is a bullet
the same as that needle
that brought us all here.
In the building trades
we die a hundred times
see a thousand murders
and a few dozen tasteful suicides
once a brother's had enough.
Each layoff is an ending.
The next job brings rebirth.
That check will come again
after another safety orientation
and the meaningless doling of stickers.
and building America
with our livers ironically dying.
We go home to wash off the road
and expectorate lies told on tax forms.
Maybe that's why
the real deal hits harder:
We're accustomed to respawning
in some godforsaken elsewhere
on a different contractor's payroll.
"See you on the next big one,"
we say in jest when two envelopes come.
What happens when that joke can't be made?
In a lion's share of confusion
those left will scratch their hard hats
as further proof and cursing
for a safely unspecified god.
Our old man's telling another one
about all the money he's about to save.
Those who know him tune these tales out.
The kid and I continue our dinner uncaring
like neighbors through the woods.
This latest plan involves solar panels
on the freshly roofed garage.
Our father pats himself on the back
for extending its dimensions by three feet
during construction, as if he'd seen
this lucrative energy endeavor coming
two years prior while dispersing the loan.
"It will cut bills immensely," he sighs.
"Indian Point is closing down
so electricity will go through the roof."
I think of the still unused generator and subpanel
he had installed in the basement for a small fortune
months before the Y2K Crisis didn't happen
and cringe at what some people squander on fear.
"I'm sad," my seven-year-old brother
blurts with rib sauce on his cheeks
after the need for more eastern sunlight is mentioned
by the amateur project manager
who spawned us decades apart.
No one acknowledges his sentiment.
It's a landmine, a potter's field
a storm worthy of song.
Dad points at folders of literature
on the dining room table and tells us
that this solar swindler wants him
to nag the neighbors about his enterprise.
I pity their foolish decisions to answer his knock.
We finish our Saturday evening meal
catching up from five weeks of overdue separation.
I conserve funds through selling sweat, not death.
Once dinner's done I take the boy for a stroll around the block
to promote more than physical digestion--
just the two of us, as it needs to be sometimes.
"I'm sad, too," I tell him as we round the corner
with forest newly cleared, absorbing our view of the Hudson.
The child's afflicted blessing is familiar.
He senses much for a soul of his age;
remembers what counts; responds.
"That tree is so big and old.
We'll have to take the hammock down."
His voice trails off despairingly.
In my own youth I pretended it was a ship
on rough waters while friends and I struggled
to keep its cords afloat, laughing like deranged sailors.
I should reach for his hand
as he walks the curb like a balance beam
but my own is shaking, too.
Our creator was affected when the row of stoic pines
along the summer house in the Adirondacks
where he spent his boyhood
had to come down twelve years ago
due to blight and risk of falling.
The similar impact of this undue evil
holds no bearing on his current decision.
Nothing breaks the cycle aside from six feet.
Feed a cold, starve a fever
manage to forgive the culprit's best intentions.
It's illegal to deny anyone
a glass of water in Arizona
though there's nothing on the books here
about felling a massive sugar maple
that's earned its place in the soil.
Neither of us are making much sense
at the oak in the witching hour.
He's homeless and I'm hapless.
Hook-nosed Guineas two-thirds of my age
one-third of his
fill the haggard taproom
with laughter so naive
and jukebox monopolies
that seem foreign
this sloppily late at night.
Neither of us envies the other.
Both of us are waiting to die
for the day.
"What if I'd sat next to her instead?"
I ask the rambling beardsman
halfway through his yarn
from thirty years ago
when he still paid taxes.
He claims to have hauled cable
three hundred feet
up the radio towers on the mountain
that we're all supposed to share.
"It was different then,"
Patrick prattles on, sipping the beer
that I'd offered to buy
though the barkeep had not the heart
to charge--even though it's imported.
"She didn't know," I say
of the offender's wife and kid back home
both unaware of the kisses
I saw doled through the prior bar's window.
