All I learned on love and loss I gleaned from window lickers.

Call it blatant irony
or tongue-in-cheek cynicism
but I swear I learned more
from the "special needs"
"special education"
or whatever "special" noun
is currently politically correct
in describing the kids
picked after the preps
and before the nerdy honors kids
in gym class
than they learned
in all of their sad little
lousy public school system careers.
(That was a magnificently cruel sentence
but if I'm going to burn in Hell
it may as well be for offending more
than a few ex-girlfriends
and some over-sensitive latchers-on.)
But please, allow me to elaborate.
It's for the best, and you have no choice.

Admittedly, I was one of those
kids picked last for basketball
whether or not I was smart
or just a good test-taker.
One time while in the seventh grade
at Newburgh's splendid South Junior High School
I was sitting on the bleachers
in my shiny new Nikes
when an obese "special" boy
approached me and demanded
that I relinquish my kicks.
Naturally I refused, thus prompting
him to try to pull them off.
I grabbed hold of the bleachers
and kicked at the boy in front of me
as he tugged at my sneakers
with one hand and tried to slice my leg
with the lid of a Tic-Tac container
with the other.
I was so confused by his weapon of choice
that I was laughing as I fended him off.
Needless to say I didn't go home barefoot
since I had both the high-ground advantage
and a bit more together in the strategy department.
His shoes were just fine anyway, there
was no need for mine
but that episode taught me
the first lesson I learned from his kind:
If you want something you have to try to take it
no matter the odds against you
and that means using whatever
weapons you happen to have, even the absurd.

Then there was the cafeteria crowd.
My oh-so-cool classmates and I
shared our table with the special ed kids
since neither subculture was strong enough
to claim their own territory.
The area of brackish water where salt and fresh met
in the middle was always interesting.
Their self-declared leader, Jose
was the most outspoken of the bunch
and enjoyed bragging about his status
as chairman of that particular board.
He went so far as to try to convince
my friends and me that the special ed program
which was called PLC in our school district
actually stood for a less-than-kosher entity
that ended in "Licking Class". Here I'll remind you
of the hormones racing through fifteen-year-olds
if that'll help you figure out that elusive first P word.
Was that an elective that anyone could take?
And was it really a good thing to admit
that one needed further instruction in said activity?
Mind you, these are rebuttals that I make now safely
from the comfort of my bedroom ten years later
since my sneakers are no longer threatened.
At the time I just laughed it off and went on eating.
Jose had taught me lesson number three, though:
Tell yourself whatever you have to to make it through the day
and spread the good word, even if others aren't naive enough
to believe you; it'll make you feel better
and it just might fool some of those around you.

For lack of an exciting lie I am forced to confess
that the third and final incident with, you know, also
occurred in a cafeteria, this time at Newburgh's
fine-tuned Free Academy.
The tables were small round jobs at that school
so we finally had more seating options.
Two friends were sitting with me one afternoon
during my senior year when we noticed that a plump girl
in pink sweatpants from the special class had been staring
in our direction for quite some time.
After scoping us out for ten more minutes
she waddled over and handed me a photograph.
It was a picture of her, but not a portrait.
She was standing in a parking lot with a dog
or riding a train with a crazy aunt
or maybe it was some other random scenario
that my memory has deemed irrelevant.
I studied the photo, then raised my confused eyes
to see if I could determine her intentions
but she had already walked away.
My friends were pointing and laughing at me
over my new girlfriend, but I was silent
because I realized I had just learned
my fourth lesson:
I attract mentally unstable women.

Come on, throw me a bone.
You almost smiled.
A little.


A failed attempt at an explanation of my exponentially increasing hermitic tendencies.

You'll have to forgive my trend as of late.
You won't have to, but you should
as it's nothing personal against you.
Take this as you will, but quite frankly
I wouldn't let anyone matter enough
to say something that'd register
as more than another blip
on the vast radar of meaningless conversation.
Your thoughts and words
just don't hold that much water
around here anymore.
That being said, I love you all
as only a penitent sinner can.

Take, for instance, a perfect
sociological example: the customary wake.
I went to one recently, hair gel
leather shoes and a black pinstriped shirt
one size too small
hidden with a wool peacoat
that made me sweat bullets
as if I owed someone there money.

--pardon me, I seemed to have dropped
my razor in the sink.--

So there I was, dressed to the nines
despite the denim jeans for lack of anything better
trying to seem comfortable around
ninety people, most of which I'd never seen
before, the rest of which were oddly removed family.
I stood in line with my mother
knelt down before the open casket
and paid my respects to the patriarch
of that side of the family.
What I said in my head I meant with my heart
and the part of me still soft truly believes
that somehow the waxen man before me heard.
That was the easy part.

When I turned and faced his nearly blind widow
sitting in the wheelchair I tried to think of what to say.
My turn came. I squatted down, held her hands
and whispered my identity in her ear.
Luckily her English is better than my grandmother's
so she understood most of my bit
but it didn't matter-- what could I possibly say?
The only words that came out were ones she'd heard:
that I was sorry, that he was a great man
that I hadn't seen this many family members gathered
in a long time and it would've made him happy
and then the lie-- that I'd pray for her
as if I still believe in anything other than my two hands
in front of me, and even those are questionable at times.
A lie! To a woman who'd just lost her husband
of sixty-three years and would probably be next to go.
I was lower than dirt. I was the most despicable Spic there.
I kissed my grandmother's sister-in-law on the cheek
rubbed her shoulder and walked away with the sad face on
the one that everyone else seemed to pull off perfectly
after their stroll to the front of the funeral parlor.
As I walked past a sign on the wall
I learned the real name of the deceased
for the first time: Eusebio.
And all this time I'd only known him as Chevin.

--sorry, that coughing fit in the shower
brought some of my dinner back up.--

I felt bad, I was saddened, I am not a heartless brute.
But I was thinking more of the end of the man's pain
and was happy for him.
I looked around and saw all these charlatans
pretending to care one second, laughing like it was
a cocktail party the next. It sickened me.
I went from corner to corner trying not to seem awkward
but it wasn't my most convincing performance.
My mother came up and told me I should go get some
fresh air since my forehead was beaded with sweat.
I did.

It was no better out there, though.
I called my girlfriend to try to escape the madness
but could only manage to keep her on the line for ten minutes.
There were at least five others sitting in various parked vehicles
who had left the building, but I didn't have my mother's keys
and was too ashamed to ask for them.
Pacing around the parking lot seemed strange
and impolite so I made my way back to the door.
There were men I'd never seen before
smoking and carrying on about inappropriate things
like the funeral parlor was the clubhouse at a golf course
the nineteenth hole, and not a place to say goodbye to someone.
One of them was even wearing a leather motorcycle jacket
with chains around the shoulder and an insignia on the back.
I wanted to smack the Marlboro out of his mouth
grab him by the collar, and shove him against the wall.
I wanted to badly.
And if I were the man I write myself to be sometimes
I would have.
But I can't always pretend to be the hero, not even in words.
It's a tiring stretch.
I walked back inside and found my mother.
She said I looked green and asked if I'd thrown up.
We left half an hour later.
I didn't attend the funeral the next day.

