Soul Sommelier

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.


Unionistas on the Sabbath

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.



Gypsy blood
and righteous tongues
didn't cut it
so he put his war paint on
the night before
to skip more antics
and episodes
the next morning.

Traffic was jammed
on the bridge.
There was honking
like it mattered.

Three miles north
they found him
according to an article
but do they ever truly
find them?
A man of the cloth
would speak of pearls and swine.

The hat that hangs
in my dining room
falls twice
and in that
I spot my answer.


A Hallmark Omission

My old man rang this afternoon
kicking a rock
a question
posed as a statement.

He dropped words
about intentions
to call his ex-wife
for Mother's Day
to thank her for being;
dropped tears
when he said
how grateful he's been
to know her.

I didn't drop my telephone
like I didn't drop my stare
like I didn't drop my six-gun
when the last one shot me down
as in that song by Leonard Cohen
that I want played
when it's time.

We hang places:
up, down, around.
I get on with my day
meeting my other maker
for late lunch and vodka
veiled by tomato juice.
She speaks of his message
briefly, yet in stone.

I remember to stare
without dropping.
I remember that I
was made in love
and precisely what
my star-crossed duo
has taught me:

If you've loved them once
love always.


Achilles at His Best

Contractually obligated
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
a win.

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.


The Lost Art of Eyeliner

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

so you walk there
before she wakes.


A Flicker on the Mountain

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.


Swallowing Swords

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.


Johnny Retread and the Hubcap Queen

She calls me an outstretched Adonis
wrong in her assertion
and her stubborn choice to be here
with fingers burned
by a curling iron
for naught.

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.

So what
say what
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.

An Overshared Surrender

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.

Uanswered questions
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.

Erroneous Endeavors in Rocketry

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.


Winner Take None

"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.

Currently reading:
"The Disappearance of Gargoyles" by Mary Makofske.


Randy Resurrection

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:


Dreaming in Damascus

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.

Currently reading:
"The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton.


Shower Power

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.


A Mule and a Monkey

Good neighbors turn heads.
The best mend their fences.
Live in a bubble
where nothing gets shattered
as those spread too thin
will poke while they scrape
together the clumps
of stew that still matter.

We can watch our young men
shoot death in their arms
and practice our frowns
for the next time we'll need them
or did this disrupt you
enough to disarm
a phrase that takes lives?:
"I'm no brother's keeper."


Deliberate Demarcation

I'd dropped off a coworker
from out of town
at a roach-whore hotel
since his truck
had been impounded
due to woes we all ignore.
Rain was pelting
the foreign metal
of my vehicle
with such force
that I turned off the radio
to give it the reverence
it deserved.

In the median
of Monticello's Broadway
two women stood
under umbrellas
waiting for impolite traffic
to pass
still in their workday's pantsuits.
They were trying like hell
to cross the thoroughfare
en route to a congregation
forming on the porch
of a bargain rate funeral parlor
in a town that died
with the advent of air conditioning.
No one had halted
their means of egress home
to let the mourners pass.
Microwaved dinners were calling.
Television had reality to share.
Spouses were poised
to fail expectations.

I pressed the brake pedal
and waved apologetically
for a race that forgets
where it's going.

The highway entrance
couldn't come
quickly enough.


Winter White and Eskimos

Most times he nods above his pint
from ninety-degrees away
his back or mine to the wall
depending on whose luck is better.
Tonight we're seated side-by-side
since all other stools
and pretty ears are taken.

It takes awhile for him to kick it off
but by my third we're talking shop
from opposite sides of the union line.
There's a heaviness in his eyes
that even his rare prevailing wage gig
can't remedy.
Neither of us mention
the harmlessly psychotic spinster
who's taken us both home once--
honor amongst thieves;
God protecting drunks.

A female prison guard
seated to his right
grabs his arm and blathers on
without a break for air
and the barkeep grins
at my smiling eyes:
"Better him than me."

A few songs later
after one on the house
for his listening servitude
we go out for a smoke
unintentionally together.
He disappears around the corner
so I assume he's stumbled home
though he slants back into sight
explaining his relief
in the alley or the trees
safely out of view.
The quintessential gun-shy move
comes as no surprise.
Neither does his failure
to say goodbye
once he's downed his last cheap lager
but that's a flaw I overlook
while leaving shortly after.


Carapace Arithmetic

Unsure of my intentions
I sent her the article
that had fallen in my lap
about plans for that dilapidated attempt
at a diner to be torn down.
An eyesore, the journalist called it.
The locals agreed
that the riddance would be good.

It took her a day to respond
but she did so in multiple modes
of modern miscommunication.
The third caught me
like a wide left turn
made by a hungover motorist.
Rolling off gin-dreams
in dirty Sunday sheets
her name was the last
I'd expected to see
on the face of my digital captor.

"Why'd you send it?"
she asked, clearly in the same state.
"Closure" was the best
I could come up with at the time.

I told her how I remembered
watching her wash the coffee pots
with salt water as she stood
behind the counter
her back to me so innocently
unaware of the treachery
a boy of 21 can deal--
the latter half of the recollection
implied, though omitted.

Through teeth flecked
with late-night fried chicken
I congratulated her newfound comfort
reiterating my speech on refusal to settle
when her turn for pleasantries came.
Concepts like signs
that say "Will Build to Suit"
and the merit
of increased surface area
brushed across my brain
before realizing that she'd hung up.

When she called back
three minutes later
I didn't answer.

The building will be gone soon.
Marlboro, like the two souls
seventeen miles apart
will be better off.
Hydrogen peroxide
and cold water
will get out the rest.


Glasgow Smile

We'd been fighting
the entire vacation
as always. Not once
did we fuck on Key West.
At night I walked the strip alone
gazing into cathouses
and sifting through sharp trinkets
with sweat running down my back.
Hemingway's estate was impressive.
Direct descendants of his favorite felines
roamed the property at will.
I drank a beer at Jimmy Buffet's joint
and left a bigger tip than I should have
since the barmaid's smile
was close enough to real.

On the ride back to Miami
we went on an airboat tour
through the Everglades--
the world's slowest death
atop the world's slowest river.
Both of us considered feeding
the other to a family of alligators
though the photos don't suggest that.
There were too many witnesses
for our calculating minds to justify.

At the airport gate
I tossed my keys into a plastic bin
for a badged stranger to inspect
before walking through
the metal detector.
When I picked them up
I noticed an addition
to the janitorial clutter:
a brightly stitched seahorse
clung to one of the dozen rings.
I looked at her and smirked
ashamed of our transgressions.
We'd read at the aquarium
that seahorses mate for life.

I've grumbled when people
have asked about it since then
passing my keys back
with an eyebrow raised.
Last week it finally tore free
of the madness
mingled in the handful of change
I dropped on my dresser
at the day's lackluster end.

It took six years to undo four.
Nothing lasts forever--
even in the sea.


Antiseptic Contenders

The boy asked
about shooting stars;
how to spot them.

I lied and said
to watch the sky.


Wait Faster

We've both got Glocks
hanging from our belts
within a foot of the guns
that get us into trouble.
His boots are caked
with snow like mine.
The end of our similarities
is punctuated by the passing
of my license and registration
through the window of my truck.

Rollers in my rear view
remind me of being pulled over
within a mile of here
in the eastbound direction
two years ago on my birthday
the love of my life
having dodged the radar
as well as she'd dodge my ring.

I don't tell this six-two man
standing in the cold before dawn
next to the crumbling rumble strip
that a song Jackie liked
came on the radio
and made my foot heavy
though maybe that transparency
would have pierced his badge
and Kevlar vest
to find some lingering heart tissue.

He hands me the ticket
reciting his oration
injected with subtle advice
about how to plead
then mentions the respect I've given
resulting in continued courtesy
in the form of a few miles
knocked off the record
that should help me in court immensely
to avoid adding points
to my license.

His robotic delivery is livened up
by instructions to detach
the supporting deposition
at the bottom of the ticket
and make a paper airplane
or origami with it.
I thank him for being a gentleman
apologize for making him
come out in the cold
and refrain from saying I'm glad
to pay his pension and salary.

Some get you coming.
Some get you going.
Some get you coming and going
when they come and go.

