No Fun Allowed

There was Fudge
who always wore a navy blue blazer
and thick glasses
with his brown hair slicked straight back
looking like a diehard fan of the Chicago Bears.

Cookie was a bit of a mystery
since calling him by that name
guaranteed being chased.
Rumor had it he picked it up
in the slammer
after being slammed one too many times.
I forget what he looks like.

Mickey Mouse was a round man
presumably of mixed blood
the color of Irish coffee
with a frizzy thin moustache
and two tell-tale
puffs of hair on either side of his head
resembling giant black round ears
like the ones they glue to those beanies
at Disney World or Land or both
and I'm pretty sure he had a high-pitched voice.

And then there was the army of angry
African American pear-shaped lesbians
who spoke with potentially beautiful
Southern drawls tainted by inescapable urbanese.
Those were my favorite ones.

to be young again
having nothing to fear but
being empty handed
when one of these characters
unfit to supervise children
asked to see a hall pass.

Another one slips past QC.

You don't know an honest day's work
until you've done some plumbing
in a three-foot-high crawl-space.
When you finish your piping and get to emerge
walking erect like the rest of the race
there's an instant flashback to whatever
ignited the sequence of events
that got you into such a fine mess.
You slap your dirty jeans
creating a cloud of dust
that makes you cough
and rub your hands on your sweaty shirt
knowing the grime under the fingernails
will have to be scrubbed out later
in the shower you can't wait to take.
It's a humbling experience that some of us
get to experience on a daily basis
the few fortunate ones receiving a benefit package.

Today, like so many others
I was the lucky winner on The Price is Wrong
though what I'm still paying for is debatable.
My partner and I were moving our tools
and material for the next day's mission
when I noticed a small white sticker
on the box of pipe fittings I was carrying:
"Proudly packed by C. Daly."

No, it couldn't be.
A mind like his wasn't being wasted
in a factory somewhere, not at this stage
in the game that we both chose to play separately.
My one-time best friend and I had our fair share
of fallings out, the last one enduring a few years
but I still wonder what he's up to once in awhile.
I know enough to resist dialing his number
that I still know by heart, unless he's changed it.

We shared our highs and lows, our songs and swigs
sometimes our women, but we differed in opinion on where
to draw the line when it came time to cash in
our karma chips. Our ends couldn't justify his means
for me so I did the hardest thing to do and said
goodbye to my one true peer at the time.
It wasn't me and him against the World
like he'd have everyone believe;
it was him and him against the World, against us all.
That's the way it is in everyone's case
and anyone who can't admit that
still has a long way to go.
But then again, so did he
when I last heard about his state of affairs.
Yeah, maybe that really was him
packing boxes in some dimly lit warehouse.
I did it once. Maybe by some twist of fate
he was serving the same sentence.

Once my co-worker and I reached our destination
I set the cardboard box down
ripping the sticker off and rolling it into a ball.
"What's that?" he asked.
"Wasted talent," I said as I threw
the crumpled sticker into a nearby trash can
pretending to take a shot from the foul line.
"I didn't know you played basketball in school."
"I didn't," I said as he gave me a puzzled look
that I let go unanswered.

We finished moving our stuff and headed
to our cars and long-awaited respective showers
though he often smells like he waits longer than I do.
Before getting into my car the foreman cornered me
and asked me to initial the building we had just completed
on his blueprint of the jobsite so he knew who did what.
The blood red ink of the marker screamed from
the bright white paper reflecting the sunlight:

and then this hypocrite drove home.


The shoe, the thimble, the man on the horse.

It was three years ago and I was a shit.
Well, not that I'm not anymore in my own right
but I'm talking a different breed of degenerate;
not someone who calls out of work to read novels
or catch up on his documentation, someone
who calls out of work because he was in the hospital
for some reason that could've been avoided
whether it be a beer bottle across the nose
or an ex-girlfriend's misinterpretation of the Word.
Regardless, it was a time in my life when
I'd stir the pot by taking spur of the moment trips.

A few of these times landed me in Cortland
visiting a friend in college.
It was a nice place to escape to, a college town
tucked away in the sprawling hills and
friendly accent of western New York.
He lived in a house with a few other students
though I rarely saw any of them during the day
since they were off participating in extra-curriculars.

At night it was a different story.
We'd drink. Beer, in mass quantities.
And none of the cheap shit for me, Jack.
I've always managed to acquire respectable booze
even when my wallet suggested otherwise
due to warehouse jobs or credit card bills.
I was going to get blackout drunk
in a town where no one would ever see me again.
And the time that I ran out of an alley
to hurl a garbage bag full of tap water
while screaming obscenities
at an innocent passerby with a hideous goatee
stumbling home from a frat party somehow
seemed like a rational idea in the heat of the moment.
But I digress.

I'd wake up the next morning after going from
house to house, party to party, staggering down
suburban streets well accustomed to the routine.
The sun would stab through the curtains
and sting my eyes as the cotton balls in my mouth
drove me to desperation. My buddy would still
be asleep and there would be nothing to quench
my thirst in the refrigerator. (Non-alcoholic, of course;
though I may over-indulge from time to time
I've never been one for the hair of the dog that bit me.)