--please hold while I turn the water off.
the bug washed off the wall of the shower
didn't fit through the drain and drowned.
how unfortunate.--

My mother said the people who wailed uncontrollably
and had to be escorted out of the church
were the ones who used to go hit the old man up
for gas money, a twenty or a fifty at a time.
I didn't miss much.
Just another blown chance to call a spade a spade.
And that's just it, I can't handle most personal encounters.
It's gotten to the point where I avoid them all most times.
If I can't help you and you can't help me
then what's the sense in pretending otherwise
and wasting precious time with forced conversation
that I could spend reading and you could spend...
...whittling, for all I care.
Excuse the partial blasphemy or misinterpretation
but wasn't it Christ who said something to the effect of
"He who isn't with me is against me" or something similar?
Christ, or Orenthal James?
Either way, at least my view is not that extreme.
We just serve no purpose to each other.
I'd much rather entertain myself
than try to make you understand
any of the things floating around in my head.
I'd rather communicate this way
to hundreds of people at a time
than become frustrated in a more personal venue.
You can opt not to read this, I can find something better to do
with my life than to write it, but in the meantime
we're still talking, right?
I'm not listening.
And besides, you're not saying much back
other than the oh-so-clever references and misconstrued quotes
to insinuate that you've been checking in.
Well that's just dandy and incredibly original, really.

The Wizard had his (amazingly phallic) Emerald City
and commercial grade curtain to hide behind;
just leave me my door and my oversized obsolete monitor.

Now anyone care for a cocktail?
I swear I'm not such a shit with a few in me.
This one's for you, Unc.


the Tupperware wars.

Here's one for every man who's had a ring thrown back at him
and the poor convict so fat that they laughed and said
they'd have to shoot him for fear his head would pop off
if they tried to hang him in the town square;
insult to injury in an unjust...

...just keep that to yourself, young man.

"Paging Mr. Cockburn. Mr. Cockburn, please dial extension 227..."
Her voice will cut off as suddenly as it came on, things will return
to normal in the warehouse, and good ol' Mr. C won't dare
touch that phone since he'll know his wife will be on the line
asking whose number she found in the hip pocket of his slacks, and
if he's wielding his over-stuffed Vienna sausage elsewhere again.
"Mr. Cockburn, she says you'd better call or she'll mail that package
she's been telling you about for years."
Mr. C will put his head down at his desk, weeping like a schoolgirl
two weeks after prom night when she finds out Johnny didn't mean it.
But Mrs. Cockburn does mean it, and will mail that package
to the proper recipient, thus ruining several lives
and giving her one more reason to get that perm before the holidays.
"Cockburn, you're fired!" will come over the P.A. from his angry supe
but Mr. C won't still be around to hear it.
The things that people do to each other in misnomered love...

My metabolism's slowed since being laid off.
I only feel the need for one meal a day sometimes
since I don't do anything to burn calories
other than roll around in the sheets flipping through pages
though my armpits still sweat as I sit here and type
but that's out of sheer excitement, love for the game.
He probably heard me still stirring at four in the morning
getting that last line down last night.
When it comes you have to go with it, your mind won't
let you sleep until you write it
and that's how you know you should continue
regardless of who's still listening.
If the shirtless sweating in this sixty-degree house stops
then I'll take up collecting baseball cards instead.
Until then it's more of the same to keep me sane.

It's the difference between green squash and zucchini.
(Yeah, me neither.)

Bayamon, 1920.

"Don't marry an ugly girl," she said in Spanish
from half my height, shaking her index finger
and lowering her head enough
to stare at me with her one good eye.
I laughed more comfortably than I should have
and walked down the stairs to tell my mother
what the Old Lady had come out with this time.

The next day my mother asked me to watch
my grandmother so she could go to the funeral.
My mother's uncle had died, but my grandmother
wasn't being brought to the wake or funeral
for fear that she'd suffer a heart attack
due to the crowd, not to mention the trauma
of seeing her eldest brother who had raised
her and her siblings during the Depression
on a small farm in Puerto Rico
after their parents had died prematurely.
It was an executive decision made by my mother
and one that I supported.
The Old Lady's dementia was kicking in sporadically
and helping her forget.
We wanted it to be permanent.

"I'm sorry that I'm sad today. My brother has died.
Father God gives me the strength to deal
with these things, but it's still difficult.
Tomorrow I could be the one to go."
I rubbed her back and kissed her cheek.
"Not yet, not yet," I told her.
I know my mother will want me to write
something to read at that funeral.
I know I won't be able to do it--
the reading part, that is--
so she'll just have to live forever.

Her maternal instincts to feed me took over
and distracted her from her grieving.
We made some coffee together
and she chuckled as she admitted
that she needed me to turn on the burner
since my parents wouldn't let her use the gas stove.
"Have some cookies," she told me five times.
"Where is your mother? When will she be home?"
I knew then why my mom had jokingly asked me
to take her out back and shoot her when her mind goes.
The questions. The broken record. All day.

One can only drink coffee for so long
so we moved the party to the living room.
Another mistake on my behalf.
As she sat next to me on the couch
her eyes teared up.
"That's my husband," she said
pointing to the large oil portrait of him on the wall.
"He was killed in a car accident before
your mother was even born. I told him to be careful.
He was stubborn. Still, he was a good man.
I didn't want another after him."
What was I supposed to say to that?
More coffee?
I rubbed her back again as she wiped her eyes.
"That's me as a young woman in the other painting."
Seeing herself young and beautiful again
alleviated some of the fifty-four-year-old agony
of losing her spouse.
That stuff about it being better to have loved and lost--
yeah, I've got some land in Florida to sell you, too...

All went silent and her mind shifted gears
as we stared through the sliding door
at the feral cats playing in the back yard.
"They know," she said as she laughed.
I wasn't sure what it was that they knew
but I nodded my head in agreement.
Then she saw the painting of her dead husband again
and told me the tragic story as if I'd never heard it.
That cycle repeated itself twice until my mother
finally came home.
I'm not sure whom has it worse:
the senile person who has to recall a life's worth of pain
or the people who have to hear about it each time.

"The ceremony was beautiful," my mother told me
after answering my grandmother's barrage of questions.
"I'd never seen the folding of the flag before.
One of the soldiers played 'Taps' and there wasn't
a dry eye." I pictured the widow accepting the flag.
My great-uncle served in World War II
and they'd honored him for it in this way
sixty-three years later.
It seemed a good send-off.

I walked into the kitchen to say goodbye
to my grandma.
She asked me if I wanted some coffee.
I hugged her and said I had to go and see a man about a horse.
It was a send-off
though not quite as good.


Hollywood, 1949.