Currently reading:
"To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth" by Jeff Cooper.


For Tommy Karamazov

I feel it building slowly
in tingling nerves and tendons
left mistakenly for dead:
a wind-up for a pitch
that takes its precious time
so godlike yet innocent
all at once on the mound
keeping the surprise
from the world up at bat
and even the man who's bound
to throw that red-stitched missile
despite his punch-drunk arm
and a strong disdain for baseball.

A few of you might cheer
from the nosebleed seats.


Memorable Holes

Grateful that the pasta
didn't boil over
dousing the burner
that'd spew gas into her home
(while she was in the shower
required after he left
for another last time)
which would've been ignited
by the candle she'd lit
in the bathroom
since the overhead bulb
was too honest for the mirror
she ate angel hair
coated with a thin, salty sauce
ignoring that ramen
was cheaper and the same.


Survivor's Guilt and Table Scraps

An Irishman belts through my speakers
about his recollections from a gorgeous day
reminding me of a time
when that hit was most ironic.
My brothers and I were coming in hot
from a shift down in the Bronx.
Clouds peppered what was left
of the sky's visible pink hue
as we traversed the Cold Spring flats on 9D
along a white-capped Hudson.
Tornadoes were touching down in the valley
their wakes leaving trees in the roadway.
I'd poked fun at the bad luck
that the driver's car held in its core
when we got a flat tire in the City once
but nothing had compared to this.

The song played out on the radio
as Johnny weaved through branches
across the double-yellow.
I laid low in the back seat
in case the forest came crashing
thinking of how I'd eulogize the two men
in the front of the vehicle
at the next Union meeting
since I was still immortal then.
We entered a tunnel that cuts through
Storm King Mountain and Johnny
expressed his desire to stay there.
"We can't," was the consensus
though neither of his passengers
mouthed the words aloud.
The line of cars behind us
deserved fair shakes
at their own battles with God.

I'm living proof of that day's victory.
Johnny and I went to the gin mill
upon arrival at our rendezvous point
near my apartment
to celebrate our prolonged lives
wrenches and taxes be damned
while our third high-tailed home
grateful to have made it
without the need for drink.

Five years under a spreading belt
and I feel low-pressure systems
as they draw nigh in my ankles.
En route to mine mountains
for a better way of life
than what this thick skull's tried
a song that's won Grammies
reminds me to stay humble.

It hasn't all been beautiful.
A compass is kept in case.


Wear & Tear

There's this pretty myth
that like all the best
comes from somewhere
I can't pin:
A wildlife show I watched
with my grandma as a kid.
A medicated science teacher's
overhead projector notes;
A paragraph in passing
while waiting for a train.

According to the legend
those migratory geese
you see in solemn pairs
flying low
as opposed to massive Vs
at stealth aircraft altitudes
have been conditioned by genetics.
One is sick or tired or wounded
and couldn't keep up the pace
so the other has broken formation
to guide it safely down.
The Canadian Samaritan
will stay with its struggling comrade
until it's healed or rested or dead.
If you see one flying solo
then the last fate is implied.

That selfless devotion
makes for cheerful fairy tales
and pint glass banter
at trivia night
but it's conjured
like your tax claims.

Nature ensures but two guarantees:
We're born and will die alone.


Everything's Bigger Where Stars Stand Alone

I should have asked sooner.
The corks had been popped.
A third wave of guests
invaded the party.
I ran out of tonic.
The ball had been dropped.
A New Year's Houdini.
An ex for a taxi.

My timing was awful.
That's nothing new.
She'll scout out the South
for something like home.
My fingers found letters.
My testicles grew.
She'll cackle out loud
and say I'm a prude.

She's promised to call
from a pay phone in Texas.
(I know what you're thinking
but she'll hunt one down.)
She's got far more nerve
than your solar plexus.
(I know I've been drinking
but not on the town.)


The Coriolis Effect

When I was 17
I totaled my mother's Toyota
burying the hood
under the rear bumper
of a parked sport utility vehicle.
I'd left my girlfriend's house at dusk
in too-perfect suburbia
re-reading a card she'd given me
not yet having mastered
the art of split attention
when that damn truck
snuck right up.

16 years later
no wrecks, but no wiser
I'm still most distracted
by the parting of lips
the parting of thighs
the parting of ways
with bright hopeful eyes--
If nothing more
in the search for a life
with no hyphenated names.


Of Leeches and Landmines

False fandom
in the form
of a toothbrush
left so subtly
next to yours--
A contract bound
for breaking
to the native grin's

The difference between
Geminis and harlots
is a twin
to join the strokes.

They feign humiliation
if confronted
with their snoring
though truthfully
it shows their peace
their comfort
in your sheets.

Mumbling hyperbole
through mastered
muscle memory:
The softest slap;
A whore's line like
"You never forget
your first."


Doubting Thomas Peeping Toms

You've finally used
that oversized coffee mug
she gave you as a gag
on a shimmering Sunday morning
you'd rather face with lead.
It held the whole contents
of your stained French press.
Currently it's filled with soapy water
as you rinse the grinds that linger.
Without a thought you scrub the bottom
with a sponge that's overdue
passing over the forgotten message
scrawled in pink pen.
Your hands freeze in tandem
like two burglars shocked by sudden spotlights
as if a lack of motion
will resurrect that damaged word.
Now it could say "Yule"
"Yale", or "Y'all"
its tail end convoluted by redundant
points of exclamation
distinctly feminine, supremely unbelievable.
Her heart goes out to someone
nondescript thanks to your cleaning.
The message rings more true this way.
It's set to dry in a rack rife with tumblers.
You wonder if any other
will someday find this subtle missive
tap her foot, and ask for answers.
Details unimportant
you wager zero chips.


A Magazine Goes in a Gun--A Clip Goes in Your Hair

Stars fail to muster
as an alibi with eyes
spoken like a Spartan
layers the wood and glass
thick with dust

hence my apprehension
on which poisons to pick.

I gave her all I had
left over from the last.
I tried to sate her thirst
like Jim fucking Jones.
I cupped that little lapdog's head
its prancing not knowing goodbye.

Lips wet with gin
drop the night's last smoke
on thighs that part for carpet
and a burn that's accidental.

I was made in May
yet December's always promised.


Mayhaps in the Next

They picked me as their husband
boyfriend, horizontally insatiable
Opener of Fresh Jars
and Reacher of High Things
Who Won't Kill Stalwart Spiders
in the alternate lives
confined to their minds
outweighed by the ones
currently lived
more merely survived
alongside beautiful men
with steady State jobs
or aspiring corporate demigods
with justified gym memberships

so on days like today
same as the rest
except Hallmark stock's higher
I salute their stolid choosing
of a life that comes easier
soaked in reality
than openly loving
a man drenched in dreams
and top-shelf gin.

You picked right, lovelies.
Don't offer to get the tip tonight.


Caligula Manipulae

Caked in cosmoline
your vagabond histrionics
and left-lane ergonomics
perpetuate a culture of complacency.

The hypotenuse cluttered
by nesting dolls
a generation of men
who kept rubbers in their wallets
for the sake of tonguing their toothaches
crossing paths with fellow suitors
who'd tap a midnight window
in case of episiotomy.

Much of it's like boxing:
They only remember
your last fight
and whether or not
you took the Government cheese
having lunch in a daytime bordello.

Refrigerate after opening.
Kill the messenger and its parents.
Don't shrug.
Look it up, you scoundrel.

Splitting the difference
won't squelch a braggart's lament.


A Children's Pome

Don't overcook my scramby eggs.
Burn my breakfast, break your legs.
Most important meal all day.
Don't overcook my scramby eggs.


Brotherhood on Coffee Break

Did you hear?
I heard.
Who hasn't?

I'll call him tonight.
Me too.
Me three.

I had him as a first-year apprentice.
I taught him how to solder a vertical joint.
He owes me six bucks for a cocktail ten year ago.

They did him dirty.
I can't believe it.
Everyone saw.

It sounds like a witch hunt.
They think he's conceited.
In two weeks he'll be thirty-three.

I'm going.
Me too.
Nothing good on TV tonight.

It shouldn't have come to that.
It did.
Who won the Super Bowl pot?