For some reason we couldn't drink the water in his house
and the moldy filtration pitcher in the fridge looked contagious.
There was no orange juice left over from Screwdrivers
no flat soda from the Jacks-and-Cokes
not even some ice cubes to suck on.
But I did find an unopened jar of apple sauce
way in the back corner behind some half-empty beer cans
and did not feel the least bit guilty for swiping it.
I brought the whole container into the room where
I had slept, twisted the lid off, and drank it right down
like a fruity milkshake. I instantly felt my insides
being watered back to life and the sour taste of beer
was replaced with the sweet tang of the official state fruit.
When there was no apple sauce left I hid the evidence in
the back of a closet, well aware that it didn't matter.
I rummaged through my duffle bag for a book to read.
My friend woke up an hour later and we said our goodbyes
shortly after going to the local greasy spoon for breakfast
where I ordered a large glass of orange juice before sitting down.

Tonight as I got ready for bed I had a craving for apple sauce
so I went downstairs to the cupboard to get some.
It didn't bring me back to innocent times from my childhood
with my mother spooning it into my mouth, or Thanksgiving
Dinner or pork chops or cider houses or orchards along 87.
It made me think of the time in Cortland when a jar of apple sauce
saved me from a hangover worthy of equally severe debauchery
and how even then, three years ago, when I was still a shit
of the worst degree, I was able to make due with what I had
or better yet, what someone else had, and that, my friend
is how to put those little red hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place.


On the role of firearms in maintaining a Healthy Relationship.

"Do you keep it loaded?" she asks
with an inquisitive face strangely cheery
for a woman, not seeming the least bit alarmed
at the answer she knows she'll receive.

"Wouldn't be much use if it wasn't."

She asks to see it.
I accommodate without hesitation.
She should know how it works--
might have to someday.

I think back to how odd it was that
my dad had me bring my
gun safety course certificate
to school when I was in the fourth grade
to show my teacher and principal
that I respected the rules
or at least knew them.
They patted me on the back uncomfortably
probably would've had me expelled
if it wasn't during the pre-Columbine era.

Some people won't ever understand that
fear is just a lack of knowledge.

I remove it from its case
making sure the safety's on
though I know it is, hoping that
she sees me following the proper procedure.

It feels like an old friend in my hands
though I haven't used it in eight years

at least haven't pulled the trigger.

"How many bullets do you keep in it?"

"Shells, not bullets. Two of them.
I have to pump it once
in order to load the chamber."
I show her what I mean as the two-fold
clicking noise of metal on metal
made popular by Hollywood
brings it all home.
"I used to keep a third one in the barrel
but not anymore."
I remember why I used to
and why I don't anymore
and it's not the cranked air conditioning
that makes me shiver.

The first shell ejects from the side
and lands on my bed as I pump it again
and the second is sucked into the barrel.
One more slide clears that one, too.
It's harmless now, a castrated pederast.

"See? It's easy."

I let her hold the empty shotgun
showing her how to raise it to eye level
and bury the butt in the meat of the shoulder
to absorb the recoil safely.

"Why do you only keep two in there?"

I think for a second.
"Well, if I can't hit whatever I'm aiming at
with two shots then..."

"...you're not very good and don't deserve to hit it,"
she finishes.

"Boy, if I had a dollar for every time..."

"Shut up, Baby."

She hands it back, I sheath it again
before returning it to its run-of-the-mill hiding place.

The rabbit scratches around in her litter box
in the corner of my room, the two of us
lay back down to stare at the ceiling fan
and all goes back to almost normal.


Keeping up with the Joneses.

"Come on! Do it! Don't be a pussy!"
That was easy for him to say, he
was somehow immune to the smell
of it frying in the oil as it rolled around.
"Don't you want to be one of us?"
I did, but not as badly as I'd thought.
It was too late to turn back, though.

Giving the frying pan a little shake
I tried not to pass out as I heard the sizzle
get louder and felt my temples throb.
Surprisingly my stomach hadn't given up yet
probably due to the familiar feeling
of enough whiskey to stay well over the legal limit
for at least another eight hours.

"Hurry up. The longer you take the more time
you have to think about it and the harder
it will be. Just eat it already. You like your meat
on the rare side anyway."
The leader of the pack always knew how to end
his sentences with that extra punch
and when I finally got in with these guys
I was going to make damn sure to take his place.
I'd come this far, what was left to stop me
from putting some slightly more deranged bastard
overzealous with his catch-phrases
in his rightful place?

I turned off the gas range and stabbed it
with a fork, popping it on to a waiting plate.
Taking a gulp from my ninth cocktail of the night
I reached into the silverware drawer for a steak knife.
The butcher's knife in the sink next to me
had a filmy red streak half-an-inch thick
in the center of the blade.
A part of me wanted to run for the door
avoiding the members of this sadistic Secret Society
for the rest of my life and telling everyone else
it was all an accident.