"You're out of line, soldier."
"You know what I think of your line."
"Is that insubordination I'm hearing, private?"
"I didn't hear any orders given, so no...sir."
"Drop and give me..."
"The time? Oh-Nine-Hundred, give or take."
The officer crimsons as the other lights a cigarette.
He'll smoke four in a row with ease if the air is right.
"You'll live to regret that."
The smoke blown in his face is the only response given.
That face turns a brighter red than the tip of that cigarette.
"They break men like you at Leavenworth. Men far better."
"Slow down, sarge. Who said anything about a vacation?"
"You seem to have mistaken my rank. Count the stripes, private!"
"It was a figure of speech. Lighten up. These rolled ones don't last."
He stomps the cigarette out.
The level playing field presents itself so they seize the opportunity.
Both men remove their shirts, hats, anything with ingsignia.
They step aside and turn their backs on the others on the set.
Golf tones are used. Nothing above a whisper.
The director shouts French obscenities as he flips through the script.
Neither of them will work in that town again, he swears it.
"She told you, didn't she?"
"Yeah. Can you blame her?"
"Finish the scene. Give them their ten-dollars-worth."
"You always were the truer artist."
"Don't you think the world knows that?"
"Come on, enough already. Ride it out, improvise if you have to."
They reapply their uniforms out of contractual obligation.
It's hard to remember whose line it is.
The private steps on the butt again and sneers to cue his friend.
"The only thing lightening around here will be your paycheck."
"Court-martial? Don't threaten me with a good time."
"Take this man away. He's a liability."
The private fixes his hands at his hips, his elbows pointed outward.
Two guards hook those loops and drag him out of sight.
He pops a grin and winks as his boot heels slide away.
"Anyone else want ten years of hard time?"
A resounding "No, sir!" comes from the ranks.
At least the extras stuck to the plan.
The wind picks up and the cigarette butt starts to smolder.
It's the first miracle of the morning.



I was in my father's house
where I grew up
a common dreamscape
as of late.
He'd gone out to the garage
and I'd snuck inside.
I was taking a leak
with the bathroom door ajar
when I noticed someone stirring
in the bedroom across the hall.
Peeping through the crack between
the hinge side of the door and the wall
I saw two round eyes watching me.
"Sorry," I said. "Didn't see you there
otherwise I would've closed the door."
"It's alright," she answered in a sultry
Eastern European accent.
"I've been wanting to meet you."
I was surprised he'd even told her about me.
After finishing my business I zipped up
and entered the room that was tinted blue
by the sunlight coming through the curtains
just as I remember it being in there.
She was sprawled out on the bed
like a woman posing for a painting
you'd see behind a bar from the Old West
right on down to the lacy white nothings
that barely covered her smooth young body.
Her face was very round and soft
her wavy brown hair neatly kept.
"How old are you?" I asked.
"Twenty-five," she answered coyly
rubbing her hands together and looking at the floor.
He's married a woman less than half his age
I thought to myself.
She must've heard the gears turning
because she chimed right in
with a list of Biblical figures with young wives
as if that made it normal.
Yeah, they were two peas in a pod alright.
"I won the Nobel Prize, you know," she said
as a last resort to her argument.
"In what?"
"Loving God," her naive smile replied
like such a category existed.
It was hard, but I managed not to vomit.
That's when I realized it was all a bad dream.
Soulmates, that was for sure.
My discontent didn't turn her off too much
though; the next thing I knew
my head was in her hands and she was kissing me
deeply, pulling my hands to her plump young buttocks
and whimpering like a Goddamn lamb.
"Where are you from?" I asked between breaths
while trying to escape Delilah's scissors.
"Canada," she lied.
Russia, the Ukraine, maybe a Polak;
she was no Canadian, not even the French kind.
She stepped out of the white doily shielding her loins
and pulled me down on top of her sparse sprinkling
of curly brown hair before I could protest.
The noises she made shed all innocence at that point.
It sounded like she needed it.
I heard a door slam outside and knew it was time to run.
The old man would be back soon.
"Fe Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of a Puerto Rican"
and all that jazz.
I pulled away and made my escape through
the blue curtains.

When I woke up shortly afterwards
I checked my phone and saw that my stepfather
and one of my employers had both called.
They must've known, they tried to save me.
No more pondering life before bed.
Even my subconscious is out for me:
My heart, on a platter, covered in Marinara, al dente.

It's so much legalese for something so simple.
He'll never get it.

Currently reading:
"Death in the Afternoon" by Ernest Hemingway.


It was easy to shine in a one-horse town.

My teachers didn't know what to do
with me as a kid.
I remember being bored and unimpressed
in the second and third grades
at Highland Falls Elementary
with subjects that I had already absorbed
one way or another.
"He's ahead of his years, with a very dry
sense of humor," one teacher told my parents.
I asked my mom what a dry sense of humor was.
She said she couldn't explain it to me.
I hoped it wasn't a bad thing.

Those poor middle-aged ladies
must've felt bad for me half-asleep
at my desk, or they just didn't want
to have to go out of their ways to
keep me stimulated.
Some form of undeclared arrangement
came about along the way where I
was allowed to conduct independent studies
on the faux-marble floor of the hallway
in a safe niche under the stairwell.
They'd try to challenge me with
a task that seemed appropriate
according to their training
but I'd always go my own route
and impress them in the process
with my extracurriculars.
Eventually they gave up trying to direct me
in anticipation of what I'd come up with next.
One time I wrote an investigative paper
on a locally famous mountain, Anthony's Nose
complete with interviews with my classmates
regarding their own personal experiences.
Then there was a trite little folder of
perfectly dreadful rhyming poems I conjured
which was still sitting in the drawer of
a bureau at my father's house the last time
I was there.
Stories, skits, battle scenes, board games designed
on huge pieces of oak tag that my teachers
willingly supplied; anything to keep me happy
and productive.
"He's so creative, Mrs. Vahsen.
We don't want to get in his way."
As if I'd let them.

On the contrary, I had them wrapped.
Sometimes I'd go so far as to request
the assistance of a classmate or two.
Certain projects needed more than one
person and my collaborators were always
grateful to me for being rescued
from the mundane lessons being taught
in those stuffy classrooms.
There was a boy named James Hilligas
who was frequently my partner in pointless ventures.
His sandy hair covered his head in tight curls
and his pale blue eyes and milky skin
gave him the appearance of a ghost
which is all he is anymore.
Other kids would be playing tag
during recess, but James and I
would be too busy finishing our latest project for that.
I don't know what ever happened to him
but I doubt he remembers the shy kid
with the big brown eyes who would
spend hours coming up with plots
and pictures for assignments that weren't assigned;
wastes of paper, more than anything.
A crusade against the grain.

My best work was done alone, of course.
Without the need to filter ideas through another mind
one could really lay it out there, really make those
stick figures come to life in whatever they were doing.
Choosing adjectives were never a problem that way either.
The down side of working alone on that glossy floor
in the hallway was that people walking by
often got the wrong idea and shook their heads.
They assumed I had misbehaved and was being punished
with banishment from the rest of the class.
It shamed me to feel that way in their eyes
but I never bothered trying to explain myself.
Besides, maybe in a way they were right.

Here I am sixteen years later
still under those stairs in a sense
and the only real difference is that
my poems don't rhyme.
No matter, though; it's gotten me this far.
Jimmy? You out there?