Currently reading:
"The Good Brother" by Chris Offutt.


Rattle-Can Hazarai

Half past midnight
she sings drunk jazz
in your shower
while you wait your turn
in orange glow
emanating from an end table
the sweet stench rising
from what has petered out
and you can't complain
of that layoff, man
with bartenders after hours--
snap snap
roll roll
snap snap.
New song.
Sugar and salt look the same.

Currently reading:
"Barrow Street" (Winter 2016/2017).


Cracking the Relief Valve

It used to aggravate me:
The sound of water spinning
through copper baseboard piping
in my third-floor apartment.

Air's trapped in the lines.
The boiler needs a purge
but I'm barred from the basement.
Heating these rooms
is loud and inefficient
much like trying to fill them.

A nap on the couch
gets interrupted
by a sudden call
for hydronic reinforcements
made by the thermostat
that I installed myself
to keep the landlords out.

This trickling clamor wasn't audible
when her laughter bounced from brick.
Now it's enough
to cease some Sunday slumber prematurely.

I haven't had a lease in three years.
though the semantics are of no concern.
Our stay is never permanent.
We're only selling hours
to whichever fools
are dumb enough to buy.


Unfashionably Late to a Funeral

It's no wonder
that the full moon affects us
drawn like the tide.
Textbooks profess
that we're 60% water
the rest mostly corn.
"Split the difference,"
the scientists would say
if they'd been born
to pull wrenches.
It's a tradesman's euphemism
for "make them both a bit wrong
for the sake of seeming right."

On my way to sling pipe
one guilty Sunday morning
I spot a dead hawk
in the shoulder of the highway.
It's close enough to the guard rail
to say that some maddened motorist
had aimed for it.
There are sicker souls
than those who would work
on the Sabbath
or put metal in their genitals.

With the quarry next to the predator
three feet beyond
the white line that means wrong
I nod and take note at 75
that there's room on the cross
for two.


When Paper Mache Carries Clout

Allow me to draw you a square
in the sand that's been poured
from every nearby vagina
within a two-town radius
and across a crumbling bridge
o'er the Hudson.

Let the first line represent
the time wasted
waiting for action
inhibited by prolonged
teacher's union health insurance benefits
and the sad comfort of shared pets.

The second line is for
animal magnetism--
The way we fit so right
physically, anatomically
in the stillness of either bedroom
with the box fan on
to supply white noise
since I've conditioned myself
to need it
in the absence of other consistency.

It makes the most sense
to carve the third line
in honor of that weekend in Manhattan
I had planned in my head
when she'd sell off her rings
and we'd celebrate
new beginnings
possibly involving
pleasantly naive offspring.

The fourth can be
anything really
though for the sake of this exercise
I'll dedicate it to the lap dog
I miss more than the spite
that tainted every angry word
spewed in fits
of mutually frustrated confusion.

Now I'll draw a 1 in the center
of the square we've fashioned
to appease a stranger soaked in gin.

That's where we are.

Desperation is an ugly color.
When's the last time
you called your mother?


Building a Bildungsroman

Harvesting scalps
of those less aware
is forcibly noble
to those who would dare.

You cursed the Colonel.
You'll have to hang.
One of these days
we'll know you by name.

Running is working.
Working is paid.
Sooner or later
the axe finds its place.

You cursed the Colonel.
You'll have to hang.
One of these days
we'll know you by name.

Sweat doesn't matter;
neither does blood.
Kiss all the right rings.
Shake off the mud.

You cursed the Colonel.
You'll have to hang.
One of these days
we'll know you by name.

Measurements falter.
Tools aren't the truth.
Mentors are chosen
by misguided youth.

You cursed the Colonel.
You had to hang.
One of these days
we'll know you by name.


Cowboy Science

I'd guess he's in Human Resources
the way he spills himself all over the counter
well after he's been handed
his change and morning coffee.
This pencil-pusher's sweater
is a few shades sour of caramel
the color of junkie vomit.
An equal sensation is conjured
in my gut by the way he festoons himself
atop the Formica, hitting on middle-aged women
whose husbands' hands alone
make more sense
than whatever this marital brigand
is spewing at 5:43 in the morning.

Two of his underlings
enter behind me
dressed in crisp uniforms
cursing at last night's game.
My toes curl under steel tips
as I fight myself from stating
that they sound worse than the men
they're allegedly paid to guard.

I recall visiting the local prison as a kid.
They'd walk my uncle out
into a large cafeteria full of worried faces.
There was a Pepsi vending machine.
Its giant logo with its patriotic colors
is what stands out most in my mind
aside from the concertina wire I saw
from the back seat of my mother's sedan.
She told me we were visiting him at his job
and in a way she wasn't so wrong.

"I'd rather be in jail,"
the amorous civil servant says
of his day's upcoming duties
to the woman who stirred his sugar;
added his cream.
"It's death by PowerPoint presentation,"
he chortles with undue pride.

I wonder if any of these men
these hooligans with tin badges
had a hand raised in wrath
against the inmate murdered
a few years ago.
It could have been my uncle
had he not been released in the 80s
after doing 15 years.

Back in the safety of my truck
the heat vents blasting away
what remains of the frost
I take a sip of coffee
followed by my first drag
that somehow cures
the smoker's cough
for now.



Using the mirror
that backs the bar
loaded with untapped top-shelf
I monitor who passes my 6.
Deprived of depravity
I opt to tip heavily
and head home
on snowslick sidewalks
dodging squad cars
and unneeded eye contact.

Jacklyn, what you've taught me
of thinly shaved Manchego
supersedes all I've shared
with every fresh apprentice.

Currently reading:
"Last Sext" by Melissa Broder.


Fed Exes

Emptying the night stand
on her side of the bed
into a box again
was the easy part.
Her last words my way:
"Remember what you want."
I didn't give the same privilege.

Her car was running
in the driveway
when I dropped off
that cardboard
I'd sprayed with the cologne
I've worn since 14.

The plan was paint-by-number
but I wasn't ready
for the little black dog
that always followed me
standing at the storm door
shaking without barking
her head cocked in perplexion:
at what we'll never know.


Cardboard Sarcophagus

Nah, Freddie, Jesus--
You're reading this all wrong.
When they don't ask
for their shit back
you know they're finally gone.
It was dry and self-contained
with no wet spot
left to dodge.
Think of all the Sunday sheets
you'll never have to wash.


Life Sans Genitalia, Day 47

It's a hard thing--
seeing the curtain
drawn too soon;
watching your heroes
bleed out in the dust
with guts keeping
bankers' hours.

[Christ omitted
for spatial purposes

He said something relevant
about more than
fixing that shotgun:
A sucker for hard cases
nodding like a god
at the lost souls
around him.

Blessed with many fathers
we have also
many sons.
Time has been squandered
naming constellations.

The surgery was useless.
The tailbone cyst came back.
All that faith in friends was lost
since medicine is practiced.


The Feast of the Six Fishes

She's flown in from Chicago
to see her godlike father
right in time for the King of Kings.
You feel it in the dank
calling the kid
to clean up the afterbirth.

Christ was born tomorrow.
You'll be 33 soon.
Like an Oliver Stone film
it makes too much sense.

There aren't enough candles
to burn off her eyes
at the quiet of your table.
You wonder what your soul's worth;
wonder where it went.

If you had the brass you speak with
you'd take the ride to Warwick
if only to drive by.
Instead you wander the floodplain
kicking embers to remember.

Prayers have changed
since childhood.
God has met his match.
Don't drink from the tap
in a town that has no river.

Currently reading:
"The Same River Twice" by Chris Offutt.


Highest Safety Rating in Its Class

It was hard
to wrap his head around:
Someday he would answer
for more souls than his own.

It was easy
to wrap his car around:
The tree had stood
for decades, mostly unnoticed.

It was omitted
from the report
that he never hit the brakes.

We take what we want--
Whatever the stakes.


Bringing Home Monticello Mud

Froze all day
for the sake of selling hours.
Came home wearing
dirt of a different color.
Ran the water too hot
and the tub lever dropped.
Stepped into a scald
and realized I haven't felt
feet burned by sand
and beachside pavement
in six years.