But I didn't.
I scraped some off from the bone with my utensils
and shoved it into my mouth, washing it down
with another generous swig of whiskey and Coke.
The rest of the meat was consumed in the same fashion
in the span of five minutes as the Rules of the club
I'd just entered mandated.
Once I had finished I turned to face my new Brothers.

"So do you feel like one of us now? Well don't, not yet.
You got off easy. Johnny here had to eat something
far more unpleasant..."
Johnny's eyes dropped to the hardwood floor and
squeezed his thumb in his clenched fist
as his toes tried to console each other
through his shoes.

The others gave me a sympathetic look
as if to discredit what the soon-to-be dethroned
leader of the pack had just said. They knew
it wasn't an easy feat, they'd been there.

"I'm going to go wash my hands now,"
I said in a slurred monotone as I headed
for the bathroom. The small group parted in the middle
to let me through, but it was nothing like
Moses and his Red Sea.
Nothing at all.

It didn't look like me in the mirror, and not
just on account of the green tint my face had turned.
Somehow I was drastically different and would be forever.
I ran the faucet at full blast and splashed my face with water.
It almost came back up my esophagus on me, but I knew
they were listening and I'd never gain their respect if I
didn't hold it down. I gave the toilet that hateful stare
that I had so many nights before after too much liquor.
If only it were that simple this time.
Nothing would be ever again.
This was it.
The Big League, baby.

"You alright in there, man?"
It was one of the sympathetic ones.
I knew I already had his vote when the time came.
"Yeah, be out in a minute. Who's ex's house are
we torching first tonight, anyway?"

The cold water stung my hand
since the whiskey was starting to wear off in increments
and the adrenaline had subsided some as well.
I unwrapped my bandaged hand and saw the raw circle
of singed flesh where my pinky had been just
minutes before. The cigarette lighter from my car
had cauterized the wound fairly well, but I knew
it would sting a bit in the morning.

You'll have that from time to time.

Don't bother learning Navajo.

As I look back over years and pages
tens of thousands of words
a shamefully long list of various fiascoes
(some ending better than others)
my latent reason for writing
many lines so cryptically

jumps out at me:

after X amount of time
(in the form of pay stubs
ripped movie tickets
admission bracelets
and yes, empty bottles)
even I don't know what I meant
by some of it, especially the drunk little #s
that read like the yarns of a stubborn general
from the side that lost the war.

But it's not a code I want to crack.
Whatever all those subtleties meant then
doesn't matter now.
Putting them down pretty
made it better at the time
and my enigmatic darlings
made it easier to forget.

Forgive yourself, it's time.


The day the morgue ran out of bags.

I was already half in the bag
when I noticed him working the door
from across the bar. When he went
out for a smoke I decided to follow
since it had been about ten years
since I'd seen or spoken to him.

By the time I made it through the crowd
and out to the dimly lit sidewalk
he was already halfway done with his Marlboro.
"Jesus, you in a hurry, Tyler?"
I was surprised I remembered his first name
after all these years, but couldn't recall
his last for the life of me, though I feel
it was something Slavic-sounding.
He looked up at me and started speaking
like he'd just seen me yesterday
and knew my full name and blood type
which I don't even know.
"It's a habit I picked up overseas.
We didn't have much time to smoke
since a red dot in the dark
becomes a target for the towelheads."

I had no idea he had joined the service.
The lasting impression I had of Tyler
was an image of him skating around by himself
in his rollerblades, long after the trend was cool
with a cheap plastic helmet on, to boot.
He had inadvertently made himself an outsider
though he was always trying to edge his way in
with his blonde hair and purple lips that seemed to be
squished together all the time, two flushed
caterpillars clinging to his peachy face
just under his clear blue eyes and nondescript nose.

"Those things will kill ya, kid. It'd be a shame
since you made it back from Hell in one piece,"
I assumed foolishly without taking non-physical casualties
into consideration.

"Yeah. I didn't even smoke until I went over there.
Seeing a pack of Marlboros reminded me of home, though."
I lit up my clove cigarette and moved closer to where
he was standing to hear him better, his back glued
to the brick wall out of some trained survival instinct
not yet unhinged from his day-to-day mode of living.

Inhaling the distinct, pungently sweet aroma
of my clove cigarette his eyes lit up as if
brought back to some memory of a better time
that the sense of smell often triggers.
I saw the covetous look in his pale eyes
and made him an offer since a hand-out
would probably be turned down
and it had been awhile since I'd had a Cowboy Killer.
He drew the red pack back out of his pocket
and handed me one of his cigarettes in exchange
for one of mine.

"I was going to start smoking these when
I got back from Iraq. I figured
it'd be a good way to quit
since they're not tobacco leaves
and therefore not as addictive."
That's when my face lit up
in that drunken expression of excitement
that transforms me into a caricature of myself.
"That's my plan, too!" I blurted enthusiastically
as I exhaled smoke from the seventh cigarette
I'd had that night already, thus disproving our theory.
But still, we had the same plan!
The two of us, without seeing each other for so long
and walking such different paths in life
wound up at the same half-assed conclusion
about how to kick the habit without
all the inherent failure of going cold turkey.