I bum him a smoke on the sidewalk
and ask when he served
since it's obvious
ending our encounter with a handshake
that's overdue for both of us
unwashed piss germs be damned.
The second set of stairs
up to my apartment
nearly does me in
like the sickening sight
of gin mill adultery--
matrimonial musical chairs.
A verse comes to mind
from what seems a past life:
"But as for me and my house
we will serve the Lord."
She said laughter's all we need;
that it heals a lot of things.
The dreamer in me decided
to put that to the test.
I opened the refrigerator
and chuckled at its contents.
A degree in English appeared on my wall
freshly signed by a man I'd never met.
Next I checked my bank account
with an app that reads my thumbprint
though I don't know my own blood type.
Another joke unveiled itself
despite my constant efforts.
A ring suddenly adorned my left hand.
I made sure no one was around
and unzipped my jeans
to look down at the small source
of so many large problems.
Jackie didn't conjure herself
in my arms as expected.
I'm too big of a prick
for that degree of magic
but Lord I'd gladly trade it
for all the paper mills in Maine.
This computer's on the top bunk
in the spare room of his trailer.
I'm typing standing up
not because Hemingway did
but due to the placement of outlets
and my need for a flat surface
that's almost as rare
as sentences sans cussing
here in the eye of it.
To my right sits half a slice
of German chocolate cake
that I pilfered from some brothers
down around the bend.
A bottle of gin
labeled with the name of Jackie's town
is on the countertop
one room to the west
tasting like sumac smells
and without a lime to mask it.
I'll be so blessed
to never drink either again
Like the birds that started singing
when the downpour stopped this evening
unsure if it was morning
or just less of the night
But the air conditioner overhead
turns on and blasts away
to the thermostat's content
until the mourning lets us go;
Until it's morning.
Scratching himself while looking down
into his new neighbor's curtainless window
[Here we go with the bullshit.]
he declares to no one in particular
that the Bloody Mary's been the best part of dinner.
He picks up Kurt's novel long gone untouched
[Wait, who lifted it?
I did. I'm taking responsibility
for this one. All of it felt good.]
and hears a metallic bounce across his
[Fuck off; my]
floor, its frequency increasing
with gravity's constant victory.
That tapped ball bearing's suddenly remembered.
It was first found in his sheets
[Nice save through ambiguous wording.]
with the owner still in tow
but her piercing was ridiculous
so I didn't give it back
[Finally, a man of his word.]
even after I asked her to leave
[like you will].
It rolls under the longest run of baseboard heating
unused in this summer month
to be forgotten again until a thorough sweeping
when the bobby pins strike back
and the wine corks yell of murder.
We hadn't spoken
since I'd asked her to move out
a month into the experiment.
I chose an irrelevant alibi
about what to do
with her mail
mostly stock statements
from the various jobs she'd had
across the country
where I'd driven her
to bedsides of dying strangers
both parties dressed in white.
I was gone at the time
but more likely than not
what I really sought to know
was if it had been real
if another's touch had meant more
than the mutual comfort it's become
in this age of humbled delinquency.
Her answer was curt and pragmatic
words made of steel
that sobered a fool:
"What have you been doing
for the last six years?"
I looked around
"Deadeye Dick" by Kurt Vonnegut.
Her naked shoulder's blue
with the glow of the TV screen
that she can't sleep without
as she tells me on her mattress
that lately she's considered
taking the whole bottle.
The laugh track misses its cue.
I know it's only
the wine-chased tequila talking
since bedhead blather's less seaworthy
than a decade of rejection
but it's enough to cancel Father's Day plans.
With all that's made her how she is
she'd never fuck in a gun museum.
I missed the bid and lost the auction.
There is no final line.
"Out of the Woods" by Chris Offutt.
There's a slow leak in my tire
that makes me do my part
keep up my end of the bargain
for continued transportation.