On stepping into the same river twice.

My father really pushed me
to go to The University at Albany
for a reason that didn't reveal itself
at the time
but it seems clear now:
One That Got Away
went there almost forty years ago.

His predictably awkward college visits
consisted of useless care packages
and coffee-fueled diner sermons.
I believe he was hoping
that somewhere in between
he'd find her still waiting for him
sitting by that hideous concrete fountain
at the center of the campus.

The last time I saw him two years back
he was ranting and raving about his current God
but I know damn well from the experience
of being his similarly-fated progeny
just who controlled the weather back then
when he was my age, and it was
that silly broad.

(You have to get up pretty early
to fool this one, Charlie.)

So listen, Pops, if you're out there:
we can suck on that bitter reed of life
for only so long, trying to keep it wet
for a second shot at that big solo
but guess what--
It ain't comin'.

You keep pounding your Good Book
and I'll crack the spines of mine
in our efforts to suck the marrow out
but that won't change a Goddamn thing, either.

(You have to get up even earlier
to fool that One.)

Silence is golden
but duct tape is silver
and you know I'm hard-up
for a line
if I'm stealing stuff
from bumper stickers
and my old man.

Give me her address.
I'll forward the loans.

Mild Profundity from Rm. 236 of the Oasis Resort (and Chinese Buffet) in Oneonta, New York.

That relic of a television didn't work
which was O.K. since we'd brought our books
and young libidos
but to be truthful
most of my learning
was done in the shower
as usual:

The best part about staying at a motel
is wasting all of those tiny hair conditioner packages
on your beard, your pits, your crotch, whatever
and not feeling one bit guilty.

Currently reading:
"Franny and Zooey" by J.D. Salinger.


No choppers, no napalm, no cavalry coming.

"It'll be a routine mission," Franco muttered to himself in his best John Wayne. Boy was that a lie. Most of the things stated at that briefing were incorrect: the drop zone, the locations of the various targets, the amount of cover provided by the jungle to aid in the ambush and the retreat, the number of men they'd be up against. None of those factors by itself would have caused the unfortunate outcome, but the combination of them was catastrophic. If any of those things had gone right maybe the rest of his squad wouldn't have been pinned down and slaughtered, maybe he wouldn't have been knocked unconscious by that concussion grenade and then captured. But it was no time for maybes; Franco heard footsteps coming towards the barn where he was being kept. He lifted his chin from his chest and tensed his muscles against the ropes that bound him to the chair. They wouldn't find him limp when they walked in. He owed his fallen comrades that.

Three coffee-colored men walked in without acknowledging his presence. Their shirts were unbuttoned down to the gut and they were laughing. Drunk, he thought. Celebrating their victory over an American Special Forces unit. The one who laughed the loudest produced a bottle from his pocket and passed it around. He could see the sweat dripping from their greasy black hair. The adrenaline of the firefight had worn off in their bodies and the alcohol was taking over. Good, Franco thought. These guys are like Boy Scouts with machine guns, and they don't have those machine guns right now. He was trained to take on multiple men twice his size at once. It was just a matter of waiting for the opportunity. Timing was everything. If only that grenade hadn't gone off when it did. He could still see his buddies' faces. He closed his eyes tightly and shook his head to get those thoughts out of his head. Spots of blood appeared on the floor every time his head swung back and forth. They must've roughed him up pretty bad. He didn't even realize he was bleeding until then.

Franco heard the squeaky barn door open again and fixed his blurred eyes in that direction. A fourth man had walked in carrying a burlap sack. He looked directly at Franco tied to the chair in the middle of the barn and hurled the bag towards him. It landed five feet short of hitting him. The severed head of his squad leader rolled out and stared at him. Elyosh. What was his first name, though? Franco couldn't remember. With a name like Elyosh what else would you be called? At least he wasn't married. The Department of Defense would have to stretch the truth in that letter-- "Died mercifully quick in valiant service to his Country." What they never included in those letters was what became of the body. Elyosh here was being used as a scare tactic, leverage to pry Franco's mouth wide open. He couldn't let that happen. He spit at the head and yelled in Spanish that he hated that bastard anyway. Letting on that he knew their language so soon might have been a strategic mistake according to the textbook, but Franco knew it didn't matter in this case. These guys were butchers. It wouldn't be long, whatever was coming.

The one with the bottle tried to pass the liquor to the head-thrower, but he shoved it back at his chest without taking his eyes off Franco. He barked some orders at the other three men and made his way towards Elyosh's pitiful remains. In a move reminiscent of his soccer days, the apparent leader of the group of guerrillas kicked the head right into Franco's lap. "There," he said. "Now you can tell him just how you feel." The man's Spanish was impeccable, not a mushy rural dialect like the others in the area spoke. He was educated, probably nowhere near the cesspool of a nation he was now in. Establishing the Man in Charge-- step one in the process of hostage negotiation, but this was the wrong chapter. Franco thought back to the ones on interrogation and torture. He couldn't remember a thing. The Army didn't teach you how to lose. Maybe that's why they were starting to, all over the world. Franco parted his thighs and let Elyosh fall back to the ground. The head made a dull thud like a coconut falling into sand.

The man stepped closer and introduced himself as Manolo. He wore the same tattered uniform as the rest of the soldiers in the compound, but with a sense of pride. It was buttoned properly and maintained to regulation standards that probably didn't exist. Manolo believed in what he was doing. That made him dangerous. He took one step back from Franco, pulled his leg back, and kicked him in the shin like his mother's dignity was on the line. Franco's eyes crossed in anguish, but it happened so fast that he didn't have time to scream. "We're going to have some fun, Yankee...but first you're going to tell me what I want to know." Franco glanced down at Elyosh and promised him that wouldn't happen. He thought back to the worst situations he'd been in, the hardest things he had to do. They all paled in comparison compared to the punishment that was about to be endured in silence for the sake of Duty; not the kind they pound into you as you go through the System. That was a Duty to Country, a blind patriotism that had gotten a lot of farmboys and dimestore hoodlums killed over the years. The type of dedication Franco would have to rely on was the kind that's only learned on the battlefield, the love for the man in the foxhole next to you. He'd been on so many night missions with that handful of men that he could tell which one was standing next to him based on the smell of his sweat. He looked at the head again. Elyosh always reeked of garlic, even when they'd been in the field for weeks on end and hadn't eaten food flavored with something other than the hot sauce supplied in each pre-packaged ration. The rest of the guys always made fun of him for it and told him that's why he hadn't roped a shackjob yet. The half of Franco's face that wasn't blackened from the gunpowder let itself smile for the first time in days. There. He had what he needed now.