Both of us trailed off in thought for a few seconds
presumably over the irony in the situation, at least
on my part, and then laughed a little to break
the uncomfortable atmosphere that suddenly falls upon
two men who never really knew each other and find it hard
to pretend otherwise ten years after the fact.
The conversation died as I tried to picture him
with a machinegun posing for a macho picture in the desert
and he tried to figure out what the Hell happened to
the promising young honor student
who had covered his arms with tattoos for some reason
developed an affinity for rum-and-Coke and clove cigarettes
stopped caring so much about what others said he should
and started looking people in the eyes when he spoke.

We weren't quite drunk enough yet not to care
about the inability to find a safe topic of discussion.
My ride came walking outside shortly after
saving us from the building tension.
It was time for my friends and I to leave.
Tyler offered me another Marlboro since a clove's street value
is clearly equal to at least two regular smokes
but I declined; it was the least I could do for a veteran.

I shook Tyler's hand and said it was good to see him
good to know he made it home safely
but part of me wishes I'd never gone out that night.
I'd much rather picture him in those ridiculous rollerblades
and that mama's boy helmet that we made fun of him for
instead of a desert camo kevlar helmet designed
to protect whatever could be left of a life
after the innocence of age fourteen.


Let us return to the days of Kit Carson.

Someone needs to explain
the United States Postal Service
to me.
I'd greatly appreciate it.
And a back rub, maybe a cup of coffee
(light & sweet, just how I like my women).

A week ago my roommate said
there was a notice stuffed in the door
about a certified letter that required my signature.
I wrote it off at first as something trivial
like a label warning the Law's stance
on removing said label from a mattress
but became curious today
like a Catholic schoolgirl in her first freshman dorm
and decided to investigate.

After work I stopped by
the local Post Office around the corner
only to find it's a mere Substation of some sort
apparently nothing more than a glorified stamp store
with a blue mailbox out front
and a sexless flesh paperweight inside.
This disgruntled shell of a woman at the counter told me
I'd have to go to the Main Office
downtown to retrieve my mysterious letter.
Annoyed at the inconvenience
but further intrigued by the challenge
like Casanova with a bad reputation
I drove ten minutes east
to the other side of the tracks
not realizing I was about to take on
the Postal Gestapo, unarmed.

I pulled up along the curb
making sure to lock my doors
since this was no neighborhood
in which to leave a vehicle unattended.
Still sweaty and dirty and irritated from work
I climbed the stone stairs and strode
into the lobby. The equally cantankerous
clerk asked how she could help me
though her tone betrayed her false enthusiasm.

A faint smirk shot across her lips
as if she'd won a small victory
as soon as she asked me the date
on which I'd received the notice
and I shrugged my shoulders.
I never physically held the piece of paper
since my buddy was the one
who found it and then threw it away.
She thought her work with me was soon to be done
due to my lack of required information.
Soon she'd be snarling at the next person in line
waiting to badger her with pesky requests
and unreasonable desires of a parcel-shipment nature.

"Can't you find it with my name and address?"
didn't seem like too outlandish a question.
"No, there are hundreds of letters every day!"
You'd think a system so crucial
to the daily function of our society
would be better organized
but then again this is a country
that rebuilds countries it blows up
but lets its own homeless sleep in the streets.

Feeling foolish for my inadequacy
and wasted time, gas, and calories
I about-faced and headed for the door
cursing under my breath
when it dawned on me to call my friend
and ask if he happened to remember the date
that he received the notice.
He did.
I turned back around and marched up the stairs again
not yet ready to holster my tongue.

She saw me coming back
right to the front of the line
and asked if I knew the date now
with a slight tinge of defeat in her tone.
I could tell she was someone
who never turns right on red, even
with a line of blinking cars behind her.
"The Seventeenth," I sneered sarcastically
after waiting for her to finish processing a package.
She disappeared for two minutes
as I spun my keychain on my index finger
like a six-shooter, my triumph allegedly imminent.

Returning empty-handed
she told me it was not in the stack
of certified letters that had been intended
to be delivered on that date. Dumbfounded
I asked her to check if it was the Sixteenth.
A more hateful glare has not been given
from the prosecution's side of a courtroom
in a murder trial, but she complied
as that engraved nametag required her to do.
Another two minutes went by
without any sophomore optimism on my part
and she returned without anything in her hands
but a ballpoint pen squeezed in her balled-up fist
protected from germs by baby blue latex gloves.
The line of other blue collars was growing behind me
and the clerk's patience was clearly waning
so I wasn't about to ask her to check
the Eighteenth, or God forbid
the Fifteenth of June, suddenly seemingly
equal to the Ides of March
or one of the many Fridays the Thirteenth.