When the warning light comes on
gentleman that it is
a race ensues to the nearest gas station
in hopes that there's an air pump.
Inside I interact with foreign men
to get four quarters
always having to purchase an item
mostly chocolate or a ginger ale
so they can open the register.
No gauge is true, I judge by eye.
Once the curve is straightened out
I verify with the absence of the yellow indicator.
I've done it thrice in two weeks now
perception trained to scan for air signs
that pop up like blue cars
the opposite of liquor stores and mailboxes
I find a compressor tucked next to a dumpster
where I didn't look hard enough last week
and note my steady progress.
Oh, if they could see me now...
I'll keep it this way for awhile
though my mechanic owes me a favor.
The structure, the routine
the diligence of duty
and presence of the pugmill
as timeless as a woman
in a navy dress, white polka dots.
All around are knives in play.
Never having been so jealous of denim.
The ground is lava
but no one's heading for higher terrain.
Daughters born of rape
pose for zealous photographers.
are plastered to the alleyway's asphalt
by stale rain
returning to the white pulp
they came from
while women who reek of ashtrays
turn off honest men.
It's accepted since it runs in the blood.
get swallowed for safekeeping.
"See, that's where
you would have failed anyway,"
a stranger mumbles to his collar on the sidewalk
before vanishing around a corner.
To share wisdom
is to sacrifice power.
The latter is the meaning of love.
"Poetry East (Number 87, Spring 2016): London".
I was three or four and five steps down the sidewalk
walking from my grandmother's apartment
while my mother completed her Spanish goodbyes
rooted in Catholicism that our family had abandoned.
Something shiny caught my eye so I picked it up
to learn its nature as any child would have done.
My mother came screaming down the cement
once she saw what I'd found and grabbed.
I remember how she wrestled it
frantically from my hand.
The blood only came
when she tried to wrench it free
from the grasp that I so firmly
had placed upon my quarry
unwilling to let go of what right or wrong
The aptly named safety razor's
been mastered since then
though the principle holds true
as far as the taking and bleeding--
a lesson etched in fingerprints
for a payment other than cash.
"Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy.
I'd been watching the auction
for a week from my computer.
No one had touched the starting price.
I thought of where to hang the piece--
a relic of a shotgun built in 1896.
An hour before it was programmed to close
a faceless stranger from the Internet
tried to stake his claim.
I chewed on the rim of my coffee mug
and refrained from chiming in.
I'd let him get comfortable
and swoop in at the end.
If bidding was like battle
then the idea was to win
with as little loss as possible.
With 18 minutes left
I fired off my offer.
The adversary must not have noticed.
He didn't counter once.
The clock ran out and I won
for half of what I'd paid
for the same item two weeks prior.
Though I'd technically done better
I felt like I had cheated.
I'd be an awful general.
I'd sacrifice to earn.
I know my favorite of the two
will be the one I fought for.
Whenever I inadvertently hurt myself I spew racial slurs combined with homophobic accusations. Do the math. Don't make me say it. I don't know why, it just happens. I hate stubbing my toe while stomping around my apartment because a remarkably nice black gentleman lives across the hall from me with his pleasantly thick white girlfriend. I don't resent the physical pain of my infraction, but the offense I might cause if my neighbor or his beloved overhears my shameful reaction is appalling. I also regret that I forget his name--though he always refers to me by mine while passing in the stairwell--and have relegated his being to a description of his character that subtly implies surprise due to his appearance, as well as a latent need to drag his old lady into it. What's wrong with me? Not enough years in the building trades to know better. The perfect amount to succumb to its crass trappings. In my defense, however, I bet none of the boys have analyzed their verbal shortcomings to this extent and aired them for catharsis. Clap for me. I'm worthy. Did I mention I'm 33?