Lonely like a library
I play snapshots in my head
while rinsing, not repeating.
Maybe this spring
I'll take that vacation
to find shells
too small to live in.


Down a Lane

The contents of the pan
crackle and spit
as the sausages brown
in the bacon grease
saved from Sunday.
Bratwurst destined
to steam in beer.
My father used to tell me
how the smell of fresh pork
reminded him of visiting
his grandfather's meatpacking shop
as a boy. The old man
sent from Germany, early 1900s
came to this country
with the trade he knew best:
stuffing pig into intestines
and peddling swift death.

I light a scented candle
to brighten a dark corner
not realizing which conifer
the label represents.
Balsam fir permeates the air.
I'm brought back to hazy summers
camping in the Adirondacks
with dad and sometimes mom.
A six-by-four pillow
sold as a rustic souvenir
forgotten until now
sits atop a bookcase
a loon stitched to its front
filled with needles from the tree
the wax is emulating.
A sniff gives no sensation.
A squeeze, another snort.
There's nothing in the needles
left to tug my wanting nostrils.
It's now more useless
than the day of purchase.
I sit to eat the bratwurst
and make due with Village Candle.
No wonder they turn a buck.

If I had a home
I wouldn't write to it about my meal.
Sitting with a crisp glass of white
I spark a cigarillo
marketed with a gangster's name
that was gifted by a flame.
It's short and unfiltered
like the best lives.
Something Clint Eastwood would chew.
Tobacco smoke catches my nose
before being sucked
through the box fan in my window.
My mother's uncle used to burn
a similar brand in Puerto Rico.
He was a hard man, a knife scar on his cheek.
I've never known his name, only heard its
foreign syllables whispered in shamed tones.
A drunk, a gambler, a beater of men
he caught his end with baseball bats
walking home one night from a bar.
Maybe over money.
Maybe over a girl.
Maybe over a guy he decked
after a game of dominoes.
It's not something spoken about
in front of the women in the family.
I've never met him
but tonight I breathe him in
one drag at a time.

Some say that smell triggers memory.
If the merchants knew that
they'd charge triple.


Spanish Inquisition

Maiden name, maiden name:
I will ask you twice the same
though I can't commit tomorrow
without canceling today.

Dancing in the ambulance
like meat between her teeth.
The antidote's for sale
if your stomach's not too weak.

Remunerated polyglot
is not in love with what he's got
so wine and cheese and jungle rot
creep and crawl and aim.


A Hen in the Foxhouse

Arms was wrapped.
Legs like twisted roots.
"You haven't rocked me
in so long," she said
through the blackness
lyin' in bed with the heat set low.
What she didn't know, Jamie
was I was rockin' myself.
A trick I learnt last winter.
Gotta be right with yourself first
to give it.

But I don't have to do as much
for or to myself these days.
She been takin' care o' that as well.
Even gave me somewhere else
to go sometimes, but only at the end.
Only at the very end, goin' easy.

See I'm fixin' not to be like you, Jamie
though I respect whatever Hell's left in ya.
I know it's the challenge I was chasin'
back then, reverse engineerin' a heart attack.
Had this knife behind my eyes
that carved what I wanted to see.
Made women what they wasn't.
Crystallized an altar of lies
somethin' fierce
doe-eyed and too wise
for they own good or mine.
Li'l signs here-n-there
done told me different.
You ever meet that shaman-lady
she'll show ya what I mean.

Blood-bought joy's the finest in the valley.
Read 'em and weep, Jamie
but I gots to go now.
Demons is best fought in the dark.
You'll see.


Truck Stop Existentialism

Are those clouds
or purple extensions
of the mountains below them?--
setting where I'm heading
at a steady 75.

A trooper yawns
in the median
where he can turn around
but we can't
and that's fine
since badges ain't everything.

The pickup's paid off
unlike the one ahead
its diamond plated tool box
bolted to the bed
blinding weaker eyes than mine
through reflection of the sunset.

This is the closest
that I'll come to God

Those who can't do
get out of the way.


Sunday School and Rabbit Holes

To learn of grace
help your father's wife move out.
To learn of repentance
confess to your friend
you're the last one to leave
most times
if not always
the quintessential piano song
declaring the night's end.

What if you don't want
to reproduce?
What if breakfast should be optional
depending on your headache?
What if it was a mistake
to send the love of your life
halfway across the country
because she changed her mind on children
after having that little scare
and you couldn't look her in the face again
without wondering what else was a lie?
What if that nightmare you had this morning
about driving to Warwick, your own Vietnam
was more than the gin leaving your bloodstream?

There's a sign under water
posted for zealous scuba divers:

"Do not go beyond this point.
There's nothing in this cave worth dying for."

It's right.



Folding my laundry
in the basement of the house
where I started to grow up
I see a Cub Scout uniform
hanging from one of the many pipes
I've worked on over the years.
The boy's at his mother's place tonight
but I can see his smile at the pack meeting
as the cycle of preparedness and duty
repeats with similar hitches.

Our father, who art in Limbo
hands me a bag
of ziplocked dark meat
he bought from Price Chopper
regardless of their non-Union status.
We discuss our separate
and unequal Thanksgivings
from our respective perches
on improvised furniture.
He rises to hand me a second package
of leg-and-thigh
possibly out of guilt
imploring me not to let it grow hair
in my refrigerator.
I reassure him
that nothing goes to waste.

Simon & Garfunkel play their Greatest Hits
for a private show in my apartment
as I trim the flesh from the bones
with a filet knife
from a lousy set bought by an ex
keeping one hand free of grease
to answer the silent phone
and sip the speaking wine.
These songs always remind me of my mother.
I haven't seen her
since before her hip replacement.
She took her husband back.
She forgot that Italian word for "fake"
that I taught her.
Darkness speaks again
over fingerpicked chords
on an acoustic bound for the zoo
and awkward late-night missives.

Lines about rocks and islands
make me wonder how Jackie's doing
in Chicago, but I'm not drowning
deep enough in the grapes to ask.

Through the window
of my three-storey walk-up
I hear a bottle smashed outside
in an alley too good for itself.
The cigarette crackles
while the box fan draws its smoke.
In the trash can
turkey bones keep secrets
not meant for you nor me.
My last-dead grandparent
laughed in Spanish
when a stumbling cousin
brought a post-holiday carcass
to her home for making soup.

Some meat's gone.
Some meat's saved.
And that's what it's about:
Cutting off the pieces
that might help
make us whole.


Stendhal Syndrome Between Sips

The two of them came
from one of my Vietnams;
far enough up the Thruway to be safe
but close enough to know
that one I should have roped.
It was the night before Thanksgiving.
Regret was on my mind.

Invited to their table
I took the bait
leaving rotten friends
to hold up the oak.
Eight minutes in
I realized it wasn't me they wanted.
I'll never see
the rest of that partially visible tattoo
or learn where those feather earrings hang
when not being worn
or suffer through a bursting bladder
while curly hair is straightened
behind a bathroom door.

"Can you find us some coke?"
the pussy huckster pleaded.
"Just a gram," clarified her friend
not wanting to seem greedy.

"Sucker" it must've said across my face;
or "Desperate";
"Clearly understanding of
addictive personalities".

I smirked like a pastor
resisting heinous laughter
at this dirty joke
and rose with my pint glass
in search of better heroine.


To Shake These Zipper Blues

A nasal Billy Corgan
whines the lyrics
of "1979"
through eight-year-old speakers
crackled by ash
and silica dust
as tail lights
on the bridge
lead the way home--

for an instant
like when those
misplaced words
and chords
made sense
back then.


The Results of Blood-Bought Gaslighting

I'm standing at the sink
washing the week's dishes.
My bare foot finds
a brittle strand of pasta
from a night I'd hit the wine.
It cracks in half
against the cabinet
making me wonder about a stranger
I'd glimpsed at briefly in the darkness.

It was 5:23 in the morning last week.
I was traversing the bridge
on my way to work
when I saw yellow lights
spinning in the shoulder.
A highway truck was crawling
behind a walking woman
with no apparent rush.
I checked local news sources
the next day
to find out if she'd jumped
but no one said much on the matter.
How many cases go unreported?