"You'll have to wait for a second notice
and return with that date, sir," with the
emphasis on the last word of the sentence
to express her thrill in having the last word.
She tried to go on explaining her fake condolences
while maintaining loyalty to her precious system
that would force a man to wait another week
for a letter that was just on the other side
of a partition constructed of oak and bulletproof glass
because an employee paid by his taxes
was too lazy to sift through a few more piles.
I had no intentions of coming back in search
of this elusive correspondence. Whoever wrote
whatever it is will find me somehow if it's meant to be.
"Nevermind, it can't be that important,"
was my reply before she had time to
hit me with another cookie-cutter
customer appeasement phrase
they teach in the training video.
I thought I heard a barely audible
"Sir! Sir!" through the walls of her fish tank
as I walked outside, this time not caring.

So, Ed McMahon
(if you're even still alive)
you and your big check
from Publishers Clearing House
will just have to find someone else;
or, if it's bad news in that envelope
I'm sure it'll manage
to find its way--
but Honey, don't rely on it being via
the United States Postal Service, try UPS.

And you can bet your bottom stamp
that this wouldn't have happened
in the days of the Pony Express.


.308 is a fine caliber.

Like a hungover bridesmaid
trying to look her best
through her worst day
in that lovely green dress
as I lay here in bed from rise to set
passing between books and sleep
under the ceiling fan that's recently
developed a hefty wobble to it
and a rattling of its light fixture
obnoxious enough to replace
Chinese water torture
in its appropriate setting
with its appropriate face
and now looky here,Jim:
"This just in--"
Ah, shucks. It's enough to make
a grown man...
...well, you know.

On tailbones and my affinity for walnuts.

Sitting in boxers
scratching myself
in between chapters
on a bathwater Sunday
the power goes out
for a split second
not long enough
to make my digital alarm clock
lose its dog-ear in Time.

It doesn't make sense.
The storm hasn't hit yet.

Through my bedroom window
I watch a young squirrel chase
the object of his affection in circles
up and down the trunk of a tree
their passion so fierce I can hear
the scratching sound of their claws
digging into the bark as they
do their duty to Nature
in making haste
to perform the dance
that Darwin said
only the strongest would
get to act out
before someday
raising offspring.

The thunder finally rears
its head and the first drops
of rain fall as the two gray
rodents disappear to a limb
outside my field of vision.

I smile for the little guy.
I know he'll get his, they
can never resist a good storm

and thankfully
I've had my share.

(Isn't that right
Miss Bright-Eyed
and Bushy-Tailed?)

And just as fast
as they had come
the clouds are blown off
to their eastern destination
and the sun begins to dry the yard
as life goes on as it has forever.

(Insert bad fishing pun here.)

The only one I'd caught that day

had been by accident; I wandered over

to the pole on the ground, figuring the wind

had knocked it over or the tide had pulled it down

but when I picked it up I felt the tension on the line

that suggests the possibility of a fish being on the end

and sure enough, when I reeled it in, there was.

I was nine or ten then so my old man took it off the line

for me since I hadn't yet learned the art of taking the hook out

without cutting my hand or killing the fish. You could say I still

haven't, from a figurative point of view, but that's besides the point.

That was the only catch of the day for me, a ripe old catfish

pulled from the ruins of a pier in the Hudson. My father brought

us out, my uncle and cousins and me, and we were "going to have

wholesome fun, dammit. That's what fishing is about." And no, he

never said that, but it was always implied, as with all of the rest

of the things I was conned into doing as a kid when all I wanted to do

was sit in my room with my GI Joes and make up complex storylines.

My cousins were younger by three and five years, the girl being older.

The German-Italian side of the family was colder than my mother's

and any function with them always felt so forced. Hugs didn't happen

and even smiles were fake. It's part of the reason why I stopped going

to Christmas and Thanksgiving over there, it felt like eating cheese

and crackers at the city morgue. Anyway, these alleged blood-relatives

of mine had come along for the awkward ride and were not leaving without

saying they had caught some fish. They shadowed my father in all his

overly equipped glory as he cast his expensive rigs and untangled knots

in lines caused by the lousy technique of the amateur anglers who

supposedly were related to us. I had no interest in all that, though, I knew

how the script would pan out well enough to avoid a lead role. It's an odd thing

not being the main character in your own memories, but it explains why

I still can't sleep at night knowing he's out there somewhere

telling lies about my whereabouts and health when friends, family, and co-

workers ask, and seeing a woman who drives a white sedan.

While they watched him bait hooks and shoot lures out sixty feet

I stumbled around on the stony shore composed primarily of driftwood

and slimy green rocks submerged at high tide, still unsure of what I was

looking for. Somehow it seemed more interesting to explore on my own

than watch this charade unfold, see my father talk down to his little brother

like they were still kids, watch my cousins pick their noses and scratch

their crotches and not understand that to let it all play out again

is to say it was alright the first time. That's why I can't call him, you see.

It's my way of saying No to the cycle that his grandfather created.

It's a stubbornness of love that only those afflicted would understand.

It's a reason to sit on a hungover Sunday and write about a stupid fishing trip

that happened a decade-and-a-half ago and act like it matters, then or now.

The catch didn't interest me, the draw of the chase was not yet in my blood.