And that's the rub: I do that. Observe, transcribe, process, compile, compose, repeat. Is it the mechanism a mostly only child's developed to fit the Universe into neat boxes arranged at his feet, or a way to fill time that's not as self-destructive? I won't pretend to know the answer. That's not my job. It's yours, but don't remind me. There's a glass of Pinot noir at my right and a dwindling clove cigarette at my left, but the notes aren't laid out before me for a change. I'm winging it. I'm typing. When I punch the keys they form words, sentences, thoughts, implications. I can control them, if nothing else. Maybe that's where the gun fascination's derived. When the trigger is pulled--if nothing is rotten in Denmark--then the cartridge will consistently fire. Steel is reliable. Lead runs its course. There are definites and absolutes in the world still. Most people will let you down, though Samuel Colt was not one of them.
The funny part is that I'm no better. There are good souls in my corner whom I constantly let down. I wonder how they go about defending my actions to naysayers on a daily basis while managing to call me and check up as seen needed. Maybe they recognize something that I don't, or maybe they've been duped like my parents. Can someone be called a narcissist if he readily admits that he's wrong? Pleading for mercy equates not to sainthood. If I had it figured out I'd share the winning numbers. In the meantime there's transparency. That's the point of my modus operandi. If the cards are laid out then how can you be angry? If everyone said exactly where they were then we'd all be better off. I'm terrible at guessing. I'm worse at pulling triggers. The guarantee is there, though the outcome remains a mystery.
With one life to live among many possibilities it's terrifying to know that we're only given a single chance. That was my second-to-last tattoo: a revolver cylinder with one round in a chamber. Have I squandered it yet? It's too soon to tell. The choices have varied in their merit and yields, but I accept the responsibility. That's where many veer incorrectly in their assumptions. Accountability is paramount. "Be impeccable with your word," a wise book given by my ex's therapist said. I read it and it stuck, like when my eleventh-grade English teacher wrote "Keep writing!" in red ink at the top of an assignment. I have. I will. Tonight it wasn't poetry so it's not quite as convincing. I won't hear from any unavailable women I'm courting after this mess is aimlessly consumed. The paragraph, the stanza, the way I still can't come up with a title to punch at the top of this meandering diatribe; they're all just as guilty as my right and left hands, my mind for forgetting the name of my neighbor.
I'm grinning into the hell-hot filter now. Honey, there's always tomorrow. Fish on.
A sunshower worthy of Florida's finest
rolled through the valley this afternoon
but God saved the thunder and lightning
like the final bite
of a dish that's been craved.
The magic was doled out
in increments today.
Her lack of glasses
mistook the afternoon moon
for a cloud, though I only corrected her
for the sake of hearing her laughter
as she hopped over expansion joints
to preserve her mother's spine.
I'm grateful that the contractor
renovating next door
has yet to affix a gutter system
since the water dripping
from the two-story roof
across from my apartment
falls to a wider drum skin
of asphalt and street dust
enhancing its effect
between blasts of thunder.
My mother used to tell me
that it was the sound
of angels bowling.
I believed that for longer
than the myth of Santa Claus
or perfection in a person.
Its melt value was less
than its sum as a tale
like the ring that I gave
the wrong person as a kid.
Earlier this evening
between the two storms
swallows circled my building
for the first time since I've lived here.
Six speeding years
without that sailor's sign
and they pick my favorite day
in many to arrive.
The best muse, like the best news
and a peaceful late-May thunderstorm
is always unexpected.
With nowhere to go tomorrow
it's not too late to crack a white.
I light a smoke, but don't perch
the box fan in the kitchen windowsill
to exhaust its trail as usual.
The sound would drown the symphony
whose worth outweighs the lingering smell.
I open a second window
to absorb enough of the weather for two
hoping that she hears it
from the basement where she lives.
Car sounds abound
as the clouds roll over the mountains
and head for a waiting Connecticut
as I too sit with patience
for what's been overdue.
You purchase her art
since it's all you can have
of her, for now.
thick with sea salt
can't be shared
and you'd be lying to say
you remember enough of her laugh
to make hymns of it in your head
but her photography
can be hung on your wall
as a reminder
of what it is to pray.