Once the last of the forks is rinsed
and dropped in the rack to dry
I crouch down to pick up the fragments
of linguine, curious if her neck snapped
when her body hit the Hudson.

The rest of my Sunday's been chipper.



It was the first time we were meeting
and she'd already asked me to rescue her--
more to do with the balding forty-something
seated at her left near the TV
than my own be-denimed measure.
"He called me a racist," she said at introduction
referring to politics he'd foolishly brought up.
His Boston accent hit my shoulder blades
reminding me of our prior acquaintance
at the bar across the street months back.
An Adderall bookie real estate mogul.
A wet dream of Big Pharmaceutical.

"Let me buy your first drink," he implored.
"I've insulted your lady and I'm very superstitious."
He was wrong about half.
I tried to joke my way out of his money
but he insisted, I was too tired to fight.
I pictured her naked
while listening
to her talk about her kids
(since that's what dating is)
until she left to pick them up.

"My girlfriend moved out today," he sobbed
into his lager. "My friends bet me
25-to-1 that she isn't coming back.
The bastards know I can't resist.
Do you think she's coming back?"
A pile of taproom lottery tickets
sprawled out among his currency
sang an affirmation.
"How many times in how long?"
I asked.
"Four times in a year."
"There's your answer."

"One more," I told the barkeep
not wanting to stay, but feeling for his addiction.
He hinted at pool hustling.
I played him, for free, and chastised
his letting me win.
"You're no fun," I told the shark
after every intentional scratch.
"I want to give you long shots.
I want you to feel good."
Uneasy eyes burned deep
so I offered to drive him
to the gin mill where he swindles.

In the lot we saw my landlords.
The brothers smoked thick Turkish cigarettes
while their boys photographed two new vehicles.
My intended passenger tried placing bets
about racing with a car he didn't own.
I saw their Eastern European disdain
for this cripple of a sinner
and pulled him away towards my truck.
"I'm sorry," he repented
when I told him
that baiting teenagers was wrong.

Outside the pool hall
in the dome light of my truck
I reminded him--David--
that she'd left him for his vices.
"There's good in you. Don't fill the void."
He shook my hand three times
and went to beat some fools
since that is what he does.

I found out, hours later
that she can't ever have kids.
A gamble--meeting people--
since that what dating is.


When to Fold 'Em

There are 7 billion people in the world.
There are 7 people out there
who look exactly like someone else.
I slug down my seventh gin-and-tonic
of the night while I weigh these statistics
against Jackie's doppelgänger
sitting near the taps.

Knowing my own tendencies
I signal for the check
far before Last Call
calling it quits
to avoid

the futile effort
of pleading with a ghost.

Lavender Underbelly

Cruise control's fair game
as there's no one else
on this remote 2 a.m. highway
who doesn't deserve to be hit
aside from feeding deer.
The heat's cranked
in an effort to purge out a chill
that's deeper than skin and bone.
Dry air attacks my nostrils
making it harder to breathe
like this cigarette I don't want
but need.

New warmth makes the blood
from my knees flow faster.
I feel it through the denim
congealed against my flesh
regretting nothing
of the recent friction
endured on that floor
of a make-shift bedroom
where relative strangers
vented their best.

And to think
if I didn't fear exodus
I could share a world
that you wouldn't believe existed
keeping you eating
from palms and pockets
the voyeur that you are
no better than this harlot.


Tiffany Teal

She says she loves me
but she's technically married.
She says it's over
but she needs health insurance.
She says I'm a dolt
for needing more than evenings.
She says she's shaved
that bush I begged for.
She says a lot of things
that drown between these ice cubes.

I say what Lefty Gomez preached:
I'd rather be lucky
than good.

Dancing in the Ambulance

Tease not of the antidote
with meat between your teeth.
Consider useless wisdom
like "Turn into the skid."

Ration what's left
to spoon-feed the kids
who choke on Cohen's death
too late to know his life.

It makes you want it all
and it makes you want nothing.
It makes you want a time machine
or a ticket to Chicago.

Currently reading:
"Preacher" by Garth Ennis.


With Mouths Full of Teeth

It might be prior tutelage
or unfortunate abuse
turned green
like weathered brass:

As we get older
they want it harder
gripped around their necks
but my rough hands
can't comply.

Some nights I wish
I'd changed
how she'd wanted.


'The Walking Dead' for a Thousand, Alex

It's the annual night
for fledgling ghouls and goblins--
All Hallows' Eve
whatever that means.
Timid young parents
walk gentrified streets
with their miniature witches and warlocks
heroes and objectified female royalty
reflecting in shop windows
while the sun sits safely down
and mocks their quest for candy.

Little do they know
that true evil lurks
two miles west
in a city whose demons aren't painted.
That sidewalk hosts candles
unsheltered by pumpkins.
Two budding lives lost
in a shooting
two nights ago
but it's not too late
to reflect on the themes:

We're only as good as the way
we treat strangers
and only as blessed
as the fates of our kids.


Gigolo Inertia

The phenomenon has many names
with varying connotations:

process of elimination;
trial by fire;
ridding it of one's system;
glorified hermitism;
imposed isolation
brought about by
the systematic alienation
of those left who care
perfected by dope-sick strippers;
selective reality.

The natives have no problems
with hat hair on the warpath.
You can teach anything
as long as you have the answers.

Are we there yet?


Misguided Attempts to Repair the Mothership

"They're banking on my death,"
she tells the airbag
encased within her steering wheel
after an abrupt stop at a traffic light.

That word, "Supreme", seems hypocritical.
The polls have been floundering:
Blues and Reds and Battleground States.
The country whose Law she presides over
has devolved into madness
in the wake of a social cocktail
soured by discontent.
Her pending grave
has been reduced to a bargaining chip.
The road signs on her street
also come in threes.
Justice itself seems a joke.

Her garage door rises
as surely as the warheads
allowing her Mercedes
to trace its oil stains
on the cement.

"Little do they know of our Deal,"
she says to an invisible Stranger
standing in the doorway
waiting for His due.

Counting as her check clears
while laughing at a populace
she wonders what the media sold
to dupe a once-great nation
to sleep through Armageddon.



Woke up
to a nightmare
the revelation
that we die
how I sleep:


Karmic Blunderbuss

It's the last thing I expect to see
when walking through the lobby
of my storage unit facility
which doubles as a makeshift art gallery.
My boots glue to the floor
in front of the massive portrait.
but I don't know which words
can respectfully finish the sentence.

The soccer-mom-sentry sitting behind a desk
cluttered with smutty romance novels
homework forged for children
and unfinished job applications
speaks on my behalf:
"...One of the homeless guys in town."
The way she puts it
grinds my teeth.
I prefer to refer to those gentlemen
as "permanent outdoorsmen".

"A lot of people ask about that photo,"
she continues
as my pupils absorb the aura
enhanced by a crafty lens.
His blue eyes glisten
a story all their own
from their perch above
his beard that's long and gray
but perfectly managed.

"I give him a few cigarettes
whenever I run into him,"
I tell her, the busy patches
on his tattered denim jacket
drawing my attention
south from his countenance.
I'm sure that some were earned in Vietnam.
"He always nods his head
when I drive by."

She scrawls some minutia
on a form before her
and informs me of the reason
for this unexpected meeting.
"The owner here
is an amateur photographer
and asked to take his picture."

I wonder if there was monetary compensation.
The way he's reduced to pronouns
brings forth my next query.
"What's his name?"
I feel guilty for not knowing already
since we cross paths so often.

"Patrick," she replies.
"Tell him he's famous
the next time you see him."

I will do no such thing.
I will claim no authority.

I walk up to my 5' x 7' garage door
on the second floor
of a building with heat, locks
and strong lighting
then ponder what Patrick would do
with $79 dollars-a-month.


Representative Sample

The Hunter's Supermoon didn't help.

Riding home
he still imagined comets
and other astronomical signs
despite the brightened sky
while witty dinner jabs
and moments of parking lot vulnerability
mistaken for the path
played over in the thickest skull
this side of the Prime Meridian.

If ice had struck his tires
he'd turn into the skid
but he'd never admit the merit
in conquering oneself first.

She was magical in person.
It plucked and played on strings.

He swore he was storming Normandy
when returning to the crime scene
in that scholarship town
an hour north through red-leaf peak.