"Oh, you think it's funny?" Manolo kicked his other shin so hard that the chair fell over sideways. Still no sound from Franco's lips other than the heavy breathing. His head was facing the back end of the barn so he couldn't see what was going on. He heard the drunk men across the barn stop talking. Something bad was about to happen. Manolo's voice cut across the room-- "Sanchez! Bring that can of gasoline over here!" A rustling of objects and deliberate footsteps coming closer made Franco's heart rate double. Manolo plucked the cigarette from his mouth and threw it on the side of Franco's head. The audible singe and smell of burning hair surpassed all other sensory information being delivered to Franco's fatigued brain. He thought this only happened in movies. He thought even if he did escape by some miracle his wife would never recognize him after what was about to happen. The liquid rained down from behind, soaked his hair and ran down his face. The smell of urine filled his nostrils and he realized he'd been duped. Kick, kick, bluff: that was the pattern. The soldiers standing near the entrance laughed and Manolo zipped his pants back up. "There," he said. "That's better." Three seconds later a foot came crashing down on Franco's hands that were tied behind the back of the chair. He felt a shattered bone pierce the skin of one of his fingers. He couldn't tell which one anymore. Kick, kick, bluff, kick. "That piss sure seemed to fall a long way before hitting me. Your wife must be terribly disappointed." Manolo laughed uncomfortably. They both knew who held the cards, petty insults at ones manhood didn't matter.

Manolo grabbed Franco's sleeve and pulled him back into a sitting position, this time facing the back of the barn. "What were you after? This is a low-profile installation with nothing worth dying over, not for you at least. Two hundred men and some anti-aircraft nests, a few minor political prisoners from local towns." Franco swallowed some blood and responded, making sure to roll his R's beautifully. "You might want to count your men again, you seem to be mistaken." More futile rib shots. Franco had nothing left to lose, he only wanted to die well. There would be no birds swooping in to extract him. Choppers would not be dispatched, the life-saving sound of their droning whirl would never be heard by his ears again. He couldn't even hope for an airstrike to blow them all to hell and put him out of his misery. Any knowledge of the entire mission would be denied by the boys Stateside. It'd be like Elyosh, Franco, and the others never even existed. That was the nature of the covert ops business, though. They knew what they were getting into when they signed up. He snapped out of this mental tangent to the excruciating pain of his broken hand being squeezed by his captor, the blood spurting from the hole where the bone was protruding and soaking into the dirt floor. Don't scream, he thought to himself. It's almost over.

There was a sweltering humidity in the air and the current circumstances were not helping matters. Manolo raised his hand to his brow and wiped the sweat from his forehead. His long fingers spread across his eyes and cheeks as if deep in thought. When he lowered his hand there were red smears of Franco's blood on his face. He stared intently at his prisoner, then glanced at Elyosh's head on the floor, finally fixing his gaze at the drunk soldiers near the door of the barn still drinking and laughing under the dim fluorescent light. Franco couldn't make out the meaning of Manolo's expression. In a tone more suited for a tax audit interview he asked him one more time why they'd been sent to infiltrate the base. As expected no answer came, just more blood on the ground from the wounded soldier's hand and mouth. "As you wish," he whispered before sweeping passed Franco, ripping his dog tags from his neck in the process, and heading over to the other men.

Franco pictured his wife and children, and his dead mother. His first love. The dog that ran away when he was a kid. Even the ninth-grade Spanish teacher who taught him to roll those R's. Then all went black and his stubbled chin dropped back down to that broad chest of an old-time prize fighter.

The shot rang out and scared the soldiers sober. "Why'd you kill him so soon?" asked the one who had offered Manolo the bottle previously. "You know headquarters would've liked to interrogate him." Manolo picked up the spent cartridge from the ground and slipped it into his pocket next to Franco's dog tags before answering. "He wouldn't have cracked," he said before gesturing for the bottle and taking a long hit. "Get rid of the body," he said without making eye contact with anyone. Manolo walked out of the barn and into the dense night air alive with insects and saltpeter. The mirror was cruel to him as he washed the blood off his hands and face in the latrine before leaving the base and heading home.

Later that night while lying in bed his wife asked him what was wrong, why he didn't want to make love for the first time since their courtship. "I executed a man stronger than me today. Somehow he won, even in death." He rolled over and faced the wall, wondering if she had ever really enjoyed a night of nuptial consummation. Had he ever pleased a woman a day in his life? A faint laugh came from the pocket of his pants crumpled up on the floor as the jungle hummed around his cottage for what would be the longest night of his life.


Locks of Love

The two nights a week I have welding class at my union hall are rough. I work eight hours, then lurk in a dark basement full of welding booths for three more hours. It's a long day and by the time I take my boots off for the first time in fourteen hours and take that much needed shower it's aleady almost time for bed. Tonight's mad dash from the hall's front door led to a careless mistake; when I whipped my keys out of my pocket one of them sprung loose somehow. It was pitch dark by that time, I only knew it had happened because of the clinking sound it made as it bounced off the sidewalk and into the dead leaves on the ground somewhere. I checked my keychain and all of the important ones seemed to still be there. No one likes losing anything, but I tried to focus on the fact that I could still drive home and unlock my front door, and that was all that mattered at the time. I'd find out what seemingly trivial thing I'd lost access to when I'd go to grab that random key and suddenly notice it isn't there.

At the first traffic light I hit during my ride home I pulled up next to an eighteen-wheeler. After inching forward toward the cab I looked up and noticed something large, brown and furry strapped into the passenger seat. I glanced over at the haggard old driver, then back at his mysterious guest to make sure it wasn't his wife. It wasn't. The black plastic eyes that were sewn onto the face reflected the red of the traffic light, and then the pointed ears revealed themselves. This guy had a huge stuffed teddy bear sitting next to him. I'd heard of taking a friend or loved one on those long cross-country treks, but this was something new to me. That guy must really get lonely to resort to that, I thought to myself. Then again, a stufed animal can't disagree or give an old opinionated trucker any lip so maybe it makes sense. But what about the potential for accidents caused due to passing motorists taking their eyes off the road in order to establish what that thing is? Does that really warrant the bear's presense for its faux company factor? And does he bring that thing into the bunk in the back of the cab to spoon with on those cold nights? My appraisal of the unsettling situation came to a screeching hault when those big shiny eyes reflected green instead of red. That bear was his business, and getting home to take those boots off was mine.

Something inside me forced my hand to hit my right directional on at the last minute, something that we'll refer to here as hunger. I knew I could have easily just headed home and crashed after my shower and a few chapters in bed, but that would lead to a miserable morning with a stomach aching until my nine o'clock coffee break. I pulled up to the window after placing my order to pay the girl who was obviously exhausted from a long shift due to the apathy in her voice over the intercom. It shocked me to see that it was someone I'd worked with eight years ago in the fast food industry, or maybe it didn't. She didn't recognize me with the beard and tattoos, but then again she probably wouldn't have remembered me if I still looked like that same clean-cut teenager. Seeing her there all these years later made me appreciate the fact that I was driving home from a tough day at a high-paying construction job followed by an annoying union hall function. It's hard to remember the old water marks at high tide. I handed her the money, she handed me the bag of food, and I made sure to smile and reciprocate when she told me to have a good night. She needed it more than I did.