The caller of seers
grinning and skinning
has but one chair
preferring to sit alone
until the tides are right at Montauk
and Moses enjoys his beach.
"My Father, the Pornographer" by Chris Offutt.
There was a time
when cultures would burn
to keep themselves humble
and make room for growth.
Now senseless chaos
if it gets a lone gunman
his seconds of fame
and helps politicians
rally for votes.
We've strayed so far
in pursuit of tainted ideals
that our dogs wear clothes
while the homeless are cold.
We've seen and reviewed the movie.
Fuck the book and its author.
Perhaps postmodern women
who've suppressed their need to procreate
are the unsung, honor-bound heroines of our era.
Figures lie and liars figure.
the damned now seem our saviors.
End the madness
or let it ride.
The sun will come for all of us
if the rising tide falls short.
It was short-lived
like the breath of many masters
but held a simple beauty
that the footnotes can't deny.
Once my left arm went numb
or my downturned shoulder was sore
I'd roll over to face the box fan
instead of her slumbering back.
Whether it was a cognizant decision
or the equally appreciative will
of a mind at war in dreamscapes
she'd always turn around as well
and slide an arm my way.
Subconscious or not
it was the closest I've come
to reciprocated effort in years.
"Kentucky Straight" by Chris Offutt.
The rig cost me a fortune
and what was left of my marriage
but the boy understands;
the former, at least.
He seemed disappointed
to wear those service blues at first
though the day I ironed on that patch
with his name above the breast pocket
he started to take interest
in what became our family business.
Community school was a waste of time
for both of us
so now he helps set up the auger
and watches for signs of danger
while I run the levers
as the homeowner
--unfortunately off from work--
spies from cracked blinds
in a house without running water
and toilets that don't flush.
The best of them know that much:
To stay inside
avoiding stupid question time.
If they've called me--us, really--
it's because their well's run dry.
They need us--our rig, really--
to tap into what
they can't obtain on their own.
And that's what I tell the kid
after the man dressed down
in the polo shirt
and crisp dungarees
hands him a crumpled twenty
behind my back:
The tip is only there
because the blade's tip is sharp.
It's harsh, but it works.
At night he gets the file
and heads out to the shop
while I make sure that our ad's still printed
inside those yellow pages.
A liver-spotted old-timer
wearing a blue veteran's snapback
with wings and ribbons on it
crosses the macadam in front of me
at a red light on Main.
He smiles through my windshield
with mustard-colored teeth
and puts his hand on the hood of my truck
as a silent blessing while shuffling by
en route, I assume, to the mom-and-pop pharmacy
down the block.
It was the best goddamn thing
that happened to me all day.
We fill a field he owns
with brass, hot from expanding gas
and the Sunday May sun.
For three-and-a-half hours
we forget a few faces
by putting holes in paper
and random scraps of steel;
lead therapy and thirdhand smoke.
Towards the end of our session
there's a propensity to dump magazines
as quickly as our fingers will allow.
I wonder if we're picturing the same
in our minds.
From our time packing gear
to the ride back to my truck
I pull 33 ticks from my clothes and skin
between bits of shop talk and
locker room exploits from a jock that never was.
Their exoskeletons crunch between my fingernails
and the blade of my pocketknife.
"I want to settle down."
"But can you?"
"Sure, if I'm not settling."
We return to his homestead
where his wife will roll her eyes
and check his back for burrowed parasites
once I've hit the road.
Back at my apartment
I've got a few mirrors
that will function for the task
as long as I don't look too hard.
to be the deepest redeemer
like coral reef Christ in Key Largo
you look up the meaning of "madrigal"
and decide it's got nothing to do with you.
Sometimes even a rain delay's
Gypped by her wide-set eyes
--soft, demure, and feline--
you're cussed out by the snot
that's oft mistaken for trench art.