They were throwing them back anyway since fish from the river were deemed

inedible due to the pollution, except to the Koreans and Blacks and all those

in general too hard up to turn down a free meal based on speculation.

I had other plans for the quarry, however. I wanted to observe them

before tossing them back into the drink. Those slippery stones I stepped around

came in handy. I stacked them in a circle, more of a bastardized rectangle

just at the edge of the water and began filling it with the fish my family caught.

The smaller ones slipped through the cracks and the larger ones couldn't

swim in a wide enough radius to turn around, their dorsal fins sticking out

of the water, but it gave me something to do besides want to be somewhere else

and something to watch besides the waves and a family that was never really mine.

But then it happened, the tide came in. Soon the fins disappeared under the water

and only the tips of some of the bigger rocks stuck out and eventually

the entire coop had disappeared, along with my interest in it. He put his

rod down for long enough to walk over and state the obvious in fatherly fashion

like I didn't know I'd lose the battle with nature sooner or later; a ten-year-old

may not know how to yank a hook, but inferiority to the world is learned early on.


And inferiority to the dead guys who did it better is learned these days

every time I sit down here to type. It should've read like a vague description

with a possible reference to the arc in his throw and the failed Atlantis

I tried building for awhile to distract myself from a situation I didn't want to be in.

That would've been so much more tasteful, so pleasing to the critical eye, but

I let what lies beneath all those images sneak its way into the story again.

For that I claim full responsibility, but let's see you lose a father

and his (uncomfortable, but none-the-less) family and not let that

spoil the surprise, take the fun out of deciphering it all for yourself.

Yeah, let's see you try it without missing, slugger.

My mother once said that he was the only man she knew

who could ruin a wet dream. It disturbed me to hear her

speak like that, but I guess it's true since he can even manage

to spoil the writing of a person he hasn't seen in a year-and-a-half.

You can write with the heart or with the mind, but not with both.

Currently reading:

"Tropic of Capricorn" by Henry Miller.


Try harder, Picasso.

It was only a matter of time
before one of them noticed
but I didn't see it coming today
as I stood on that ladder
or from the guy who doesn't even
remember where his tools are without me
or know his kids' birthdays.

I was reaching up with my left arm
to glue a fitting to a pipe
when his eyes narrowed to focus
before firing away with words
I couldn't bat down, even from
my temporary elevation.

"Hey, what's that line on your arm?
I never saw that before.
Did your tattoo guy forget to color that
part in? You should go back and
get it fixed."

Sometimes I fabricate a work-related accident
tale for those I don't know or like well enough
or those I know well enough not to like
but since he already had his own assumption
about its origin and probably wouldn't believe mine
I opted not to bother with that farce.

I finished the task I was performing
and tried not to stumble over
words I knew would trip up my tongue
as I avoided eye contact with a man
I'd always had a witty comeback for until now.

"Yeah, sometimes they don't heal right...
...tattoos, I mean. It doesn't bother me
anymore, though."

His phone rang just in time to save me
from further explanation. It was our foreman
telling us to go perform some random task
somewhere else on the job. We packed
the necessary tools and headed off
lighting cigarettes for the walk.

My partner didn't bring it up again
after we switched gears
and came back to where we were originally working.
I took that as his way of saying he knew
since he's not one to let things go
in conversation, especially when
he thinks he knows he's right.

That's all I need to spread through the Union:
"Shakespeare's crazy, and not just 'cause
he sits under a tree and reads while we eat lunch."

But for now I roll with them as they come
and sit here drinking cocktails in my room
in a house with a half-finished bathroom upstairs
and a boiler in the basement I've never bothered
to look at because although this is what I do
for a living now, it's not who I am
and thankfully who I am
is not who I was
when that stupid kid still thought
that anyone would notice
and be compelled enough
to try to change his condition
not yet understanding that only he could.


Ba-deep, ba-deep: that's all, Folks!

I'll even keep it light-
hearted while proving my point:
think back to the pets you've had
while growing up; you can't even muster
one crocodile tear for the ones that died
that you never got around to naming.

I heard that long ago there was a tribe
who made it illegal, punishable by death
to name anything that took breaths
since all Life was beautiful
and all Beauty is fleeting.
I forget what our forefathers called them
besides the Enemy
and what our historians call them
besides grant-money fodder
but I'm almost certain
they put up a toast-worthy fight before
succumbing to the inevitability of fate.

If you want to see their bones
or dioramas of their villages
museum admission's cheap
and if you want to see the ones still breathing...

...Well, I can't give away all my secrets
at once, can I?

Currently reading:
The writing on the wall.


Say Anything, but with less John Cusack.

The storm hit and multiple transformers blew
and power lines went down
and I knew it'd take longer than a few hours
and that I wouldn't be able to sleep that night
without the aid of air conditioning and fans
due to the heatwave and humidity
so I grabbed some work clothes for the next day
and headed to my mother's house on the other side of town.