All of that sympathy went directly out the proverbial window as soon as I got home, though. My stomach was growling so much that I sat right down at the kitchen table to eat without even taking those lead boots off first. A first inspection of the bag's contents frightened me at first, but I placed confidence in that girl's ability to fill a fast-food order after such a long tenure in the field. Maybe she put the biscuits in the bucket with the chicken? I was wrong, and therefore furious. No wonder she never made it out of that line of work, she couldn't even master such a simple task. Who can truly enjoy eating fried chicken without biscuits? Those three fluffy balls of dough symbolized more than three dollars' worth of my bill. I decided to head back across town to get them based on the principle of the thing. That's when it dawned on me: I'd become that guy who we always wondered about when we worked the post-dinner-rush drive-thru, the one who would waste more money on gas coming back for a forgotten item based on the fact that it should have been there in the first place. I was right: even if I didn't have the hairy face or ink she wouldn't have recognized me. And the second time talking to her that night, assertively and politely, she didn't. Maybe all of my changes haven't been for the better.

I pondered that for awhile until I became depressed at the realization that it's a sign of getting old. To lighten the mood I thought about some positive things such as getting paid the next day. That would mean having to swing by my boss' hideout at his favorite bar to have a beer with him, thus rescuing him from his stuffed animal crane machine addiction for half an hour or so, depending. That man can feed dollar bills into that sadistic contraption in pursuit of those worthless pieces of poorly stitched cotton for hours, and he will if no one is there to hold a conversation with him. One of the ways to gauge how long he's been at the bar is to see how many plush animals are sitting at the end of the oak in front of his reserved stool that he occupies from eleven-thirty in the morning until mid-afternoon. It's hard to leave that place without him pawning off some of those stupid toys on me, as if I have a long list of people to give them to just as soon as I can. They end up sitting on my couch for awhile until I bring them to work and toss them into the car of a coworker with kids. That train of thought made me realize what a hypocrite I'd been. I turned around and looked in the back seat of my truck and there they were, staring at me sardonically: two stuffed bears dressed like pilgrims and holding small pumpkins for the approaching holiday. Maybe that trucker was wondering what my intentions were, too. That verse about the speck of dust and the plank in the respective eyes came to mind, always one of my favorites. It's a good book, whether it's fact or fiction. I drove on, it was all there was left to do.

Perhaps it was Providence or just my need for closure, but that last issue was not going to go unresolved. My headlights illuminated the back of the car ahead of me at that last traffic light near my house and as I sat and waited for the light to turn I read the license plate: CKP 7671. That combination was just one digit off from the tag on an old car I used to drive. Turning on the dome light in my truck, I fumbled through the jangling mess of keys dangling from my ignition. The mystery was solved, alright. And though I haven't driven that car in several years now, sometimes, when I see a similar model on the road, I'd like to give it one last spin. They say you regret the things you don't do in life more than the things you do. Of course, again, they're lying.


Another way to look at it.

If it wasn't so practical
we'd kill it like any other weed.
The roots of one plant entangle
those of its neighbor
and spread throughout
millions of acres
across the globe.

Wheat, like man, is a virus.
It's no wonder we depend on it.


Rifle season started on Saturday
and the deer have been out
frolicking in fields trying to get theirs
while dodging bullets.
It's a tough game
that probably makes that
hard to acquire piece of doe tail
that much more enjoyable...
for the bucks, I mean.

On my way to class tonight
I witnessed that age-old dance firsthand.
In a desolate field no more than thirty feet away
I spotted an eight-pointer with a wide rack
chasing a doe back and forth.
It was such a National Geographic moment that I
had to stop my truck in the middle of the road to watch.
She'd stop short and cut back in the other direction.
He'd do the same, though not as smoothly
due to his hormone-induced state of arousal
and the mood cast by the setting sun.
I could practically see the drool
dripping from the corners of his mouth
as he tripped over his own feet
in that desperate attempt to land a lay.
A set of headlights in my rearview
prompted me to let up off the brake
and get moving again.
I asked a few other guys at the hall
if they'd seen the display, but none of them had.
I was the only one to witness that failure.
Something told me that poor buck
never got what he was after.
It almost made me feel bad
for all of the venison I'd eaten over the weekend.

After settling in for the night I thought
about that rare sight again
and called my adopted father of a coworker.
He's a big hunter
who always supplies my friends and me
with more venison than we know what to do with.
I told him about that chase scene in the field
and he explained it in a way that I hadn't
thought of yet:
"They're in the rut this time of year.
They're like you young guys--
they've only got one thing on their minds
and it drives them crazy to the point
where they're careless and wander out
into fields where guys like me shoot them.
You want some more deer meat?"
My response came quickly as if second nature
and he laughed that harmless old man laugh of his.
"You young bucks are all the same, alright..."

I didn't argue
but I wasn't about to turn down another free meal
on grounds of honor amongst thieves.
That buck should've paid more attention in high school
and found a job with good benefits.
Let's hear it for capitalism's effect on procreation
and man's exploitation of it in the form of a high-powered rifle.
Dig in, folks.
Our freezer's full.

Ring the bell when the flies come.

It tasted like a shot of sulfur.
As horrible as it was I had to take it
three or four times a day for the week
I was there, even at ungodly hours of the night.
The nurse would wake me
out of my tossing half-sleep
balancing a tray like some life-saving waitress
with the miniature can of ginger ale
and shot glass of rotten eggs
reflecting the dull light of the television
that the thirty-something-year-old Hispanic male
diabetes patient in the bed bed next to mine
refused to turn off at night.
He'd recently had a leg amputated so I let him
have his solace in possession of the remote control.

"Sorry I had to wake you," the nurse would say.
"You didn't," and it wasn't a lie.
I'd wager my pension that it's harder to sleep
in a hospital than it is in a pinned-down foxhole.
She'd pass me the cure
which tasted more like a punishment
and disappear back into the bright anesthetic hallway
of that fifth-floor wing of Albany Med.
I'd roll back over and try to get some shut-eye
but it never amounted to much
with the thoughts of repercussions
racing through my head
and the dull ache of the I.V. in my arm
reminding me that it was not just another bad dream
from which I'd wake still drunk off whiskey
in the sweaty sheets
of that twin-sized bed
in that collapsing dorm room
where I chose to fall apart
despite the full scholarship
and abandoned earning potential.

The next day in the hospital was always a new adventure
a new lease on a life I thought
would cease to exist on March 27th
of the Two Thousand Fourth Year of Your Lord.
I'd even have a new lady-friend sitting next to me
furnished by the hospital's list of stand-ins
to make sure I didn't get any more funny ideas.
It took me a couple hours to figure out
this woman's true purpose was at first
but cut me some slack-- it's hard to think straight.
with that kind of buzz.
I realized their role when I noticed how official
the changing of the guard was once their shifts had ended.
She'd gather the books, magazines, and snacks
she'd brought to pass the time while watching over me
like some sort of sad guardian angel, sign a sheet on my chart
and relinquish her chair to the next person.
Most of them were middle-aged African American women
in pant suits and heelless dress shoes
who smiled wide enough for the both of us.
They'd wonder how such a pleasant young man
could have done such a thing
while I'd wonder how the hell one goes about
applying for such a morbid job.
But they weren't always such pearly-toothed mothers
who looked like they belonged on a pancake syrup bottle.