If enough folks say you're wrong
then you're wrong
like that twenty-something kid
who said he won't learn shit
on a jackhammer.
Damned is the sea wall
since the ampersand arrow
knows just where to strike.
They don't want what's left.
They only want the piss in you.
Timing's a real cocksucker
in fairy tales.
You wash down the salty
with the sweet as always
and $90 (plus tip)
then wake to a cat's inquisitive face
three inches from your own
though you don't have any animals.
Part of you wants that nightly domestic company
but your rational half would feel guilty
for adding another crutch to the stable
so you refrain and drown in words instead.
The room is darkened by blackout curtains--
something else you've clandestinely desired.
At 33 you should know better
than to be a burning dog
but we live in a world so detached from itself
that cuddling contractors exist in major cities
a-dollar-a-minute the going rate, with clothes on.
"Need" has become an ugly word like "hemorrhage"
and "almost" in this age of bars with no bouncers
where overserved sailors sift for a second shot
in all the right places but home
Sifting through junk mail
and debt consolidation offers
at my cluttered kitchen table
I receive a rare call
from a friend alone in Amsterdam.
It's midnight there
and I hear the whiskey
from across the Atlantic
as he breathes into the airwaves.
He tells me I need to vacation there
with an empty notebook
sometime before I die.
A few weeks ago he mentioned
the beauty of love's ending
offered up as a theme
should I run out of steam.
That's unlikely or it's happened
depending on whom you ask.
We spew false promises
to make time when he gets back
as if that can be done
without the need for quantum physics.
I let him return
to his foreigners and bourbon.
We hope and we wait.
In the meantime we make.
It's his poem to write--not mine.
An amateur DJ fighting off a hangover
announces that the final film
with Robin Williams will hit theaters soon.
He voiced a dog's character
in a British sci-fi comedy
before taking his own life--
the two events presumably unrelated.
I've read recently that his wife
hypothesized that his choice
was due to the declining grip
on his mental autonomy--
the final sad act
of an actor who feigned laughter.
I feel for the family
and wonder how this last hurrah will hit.
The radio doesn't seem safe so early.
I switch to the disc in my stereo.
It's a mix made twelve years ago
by the first man I loved platonically.
All of the songs seem hypocritical now.
Even the playlist's title is accusatory:
"You've Made Your Bed".
I remember this old friend
blessed with charm that could conquer any soul
and cursed with lies that even he bought into.
Those are the most dangerous type
but believing his lines
was a favorite drawback of mine
so I sing along now
like I did then.
The coffee, too light, rolls down my throat
as I try to wash down the bitterness
seeping from my speakers en route
to a job I've come to hate.
My tired tongue presses against
the back of my incisors
and I swear I feel them move.
It doesn't matter which blow loosened them.
She calls me an outstretched Adonis
wrong in her assertion
and her stubborn choice to be here
with fingers burned
by a curling iron
Ten pounds overweight
of my usual rotundity
due to desperate drive-thrus
in a land bereft of lunch spots
I feign a layman's ignorance
of ancient Greek mythology
though the grade school I attended
emphasized its worth.
The sheets are overdue by weeks
but she pays no mind
as I smirk and let her acclimate
to the comfort we're reduced to.
you don't want to be in print?
It's the only way to outlast sand.
Your make-up is a waste
since my god is also false.
Our code names are defunct
having died with our crash
replaced by mental images
of aerial maps poorly drawn
by a hostage cartographer
on useless blueprints
and sandwich wrappers.
It plays on the brain
how long it will take
to sell all those secrets
to enemy ears
and in what sequence.
Name, rank, and serial number
are never enough for inquiring minds.
posed by oblivious allies
tighten their death grips
on an unshaven neck
while wondering in retrospect
if the high altitude recipe
printed on the batter box
would have produced
better pancakes this morning.
No wasted movement.
No wasted motion.
Fluid in the way
you squander your days.