Half a mile down the road I saw where the power grid
must stop, the lights and signs on the other side of the line
making those on my dark side jealous

Volunteers with pick-up trucks and too much spare time
were gathering outside the firehouse like ants
half-clad in black and yellow.
It's another thankless job
that's filled by those with a fetish for it
but those same folks fail
to wrap their overly ambitious little heads
around the fact that if they
perhaps found something more creative to do with their lives
it'd create at least fifty new jobs in the neighborhood.
But I'm no politician and I've already got my union card
safely guarding my wallet and my interests
so I'd be lying if I said I cared enough
to incite a riot or write my local congressman.

Looking down at the T-shirt I had put on for good luck
for my ride through the tumult I laugh to myself through my teeth
at what I know my mom is going to say, at least think: "You didn't
graduate so you're wearing her school's logo instead?"
In the Fifties guys gave their gals their Varsity jackets;
in this new century women pursuing undergraduate degrees give their
college-dropout construction worker boyfriends their T-shirts.
It's an ironic twist of fate and a fad that won't catch
but I've always preferred standing alone in my style.

I decided to make a detour, swing by her house.
I called her up and told her to look out her window
since I wouldn't be able to stop and chat, weather and other
conditions prohibiting. Her curls stuck out against
the dim orange glow of the lamp in her bedroom
as I slowed to a speed not too conspicuous, waved
and wished I could do more.
My stereo played the perfect song for the bad '80s movie moment
but that was no coincidence since I'd put it on repeat
for just such an occasion.

Hey, sometimes you have to make those memories just right
so when you embellish your stories later in life
you won't feel as guilty.

When I got to my mother's house they were all already asleep.
Part of me wished that I'd parked down the road and
ran through the rain so my glimpse through the window
would've been longer.

Sometimes you have to settle for hearing the same thunder.


In a fight between me and me, I'd pick me.

The thing I remember first about him
is that when we met in junior high
it tickled me pink to hear him tell
the story of how he had suffered two hernias
by that point in life already: one while being born
the other while trying to lift a heavy rock as a kid.
His personality didn't seem much stronger, either;
a cheerful runt who meant well, but all-in-all
just another bland sap with a huge bookbag whom
I was stuck sitting with in those boring honors classes
that obviously got me real far.

And the unibrow, the unibrow made it obvious
that he was very Italian. One day in English class
he further emphasized the fact when sonnets of different forms
were being discussed. He raised his hand abruptly
to point out that his last name was the root
of the Italian who invented the rhyme-scheme
discussed at the time. ABBA CDDC none of it matters;
that sorry bastard was just using it to get laid
like the rest of us, only it worked for him
and he got his name solidified in the annals of time.
And a few centuries later some kid
got to raise his hand and claim relevance.

I respected that boy even less after that day.
We'd be in the cafeteria and he'd make a bad joke
and the pity laugh that used to surface wouldn't come;
he'd sold his soul, and for what?
It didn't change the fact that sticks in the mud
stuck to more concrete things like the Periodic Table
and Trig formulas; and even his precious poem template
was a fake, a recipe designed for success that
only dished out more meaningless nonsense
meant to make ugly things sound pretty
make truths out of lies.

So there you have it, ______ ________:
the only bad thing I'd ever have to say about you.

I hope, if you ever read it, it means even less
than your great-great-great-great
grandfather's contribution ever did.

Let's both roll over and go to sleep now
knowing we've earned it with our own shoulders.


On the dangers of women with orange cars.

What the Brothers Grimm didn't tell us
was that the problem with dating Cinderella
is that every sucker in the whole damn Kingdom
swears he has her slipper, too

and that even Prince Charming's big, brown eyes
turn green every now and then as a result
(though any honest princess will confess
that she secretly likes that, the need to feel
desired being primeval, and all).

But hey, at least she ain't any got wicked stepsisters.
I'll take older brothers over them any day.


Once prescribed, but you don't really need them.

I know how it'll happen
twenty, thirty, forty years from now
standing in line at a grocery store
or gas station, if either still exists.

If I still do.

A tap on the shoulder from behind and
the click of the hammer being pulled back
though not necessarily in that order
or maybe just him asking if the name belongs to me.

The voice.
The voice will give it away
and the smell of cigarettes and mediocre whiskey
and I won't have time to explain
or even finish nodding my head
before these brains cover the counter, the cashier in front of me
as somewhere miles off graves roll and statistics cheer
as the cycle ends and truth prevails again
though the headlines won't show it, only a senseless act.

An old friend used to tell me
"It's not a lie if you believe it,"
but those are a coward's words to live by
so I let him keep his beliefs to himself
thinking I was any better.

It's best we formed factions, parted ways
but I see the similarities now.

The deathbed confessions of a sinner of our caliber
could take weeks.
It's a good thing I've got unemployment insurance.


Shit or get off the pot, Kid.

I saw a spider fall from my ceiling this morning
and instantly knew that somehow this
angered God more than centuries
of war in His name.


You sunk my battleship!

Summer storms hit like letters from home.
The thunder shakes the window panes
and I don't know whether to shit or go blind
whatever that means
and when it did tonight it came into focus.