There was one babysitter who stands out in my mind now
as I sit here regurgitating this embarrassing time, mostly
naked and wrapped in a blanket
with fingernails a touch too long to type comfortably
on this brisk November morning.
She was also black, but much younger than the others
and had a vastly different demeanor.
Her clothes were too tight to adequately contain or conceal
her incredibly round body parts and it made her look like
a grape whose skin was about to burst.
The tight curls in her hair hung from her enormous round head
like tendrils from a rotten pumpkin
and she seemed more concerned
with her professor's homework assignments
than paying any attention to me.
Sometimes I'd try to break the awkward tension by making small-talk
with these people, but this one wanted no part in it
so I gave up trying. I quit my gracious attempt at contrived levity
I arranged the tubes connected to my arm in a manner
that would not allow them to pull out with any sudden movement
and pretended to sleep. I thought it would be easier
to keep my eyes closed for her six- or eight-hour shift
than to consciously tolerate her obvious distaste.
This one wasn't going to make it that easy on me, though.
For the second time in a week I was about to learn
that tuning the world out will not get a female out of your head.

That obnoxious sulfur shot intended to save my liver
that I mentioned before had certain side effects
mainly of the olfactory variety.
After drinking my dose of that elixir
the stench would seep through my pores
and out of my body in gaseous form
from both ends.
It didn't help that they wouldn't let me shower often
since someone would have to watch me.
I knew it wasn't a pleasant aroma
but none of my previous surrogate mothers
had made me notice their disgust.
This girl was different, though.
As soon as she thought I'd dosed off
she reached into her bag of tricks
pulled out a can of air-freshener
and started spraying it in my general direction.
I felt the fine mist of citrus-scented liquid
fall to my face and tried my hardest not to
rip out the needle, spring to my feet
and run out of that place.
My muscles tensed up as I laid there and took it.
I accept it now as a brutally honest moment
that shouldn't be taken for granted:
I stunk to her, the World stunk to me
and neither of us wanted to be there.

She repeated the spraying process a few times
during the course of her sentence in that chair
next to my bed, but it bothered me less and less.
It was still hard to contain myself, but for different reasons.
I fantasized about ripping the can from her hands
lighting a match, and using it as a blowtorch
to singe off those awful curls of hers
or maybe just incinerate her precious college textbook
that was sitting on her inflated lap.
Like so many other things that could've stumped another
it all became a game to me.
I had to try not to laugh as I laid there in a fake sleep state
for fear of seeming quite the lunatic
and being transferred to a "different wing" by those in charge
of my immediate fate.
She gathered her things when her shift ended
and as she wobbled towards the door
it took all of my composure not to mutter something
derogatory under my breath while still pretending to be asleep.
But I didn't want her to turn around.

I wanted her out of my life for good, and she has been
until this day when it's suddenly appropriate to bring her up;
or maybe not appropriate, though necessary
for my current sanity which hangs in the balance daily.
Ah, catharsis, old friend...

Anyway, she left. My roommate with the bandaged stump
where his leg had once been
didn't wait two minutes before pulling back the curtain
and filling me in on what a rude so-and-so she was.
"Man, you won't believe this. That girl
was spraying air-freshener over your bed while you slept."
Again, it was hard not to laugh.
"Yeah? I thought it smelled better in here."
He wasn't such a bad guy, despite his television addiction.
"I know how bad that medicine smells, but I know that it tastes
even worse. I did something stupid when I was a kid, too.
It gets better..."
Then he whipped the curtain around again.
That last confession was his attempt
at a masculine consolation and it drained him.
I appreciated it for what it was and felt bad
when the doctor came in that evening
to inform him and his wife
that the other leg would have to be
cut off as well.

He lied, though.
"It" doesn't get better.
In these four years
the world has gotten no less cruel--
I've just found better ways to manage.

All this must be hard to take
coming from a man who still believes
he can cause objects to levitate
by holding out his open hand
and concentrating very hard.
It's all in the wrist.
Try it sometime.

Currently reading:
"Portions From a Wine-Stained Notebook" by Charles Bukowski.


letter downer

there's something on the wing
and it's not going away
any sooner than
that green penny on the bathroom floor
that's been there for months now
and will be forever.

but don't fear an old dog
whose tricks you already know.
as he slobers all over himself
you almost feel bad
for what you know must come.
the back yard and the rifle
won't ever look the same again.
shouldn't you spit some out now?

masking the whiskey
with grenadine and coke
is almost as bad
as masking the rest
with that omniscient grin.
with enough cherry flavoring
anything is tolerable.
even you.

well, i only waste words when i want to
and tonight i just don't.

so skip the foreplay, woman.
it's 10 p.m.
do you know where your children are?


Depth charges.

It used to be great news to hear
about a teacher's sudden misfortune
that led to their absence
and the feeble attempt at
compensation made by the Powers That Were.
The Board of Ed could always
manage to find someone
to take attendance and maintain
basic order in the classroom
but little else; no real scholastic progress
could be expected.
We knew that they knew
that our real teachers knew
that those poorly photocopied worksheets
were as much of a joke
as the substitute teacher's
pending degree in, say, basket-weaving
or philosophy.

But when we got a Sub who truly stood out
it sometimes made the forty-minute period
more interesting than the pointless movie
being played in the background, left
in the teacher's desk arbitrarily
in case of just such an emergency.

There was this one clown who fit the bill
at the junior high school I attended.
I forget what his name was, something vaguely Italian
but I remember just what he looked like--
a short, stocky man who came across
as too rough around the edges to work
in a school, but too innocent to work
on the dock or in the shipyard where he probably belonged.
His greasy gray hair was always just barely combed
as if he'd slept in a car for three weeks straight
and his flannel shirts were always managing
to untuck themselves from his jeans by the afternoon
but what really stood out about this poor man
was his footwear: he always wore a decrepit pair
of black rubber winter boots that a grandma would wear.
It was for this very reason that he was dubbed 'Snowboots'
by those of us who knew of his existence, and it
was all fun and games until it came to a head.
One day, months after the silently awarded nickname
had come into play, one of my more outspoken classmates
decided to ask Snowboots why he was wearing snowboots.
"There's still snow on the ground where I live," was
his response, which would've seemed reasonable
if it wasn't for the season.
"In May?" the kid asked as he smirked
and rolled his eyes towards us.
He'd won, he'd belittled Snowboots
and asked what we were all dying to know
but somehow it wasn't as enjoyable
as some of us had hoped.
Now, looking back, maybe Mr. Boots was even
telling the truth.
I've seen stranger things in these ten years since
than snow on the ground in May.