"Be water, my friend,"
said the dead martial artist.
To wait on reinforcements
is an error in your tactics.
The benchmark moved west.
Redact the best actress.
The blood of an Englishman's
what you smell now
while meeting your muse
in premature dreams.
Angry: She's evasive by nature.
"Ouch," she says
washing up before bed
under the assumption
that I'd tossed her toothbrush
after weeks of absence
stubbornness on both ends to blame.
I tell her I'd saved it
out of sight
since it's easier that way
and pull it from its place
behind the dusty mirror.
When you live alone
it's best not to pretend.
I run out the door in the morning
donning dirty boots
for a day of dirty work
whether or not they deserve it.
When I return twelve hours later
to the sound of crumbling brick
landing on cracked linoleum
I beeline for the bathroom.
"Ouch," I say
when I see that it's back
in the medicine cabinet.
When you live alone
it's best not to pretend.
"The Disappearance of Gargoyles" by Mary Makofske.
My father taught me
the word "turgor"
at an age too young
for most to understand it.
He's always been good
at breaking down the language
for ease of simpler access--
perhaps from his career
with the mentally retarded.
I think of his functional definition now
while watering a wounded aloe
on the kitchen windowsill
with hope that its turgor returns.
Its longest leaf was guillotined
a few weeks ago when a well-meaning guest
opened the window without installing
the beer bottle prop that's kept in the corner
atop trim painted thick with decades of white.
The glass came crashing down minutes later
during our preoccupation.
After she'd gone I noticed the smeared pane
and the severed tips of the gift a girl had given
to liven up my quarters in her simple, subtle way.
I salvaged the clear mess and rubbed it on my calloused feet
in an effort to make use of its medicinal properties
but it didn't work much magic.
Rubbing blood on another wound never does.
I felt guilty for the accidental amputation
and foolish for that shame.
Watering it now--a pint glass every Sunday--
feels like an insufficient apology
unaccepted by the scowling sun.
Another week has passed
another pint's been poured
another chance is wasted
on a stagnant theme:
So the boys are swinging
their denimed dicks around
in hunting tale conversation
at the mouth of the job trailer
after wrong egg sandwiches and spat-in coffee
brought by a senseless apprentice.
We're all choking on our smoke
from laughing so hard
at scary shit
since that's what we do for a living.
Then this humble motherfucker
who's made me like him quickly
chimes in with his painfully true bullshit
about hating the sin and loving the sinner
that he lives too well to deny.
Says his son shot a blue jay once
fucking around with a pellet gun.
This righteous prick in a button-down
made sure that once was enough.
He told the kid that they use what they kill.
Made him pluck it, cook it, eat it.
When the overzealous marksman
asked his old man if he'd feast as well
the answer was as expected
from a guy you'd follow blindly into battle
armed only with torches and wrenches.
He told us heathens sucking down nicotine
like it'd save us from the tools and pipes
waiting inside for our extended break to end
that the bird tasted like shit.
The rest of the crew cracked up
but I saw through the haze we'd created:
This guy, bound for promotion
in more ways than one
was about to see me at my best
whatever that is
God damn him.
"The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton.
I fully accept April
once I see the clusters
of daffodils greeting morning
along roadside lawns.
They remind me of prior beginnings
youthful calves with just enough visible thigh
to stay respectable
protruding from a floral dress
bent skillfully above a pool table
at the dive bar next door.
I don't go there these days
six years after moving to this town
but that yellow procession
still promises a chance.
She had a funny name for them
that landed in the title of a playlist I made for her
before I went to work beside Lake Ontario
for six weeks, though I can't seem to find
that disc for the life of me.
I won't tell you the name of either.
My ambition outlasted reality.
I've been parked midway to work
for six minutes, my thumb sore from typing
in an early stage of carpal tunnel syndrome
induced by a cell phone upgrade.
Illnesses or none
it's time to start my Saturday
in a realm I've not betrayed.