The story of Waterloo will confirm:
We lead several lives
in the breathing time we're given
and waste just as many
mining for more dirt.


Punch Buggy Red

Part of me wants to toss off the wrenches
and patent inventions to solve problems
that don't exist:

The Tooth Fairy Glue Trap;
Quadriplegic Sex Swings;
A trampoline designed
specifically for dope-sick strippers;
An app that texts your exes
as you take that first sip
of your fifth adult beverage.

Oh God, I could change the world
all right
but I'd rather be lucky
than good.


Big of Us

That plumbing we threw in
on a Sunday:
I'll have to rip it out
and replace it
when family's gone.
There in my old man's basement
we used what fittings we had
to make it work
like we do for a living.

Now I see that piping
whenever I do laundry
and wonder which deep, dark
of mine
you'll be telling first--

But not really
'cause you'd never
like I thought I'd never
lose your respect.


Homely Happy Hour

We're texting in Spanish
like code talkers
since our naturalized tongue
would feel too real
for the topic at hand.
She tells me I'm like her--
"hard-headed", in English.

I scoff at my mother's accusation
turn up the Tom Petty
and the sizzling chorizo
seeing no one all night
but the drowning aloe
she gave me
on the sill.


The Magnificent Six

My favorite local outdoorsman
bends outside a gas station
cramming two bagged tallboys into a jogging satchel
that doesn't attempt to match his raincoat
reminiscent of a film noir detective.
I should give him some useful detritus
from my vomiting closets
but right now there's not even time
to pass a smoke through the passenger-side window
before the light turns green.
A mental note is made
to have him up one evening
for a cocktail and a shower
and a lifetime's worth of stories
crammed into 20 minutes.

An elderly couple readies to cross Main Street in the rain
as I kick mud from the treads of my boots against the curb.
The groom grabs his bride's quivering umbrella arm
urging her to wait for a rapidly passing car
in this world that sped up too damn much
over the course of their dedicated decades.
We never stop trying to fix and save
our lovers, though it's luck of the draw
and a wink from above
that determines most of the hand.

There's a dead katydid guarding
the front door of my building.
I'm not sure why it'd care so much.
Shane Killoran has a rubberbound stack of
mail on the steps--some first-class, bills
a package the size of a lost lover's diary--
though I've reason to believe
he moved out weeks ago.
My mailbox, like my Saturday, is a void
that can't be filled with hope nor redemption.

The sour aroma of my neighbors' dirt weed
hits my nostrils at the landing
well before I ascend to the third floor we share.
Oh Christ, it's getting worse.
Is it them or me?
What's the fucking difference?

Ramblings of a writer
must seem mundane to most.
Do you live your life or see it?
Which would you prefer?

Currently reading:
"Salamander #42".


The Great I Am

Our creator of Sunday mornings
should be kissed by prosperity
given an island off Cuba
or receive a free parking voucher for life.
(We don't speak of long-gone virgins any longer.)
In the meantime I sit in this symphony
of highlighted dust particles
floating through my living room air
the sun's angle sharp enough
to accentuate every missed sweep.
No one's here to judge my lax housekeeping
the limp I've walked with for weeks
too stubborn to get that ankle checked out
or the fact that I've let the kitchen faucet leak freely
despite my claimed profession out of doors.
The Latin espresso I've brewed
tastes like the heart of my dead grandmother
singing church songs to me in Spanish
before I'd picked a language of my own.
My father has news that he's neglected to share
the last two times I've called
so I'm bracing myself as best as I can
while these charlatan snowflakes
swirl around me on the couch
in a safely sterile world
where words like 'cancer'
and 'abandon' aren't allowed to exist--
But damn this coffee's good
and that first butt will be better.
I think I'll hit the park with a book
and pretend to read
while searching for a woman
walking her dog with a bag in her hand
who's as sick of filling the void with shit
as I am.
Ain't life grand?


Need a Lung, Too?

Thrown together as the day fades
we encounter fellow time bandits.
Don't ask about the weather:
The sun's dying.
The air's thinning.
The flood's coming
for all of us this time.

Bumming a smoke
from a soul who was a stranger
20 seconds or 20 days ago
even though your own pack's
in your pocket
is the best way to get closer
to whatever God who dreams us.

What's said will be forgotten.
Don't trifle with semantics.
Taste the chosen poison
of another for five minutes
since the seating after this life
is undoubtedly assigned.


Ode to a Union Pipeline Hand

They cut those inner seams
at the bottoms of their jeans
to accommodate their cowboy boots
since the real ones cost extra
and per diem ain't enough up north.

Town cops don't know what to do with them
when their gypsy ways lead to late-night altercations
in the motor home parks and dimly lit dives
where they spend their shortened nights
and overtime on suds
shoving singles in the jukebox
in search of country-western.
Once the paperwork's complete
they're locked in cells for an hour or two--
harmless, hard-working vagabonds
with too much sweat and whiskey
embedded in their flannel and denim.

Their women don't smoke
but like the smell of cigarettes
and men with that lingering stench
since it reminds them of promises on hold.

Snuff costs more above the Mason-Dixon.
Bills keep coming in.
The farms and rigs aren't paid for yet.
Their youngest kids have forgotten
the faces of their fathers
but that sin seems worth the check
and the alternative.

Wives back home in the Bible Belt
wonder, worry, get lonely.
People are only human.
Replacements are asked to pull out.

America needs its natural gas
despite what the protesters think
and pipe doesn't weld itself.

If only it was all as simple
as snipping that seam
with some scissors.


A Ramekin Blemished by Wedlock

"You're the first person
I thought to call," she
after her neighbor's pit bull
attacked her, even though
we'd sworn each other off
for the eighth time
in five months.

I talk her through police calls
unsavory pet owners next door
and animal control
since I'm not as fanged
as the swearing prophets claim.

Two days later
she's throwing banana nut bread
in the trash
as though baking a loaf
could erase the acid spat.

There are two types of fools:
Those who know they are
and those who don't.

Sweet tooth or not
I'm neither.

Currently reading:
"jubilat 29".



Maybe he savors the swelling
somewhere other than his head.
Maybe all that purple
reminds him:
There's still blood.

Crooked as a preacher's son
his ankle bends toward Heaven.
The other wounds he's working on.
For this they make a pill.


You Need to Speak About Going Lone Wolf 'cause That's What's Killing You Fastest

I work with talented brutes
whom I love, though
they'd never understand my saying so;
Come home to a barren apartment
where woman nor cat purrs my name;
Go out in a town that gets off on itself
full of artsy charlatans
and imports duped by articles
who don't notice my tall gin;
Can't tell you the last time
a drink was bought in my honor
for more than my hefty tipping;
Forget what a campfire feels like
while warming bones I'd ignored;
Curse the place I came from
while missing those
who can't afford the bridge toll.

I'm the loneliest man
whom you pretend to know
but I swear my stories
are better in person.
[It's the smile
I've mastered in mirrors.]


Saved by a Dull Blade

During a planned pipeline blowdown
you sit in your truck and smoke
while natural gas spews out
of the two-ton relief valve
a hundred yards away
wondering how far
is far enough.

Jackie moved to Chicago last year
but you still spew flames
for miles every night
with or without
her knowing.

Spark up.


Domestic Flesh Wounds at 2 Vanamee St

I'd contemplated it for months
en route to another's abode:
Pulling down that side street
where we almost bought a house
together five years ago
to see what ever
came of the place.
Work ended prematurely today
and the sun was on my side
for once so I swerved right
for the sake of burying the unknown.

The lawn was still in need of the manicure
that your green thumb would have given.
Boxes of shingles cluttered the doorway
in what could only be an ominous sign
of the type of leak inside
that these plumber's hands don't fix.
A few haphazard lawnchairs circled
a makeshift firepit implying informal revelry
despite the need for labors of love

and therein laid the problem
bold-faced and blatant; italicized:
We gave up working
at building with bricks
we were too busy
throwing at each other.

The impenitent shall not
inherit the Kingdom of God
but a night doesn't pass
that I hope that you've found it.


So It Goes

Everything you've wanted
walks into a bar.