I thought of her dog, Benji.
The one my parents got me
for my fourth birthday had the same name
until he ran away at the fireworks
and became roadkill somewhere on 9W
but that's another story.
Anyway, this Benji of hers
a little terrier of some kind I believe
really loses it when lightning strikes.
He wakes her up from sound sleep
when the thunder rattles the house
howling and hiding under beds
like my father's dog used to when his old man
came home drunk on Bacardi looking to beat up
on someone, usually my favorite absentee.

My rabbit was on the floor in my room
when that same storm hit tonight.
At first her muscles tensed and she jerked her head
poised for the worst, but after a few pensive moments
of risk analysis she resumed chewing on the socks
thrown on my floor. Yeah, sure; who am I kidding?
She wasn't contemplating the threat of death
she just has the memory of a goldfish
and went back on her merry way when she realized
she was still alive and well and breathing.

Rabbits don't have time for fear.
They're a breed that the fight or flight instinct
has overlooked.
If it all goes to shit and the rug's pulled out from under
they're all royally fucked, but they won't see it coming
ignorance being Swiss and all.

And I'm not scared either
so the animals are fitting.

Dead men may not tell tales
but I'd much rather have a story for Adolf
and the bunch when I finally get there.

Let's do this, long sleeves
be damned.

Currently reading:
"Hank: The Life of Charles Bukowski" by Neeli Cherkovski.


Your mother listens to Coal Chamber.

It's working a fourteen-hour day here and there
to pay for mistakes of your dead liver.
It's rinsing and repeating when the water turns gray
after said fourteen-hour day.

It's wondering if you left the sink running
or if your house is haunted, too.

It's peeling off the Band-Aid
and finding a tattoo of a Band-Aid.
You can't deny using sandpaper
when you ran out of tissues
or throwing bottles
when you ran out of ammo
that you should've rationed.

It's understanding when to bury hatchets
while maintaining the belief that even duct tape
and pocket knives can't fix some things.
You shouldn't have called, but you did
and at least now you know where you'll always stand.

It's staying out of all the gin joints in all the world.
It's telling Sam to never play it again
since neither of us can take it.
It's acknowledging that we never had Paris.

It's moving on.

It's ignoring the results of Sonny's initial car door test
and getting double the milk later on.

It's finally achieving it again, simultaneous completion
and knowing neither one is faking it, literally or otherwise.

It's realizing that no one really has any friends
just people who need favors
and we barter to get what we want
until what we need
but don't have
finally kills us.

It's late-night phone calls with eyes barely open
as best friends talk lent literature
while disregarding hypocrisy in verse.
(Double the milk as those further back, remember?)

It's telling you to go fuck yrself
and going to bed
almost content
though not for that reason.

Goodnight, motherfuckers.



The monotony of it turns my stomach anymore.
The dirty looks and snyde remarks the ogre role elicits
in the unrecognized name of responsibility.
The clean-up and the mourning after.
The hair-ties, bobby pins, backs of earrings.
Loose change from the pockets of loose women.
Paper bags from plastic dinners for rubber souls.
Expensive beer missing from the bottom bin in the fridge.
Cheap beer left half-drank on every flat surface.
Bottle caps, beer tabs, crushed potato chips.
Beer pong balls under tables sticky with spilled drinks.
The empty bottles I bought a few days ago
that I barely got to have any of before the bastards
cleaned me out, house and home, limb from limb.
And if they ever come back looking for their dignity
I'll tell them to check between the cushions of the couch.

The aftermath of a good time had too fast for the wrong reasons.
Phone calls asking him to come clean up the vomit
he left for me in the morning.
At least he's one of the few who will.
Still, it's sad to watch, has been for years.
I know why he does it.
We have similar reasons, only mine are mentioned
and almost go away from time to time for as long as
they choose to stay.
"Never let me drink that much and that fast again."
"Yeah. So we'll do it again this Saturday?"
"Yeah, give me a call."

It used to be all part of the game, but I've hung up my gloves.
Yeah, I know. I keep saying that.
And I bet you're looking
for a reference to yourself right about here.
Don't hold your breath.

Maybe all of this stems from
the cigarette I'm craving.
I smoked the last one in my last pack
today and want to see if I can go without that vice.
Bumming a few while drinking won't count
or after a hearty meal or mind-shattering sex--
it's the ones you suck on your down-time
at work every day that kill you slowly.

Somewhere along the way talent was replaced with style.
Shortly afterwards, the man with the biggest gun shouted
"Every man for himself!" and we've all paid the price ever since.
Or at least most of us.

I'm not asking for the strength to deal anymore.
I'm asking for a mortgage and locks that only I have the key to.
Well, only me and mine.

Bobby pins.
Jesus saves.
Gretzky scores.
Or did I mix those up again?

It's all the same.
And it will continue to be

until they're gone.
Until they're all

Today I quit smoking
like tomorrow I'll quit you.

But I have to go now, it's almost time.
Something tells me we won't get to the movie
and I don't mind that one bit.
In fact, it's the only thing.

Currently reading:
"The Selected Stories of O. Henry."