You buy her Jameson all night
since there's no way
she should pay
well aware that it's only
pleasant conversation--
safe, fleeting
and forgettable
like the punchline
to the one
about the priest's untimely entrance.

At least the clergy
would call you back
the next day.


Too Hot to Smoke

Our one hot date
when she sat on my face
left nothing in its wake
but some well-placed
magnets on my refrigerator:


Of all the half-decade's
I think that's where I came


Open Season

Not old enough to buy a 6-pack
he's pacing in and out
of the streetlight's yellow ring
by the time I arrive around the corner
behind the bar where ice is melting
in my unattended gin.
Yelling at life's unfair lessons
more than the foes before him
he rips a rag in half to cover his knuckles.

I've never said two words to the kid
prior to tonight, but I know him
since I've been him
so I know my words mean as little
as the fact that I'll walk him home
still shaking, adrenaline dumped
in our stomachs.

Currently reading:
"Poetry East", Number 86 (Autumn 2015).


Blood Work

Unexpected company
comes and lasts
like Caesar's tariffs.
He almost has her shooed
back through the door
with vagabond hands
and silverdipped alibis
when she makes way
past the frame
to pick up her son's pistol.
There isn't time to scold
and she tenses under pressure
so he plants his perch
crossing fingers and toes
in a perversion of faith
outside the cathedral.

"This is heavy," she declares
lifting the chrome six-shooter
from a marble-topped table
he'd bought from a local junk merchant.

"Stainless," he says, ready to swoop
should her thumb get ambitious
and head for the hammer.

"Is it loaded?"
Her face turns gray
the jovial smirk reneged
as the whites of her eyes grow.

"What good would it be
if it wasn't?" he explains
considering confession
to crimes uncommitted.

The .45 back on his furniture
her hand reaches now
for the brass knob instead.
"See you next week," she says
as his mind drifts to red meds
and comatose slatterns.

It matters not to some
if those who must suffer
suffer less
but a gentleman expects
to kill cleanly.


For Lack of Combat Hospital

Watching grainy clips
of broken-nailed debauchery.
The actress is familiar.
The mattress is the same.

Shaky-handed camerawork
exceeds the poor direction.
The script that wrote itself
loops like alibis in hell.

Bracelets clang and jangle
for a score without an orchestra.
She pulls her hair behind an ear.
An artist at her best.

Laying on a flank
lethality in hand
until is milked an offering.
Stalactites hang
like dish soap.


Lessons in Convalescence

It was one of those late-night cigarettes
where you're hungry
and get a thin layer
of saliva on the filter
so it never sticks right to your lips
and nothing about it's enjoyable
except for its end.

He'd considered endings
for months, bleeding through bandages
kissing hands and shaking babies
in an effort to take the edge off.
The sheets changed for scandalous reasons.
He'd dealt with his transgressions
like a cat burying shit
while foulweather acquaintances
solicited for pills.
No one left gets it, he hummed
as he jingled his keychain around in his hand
pursuing the one
for the front door of his building.

It didn't appear.
He thought about Japanese soldiers
falling onto blades
equally forged of honor and steel.
It was well after midnight
on a Thursday.
No neighbors were returning
who could help him get upstairs.
He walked around back to the parking lot
but his car key was missing, too.
He thought about necromancy
and his grandfather's rifle cabinet.
And then he kept on walking.

Don't be alarmed, but
the rent's now two months overdue
they towed his car five weeks ago
and police knocked down his door
when the stench of his rotting trash can
was mistaken for the odor of corpses.
The landlords aren't happy
and tacked the repair bill to his rent
muttering of a security deposit.

There are rumors hydroplaning
through circles feigning friendship;
southward sweeping seas;
the spiral down to heaven.

If you see him
tell him I get it.
Home is where you're wanted.

Currently reading:
"Suttree" by Cormac McCarthy.


An Ounce of Gauze and Gumption

Being unable to walk
has shown me where I stand
in eyes with whom I sat
to talk
when others ran.


Designated Hitter

Lifting couch cushions
in search of bygone artifacts
I find a handful of change
among the ephemera.
Aware it's not mine
since I pay debts with plastic
I wonder what poor dame
left her quarters, dimes
and dignity
at the end of this regrettable ride.

Like a carnie scanning for money
shaken from roller coaster patrons
I palm the spoils of brief entertainment
and toss it into the jar on my dresser.
It's a slick business, a tight ship
a shimmering panacea we run.
Step right up and swing that sledge.
The endorphins will last until breakfast.



Unable to master
originality either
she told me
she didn't want to be a poem--
"Relegated", she meant
without saying it.

"So don't," I could have answered;
or, "Me neither."
The two-syllable replies
are innumerable
in the shower
months later
with a cocktail nested
in the soap dish.

I've represented us
as the mockingbirds
we are
mimicking others
and better versions of ourselves
with virtuous intentions
bound to slaughter strangers
while mothers weep in evening
for the sin of repetition.

Currently reading:
"Spoon River Poetry Review" 41.1 (Summer 2016).


The Perils of Dating the Artsy Type

They'd make such great co-conspirators
crafting garland out of my guts
but the fact here is that
waxing candles with fat
culled from lovers
means that they're nuts.


The Only Time I'll Type a Poem About Politics (Though I'm Not Hard Up for Material Yet)

Whatever the outcome
whichever evil prevails
whoever shames our nation greater
when moving into the White House--

We, as a country divided by media moguls
will get what we deserve
(in real-time, streaming live).



When's the last time
you were yelled at
by the goon in the guard tower
drinking white wine?
Maybe too long.
Maybe never.
Maybe this is your lucky night.

What I have to tell you
is fool's gold 'til you burn it.
What I'm here to share
can't be stored in silos
for a later date
another life
a second chance at rapture.
The blood on the pages--
Don't fight it.
I've willed the man in the kilt
into coming;
forewent the aphrodisiac
and grabbed your gods by their throats.

All attractions are fatal.
A C-section mother knows best.
What made man modern
was the ability to make fire
bought and sold for two dollars
at the nearest filling station.

We sing our dark harmonies
trying not to touch off the acetylene tanks
with our shattered high notes
as the straw boss makes his paces.

It's about time you steal photos
from the albums cloaked in dust.
The hands have crossed redemption.
All that tics will toc.


Cells to Ourselves

In what fiction
could never muster
she and her father
went through chemotherapy
at the same time
lying on the carpeted floor
of their basement
laughing whenever
one of them puked into a bucket
until mom came home
and they asked her to order pizza.

I think to myself
how my family couldn't weather
paper cuts together
without the grace of God
or at least a Harvest Moon;
but that, more than anything
is what family boils down to:


Heart of Palm

He lived on the third floor
of a brick-and-mortar walk-up
with windows facing east
absorbing summer sun.
It was like a sauna
where he sweat out prior lives

She felt for his discomfort
and purchased dark blue curtains.
"This will keep it cool in here,"
she said, the proud philanthropist.

He bit his lip, wiped his brow
and confessed the point she'd missed:
"We all need a dose of sunshine."

She shook her head
and parted the new blinds.


Ritchie Valens and an Airplane

Elbow against the oak
knuckles against your lips
mojito against some mint;
"Get out of your head,"
her eyes say as she sways by
with a fresh round for regulars.

The jukebox plays "La Bamba"
your grandmother's favorite hit
but you've got no captain's bars.
You're a sailor at best

though complacent
since discovering
time travel's real.


A Victim Who's Not You

Three young boys splash
in lake water up to their shins
so I take my rod and reel
down the shore.
It's 95 degrees
in the shade
and I'm jealous of their lack
of jeans and work boots.

I drift the plump half of a nightcrawler
still squirming under water
by a swath of weeds
where I'd hide from the heat
if I were a bass.
My bait disappears in the glare.
I feel several tugs, jerk the tip back
to set the hook in its jaw
and reel in a sunfish
the size of my palm.
Veins of turquoise
festoon its orange flanks.
It's swallowed the load whole.
Some men would rip the hook out
along with bright red gills
but there's been enough carnage
to last one afternoon.

I cut the line and drop the sunny
back into the lukewarm soup
a shard of steel still buried in its throat.
One of those kids laughs a little louder
as I tie off my frayed line
to a loop in the pole.

This fishing shit's not for me any more.


To Build an Hourglass

Gene had been drinking by himself in a shack of a flat for days; nights, really, since nothing worth remembering happened when the sun was still scorching--not that the bottle aided his nocturnal memory. He'd been dreading that ugly word which had always plagued him:  Almost. Regardless of the law, he knew what he'd seen on the mountain that day.

The air was so hot that the ice cubes in his cocktails melted before he got halfway through a glass and his sweat ran out of salt, as bland as his father's cooking. "Inefficiency's a sin, like Satan sinking in," he recalled from melodic Sunday school classes he'd been dragged to feebly by parents yet to part. Pints of water poured from his pores and soaked the thin layer of cotton that remained on his supine body. He cursed the man who'd swindled him into taking rooms on the third floor, though the farther away from the public eye that he stayed, the longer his freedom would last.

"At least they've got plenty of ice made up where I'm going," he laughed to himself beneath a squeaking ceiling fan that pushed more dust than it did air. His mother had always given him credit for making the most out of Aces and Eights--a trait that she'd claimed as her genetic offering. After her funeral, once everyone respectable had left to their houses and horse barns and preconceived notions of what it meant to pursue happiness, Gene approached her freshly buried grave and plucked a few flowers from arrangements that meant nothing. "Mary Lou will like these fine," he explained to his silent mother. Gene wasn't a superstitious man, even back before the gods got him good, but he swore he heard a mourning dove signal her agreement; or maybe a mockingbird. He'd always gotten the two as confused as lust and love. "They sure won't have this gin there, though," he said, referring to that big house full of ice. "Better enjoy it now."

At least there wouldn't be Sunday drivers. At least no fireworks would make him miss Mary Lou now that she'd gone to visit others conjugally instead. At least there'd be hope, his second-favorite amenity--next in line after a little black dress. Perspiring into a rented chaise lounge as stained and tattered as his life, Gene waited for the knock and accepted his fate with a swig of warm spirits:  He'd rather be loved than right.


Westward of Eastwood

It's one of those epics
that I can't claim as my own
like David slaying Goliath
or gravity, or Gatsby.
Maybe I heard it at coffee break;
read it in the G section of the liquor store;
saw it in a Spaghetti Western
with Guineas painted like Injuns
and a mostly forgettable plot:

A man who wears enough grit on his skin
to make his detractors think twice
reaches into his jeans
tosses a .38 Special round
at the hopeless fool giving him guff
and warns him--
"The next one will come faster."

I thought about writing it into a scene
but decided to err
on the side of integrity.
Instead I'll tell you
like a lame man showing his crutch
before a long walk
off a short pier
as my father used to say.

A writer's nothing more
than a careful recorder of contraband.


A Sleuth and Consensual Sodomy

The drink's served
before I settle into the stool
whether or not that's admirable
or implies a lack of discernment.
Three later, after dodging several faces
I notice a moth
the diameter of Washington's familiar likeness
circling erratically two inches off the light strip
that encompasses the ceiling's circumference.
Its limited path makes it seem
as though it's tethered to the wall.
The empathy passes
like women en route to the restroom
and I resist the urge
to buy a bug a drink.

Restaurant Review of County Fare in Wappingers Falls, New York

Stopped in over the weekend with an old work buddy and was not disappointed. I knew we were in good hands as soon as we bellied up to the bar and I recognized the man in charge of mixing from several prominent pubs in Beacon. After introducing him to my colleague, the menus were pored over. It was difficult to narrow down our selection since so many items sounded delectable, which is a backhanded complaint which only means I'll have to return again soon to sample other offerings. We both opted for the Steak Frites and enjoyed every bite. The sauteed onions brought a sweet mix to the subtly seasoned steak. The meat was very tender and cooked exactly how it was ordered, sliced and displayed in an appealing presentation. With french fries as the side it was hard to go wrong. My meal was washed down with a special beverage, the Hopvinebling beer from Beacon's new Hudson Valley Brewery. Advertised as a "Dry-Hopped Berliner Weisse", the drink is best described as a mix of a sour with Hefeweizen. It went down smoothly as a summer drink should. A few nearby denizens poured some out into shot glasses to try. It doesn't get more "local" than that. Our dining experience ended with differing desserts. My guest opted for the cheesecake. He said it was delicious and I don't doubt his assessment, though my chocolate craving required me to try the nut torte. It was one of the best desserts I've had in a long time and is even gluten-free, in case any patrons have Celiac disease. My sweet tooth was satisfied, though my curiosity about the new establishment is still not totally resolved. I plan on returning in the near future to find out how some of those appetizers fare.


Romanticized Misinformation

Maybe she got
those awful tattoos
so she couldn't
cut there

When the Cordite Mixed With Blood

Straight from a film
I'd want no part in seeing
I stand ten yards across
from a six-foot splinter
lodged for a decade--
her husband
and daughter
watching backyard fireworks
that my friend
who's her neighbor
has staged for the sake of the holiday.

The invitation meant well
but now it's gone to madness.

My cocktail's clutched
in a death grip
as the sodium burns between us
clearly defining a Maybe that was
from a Never that strides in my Levi's.

The show ends, the sparks fade
and memories fizzle out.
Many smirks were meant to be
but this one
isn't one of them.
Part of me is pissed
that she didn't stick
to Olivia.

Currently reading:
"The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Haruki Murakami.


Or Best Offer

Light your filthy cigarette.
Don't treat it like medicine.
A corpsman, not a song
will save you with a tourniquet.
Lung blood from young bucks--
copied fools and rushed in.
Now they wish the ones they miss
weren't the ones they trusted.
Who will be your brother's keeper
if you tango with the Reaper?
All the best lead with the left.
Save that right for once, kid.


Eisenhower Mile

There's a Cold War myth
still propagated
by the hopeful and precious
that one in five miles
of the Interstate Highway System
was built arrow-straight
for the landing of military planes
should action be taken
in case of invasion.

Whenever one is noticed
I light up a smoke
like a tender votive candle.

Let the meek have
their comforting fallacy.
There are worse lies
on the airwaves
produced by lower men.

Currently reading:
"Dirty Work" by Larry Brown.


Pillory Alibis

When Pat Jenkins told us that he was heading south to work on the Panama Canal we all believed him. How were we to know that he'd been drinking on credit for weeks? He wasn't the type to get inside your head and ricochet off bone like a brazen .22 round. That time he mentioned his desire to design a kaleidoscope for that new female friend of his we laughed for a song-and-a-half on the jukebox and suggested that he check the antique shop in town. Nothing ever came of it--his gift--and he swore off trinkets and blondes for awhile; possibly until Doomsday. It was around that time when his mother's card came in the mail and beckoned his better senses. After a few gins he whispered that he could smell her perfume in the envelope. It was almost enough to lure him back home, but that definition had changed in Pat's mind. The rest of us knew it before he did though no one had the heart to tell him. What happened back there could have never been avoided since nobody got close enough to smell it on his breath. As far as I know he's living in a hut on a Pacific beach with a shovel and a shotgun propped up in the corner. When Pat Jenkins told us where he was going we had no reason to doubt his intentions.


Many Sons Had Father Abraham

We're sharing the brand of stories
you save for rainy days
or times with too much time
on your hands.
He's up at bat
while my guts are still rolling
from the last one I told.
We've needed this.

His voice alters, impersonating
the passionate hesitation
of an aging Frenchman
with whom he worked years back.
"The best way
to make love to a woman
is to
caress her thighs

He falls out of character
for long enough
to make it real.
"I hope Claude's still alive,"
he confesses.

I claim the invisible microphone
and take a turn at the helm
letting my friend's mind churn
over our mortality.
The three years between us
is enough to draw a line
though I won't cheat his development
by consoling his voiced fear.

Guys like Claude never die for long.
They only switch shoes
and learn a different laugh.


Letting Go and God

When nervous
he sings under his breath
the only half-line
that he knows
of that Beatles song
about being born
and undersea exploration

though what can you claim knowledge of
based solely on a fraction
of a verse soaked in acid?

Brando declined
his Godfather Oscar.
Salinger drank his own urine.

There are limits
to what we can understand.
Humming replaces the rest of the words
until we're impaled by the chorus.

Clear your throat.