Mr. LaMoth was another such individual.
He looked like God's cruel joke
of a Disney-style talking burnt match
who was cut from the final version of
'Beauty and the Beast'.
The poof of wild gray hair atop his lanky
tanned body perfectly crowned
the expressive face carved deep
with crow's feet and made further ridiculous
by the Coke-bottle glasses that
doubled the size of his eyes.
Talking to him, one walked away no wiser.
His sixty-some-odd years of existence
had made him no smarter a man
than the bottle he'd obviously clung to had
and it led to some amusing legends.
Some said he claimed to be an ex-CIA assassin
others said he had to register when he moved
into a neighborhood, and when he disappeared
from our high school mysteriously the common rumor
was that he'd been dismissed for kicking a student
(the same one who questioned Snowboots' footgear, naturally)
who pushed him over the edge with relentless taunting.
Despite the fact that all myths start with some truth
and that he was an odd duck loaded with bad puns
and an obvious unhealthy affection for high school girls
who told my class he had a "pornographic memory"
on more than one occasion
I just think he was a lonely old man
who had no sellable skills
that could get him those hundred-dollars-a-day.
He was humanized in my eyes
when I learned that he lived on Homeland Ave.
in Cornwall, the same road where my girlfriend
at the time lived. His big red-and-white surfboard
of a car from the late Sixties, early Seventies
somehow made such sense. What else would he drive?
If someone asked me to recall one time
when LaMoth almost did his job effectively
without seeming like a total freak
I'd tell them about the time he subbed
for my History class and had us watch 'Casablanca'
for the few days in a row that he had us.
He tried explaining the backstory
of the Visci government and how they were
only a front put on by the Nazis.
That was the first and last thing
that the man ever said in my presence that made sense.
When that plane took off at the end of the film
I knew why his eyes were glued to that TV screen
as he sat in the chair at the front of that dark classroom
with his back to facing us.
I knew because I felt the same way.

But here I am now
long since out of school
with nothing more to show for myself
than these half-complete men
who used to serve as an example
of what not to become.
And all three of us probably have
those same fifty-seven college credits
though in varying useless gen.-ed. subjects.
It's enough to make me believe
that Someone wrote this script
long before I even started to act it out.
I'll try to break a leg, Old Man;
just don't be surprised
if I use your name in vain afterwards.

Currently reading:
"To Have and Have Not" by Ernest Hemingway.


(epic) blog fail

left eye's been having spasms
more and more frequently
for the last few days.
when it happens it feels like
there's a maggot trying
to squirm its way
from under my eyelid.
unpleasant, though probably harmless.
sight slightly distorted, blurred
depth perception thrown off a bit
and it vanishes as abruptly as it came.
chris says it's a lack of potassium
but i say it's a lack of soul
and besides, us puerto ricans
fry the nutrients right out of our bananas.

couldn't sleep last night, circadian rhythm's
been thrown way off by the unpredictable
schedule i've had since the lay-off.
sleep til eleven, read, rub one out, write
if i'm lucky, read again, brush my teeth
avoid putting pants on at all costs.
but last night it wasn't just the redundancy
that kept me up, it was him.
and what kind of wife, what kind of woman
must he have found if she can't convince him
to do the right thing and pick up the goddamn phone?
i tried the pen, it didn't work. it's his turn.
not holding my breath.

and when i finally did doze off
i dreamt i was at the bar and my coworkers were there
but i couldn't allow myself to have fun because
there was a gas manifold i had to work on
and tom and dave were shaking their heads
at my failure, two of my three surrogate fathers
who secretly fight for the right to call me son
and even when the bartenders' shirts came off
and tom started dancing and singing with the band
i couldn't be distracted from those damn pipes and fittings
that will continue to haunt me for the rest of my life
laughing all the way to the bookstore.

rest in peace, rizzo.
you couldn't have saved that cowboy anyway.
he'll get his kicks on route 66.
what does that even mean?
nothing. it was just a great book
from an unsung hero.
more books than heroes these days.
fuck it, i'd settle for a peer.

(30 views today
and i haven't even posted lately. the regulars
have already had their fix last time
so that tells me this one's new.
that means i've been 'discovered'
again, another person clicking away
at the life of a stranger, a voyeur.
it's almost as sick
as the fact that i analyze it.
you hide behind your monitor
i'll hide behind mine
and we'll call it even.)

i give up. i'm forcing it tonight.
you can't take a shit
if your guts are empty.


"...to make us the Perfect Pair."

Christ, light a candle.
It reeks of pork and sodomy in here.
Is that all you've got?
Is that all??
How precious...

Copper-bottom pots
mangled by the celery stalks
and years of loose resolutions--
two raspberries atop
the milky domes of motherhood.
Oh, bury my heart at Wounded Knee.

I hope I fall to salmonella
contracted while licking brownie mix
from a spoon you've yet to wash.
There's your hint.
Throw me that bone.

Until then it's more of the same
bumpin' uglies on the reg
a dead geisha in the trunk of an '83 Caprice
head severed, tilted to the right.

Let's compare notes.
Drive yourself home.
Boil it down, see what you have left:

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Orgasm.

Currently reading:
"Exile and the Kingdom" by Albert Camus.


This used to be cartoon time.

My back doesn't care
if it's Saturday or not;
it'll only let me roll around
in bed for so long
before it reminds me
by means of dull aches
that it has other things to do.
This is what led me to my desk
on this particular morning, the
window open and fan on
due to the unseasonably warm weather
that almost made it too hot and stuffy
to sleep next to another person
last night. Almost.

I turn and look at the crumpled mass
hiding under the blanket, a delicate
yet muscular leg shooting out from
one end, a tangled nest of hair
draping over the pillows at the other.
The neighbor is mowing his dead lawn
for the third time this week
and I'm wondering if he really
hates his wife that much.

I glance over at my phone on my desk.
No one interrupted our slumber.
No one tried to get me to come out
and put on the show, the heavy-faced mask.
No one called for any reason.
Those are the good nights, when people
respect my walls enough to let me use them.

The urge comes to urinate so I rise and head
to the bathroom in the half-light of a cloudy 9 a.m.
When I come back in I hit the light switch
in the hopes of inspiring her to rouse herself
or at least let me read while she sleeps
but to no avail.
She groans something in the tone
of a cuter version of Frankenstein's monster
akin to what an elementary school student
would say to his mother about not wanting
to go to class that day.
I turn the lights back off.

"It's nine o'clock, Honey. We went to bed at midnight."
Then I come close to singing
some Jesus song my mom used to sing to me
about rising, shining, and giving God the glory
to further back my argument, but refrain
for fear of seeming a hypocrite.
"I know, but it's Saturday..."
It sure isn't much of a case
considering the both of us usually function
on a little less than two-thirds that amount of sleep
but it's enough to quiet my limp-wristed protest.
There's always the computer, there's always the rabbit.

I lay down beside her, thrusting my left arm under her neck
as she nestles her head in circular motions
in that spot between my shoulder and neck
right above my collar bone. It feels good for five minutes
but then my back starts to throb again.

She tells me about the dreams she had
without bothering to open her eyes.
"My friends and I went out
but we couldn't get into any of the bars.
And then you and I were about to get married
but you stood me up at the altar."
I wonder which nightmare was worse:
being denied alcohol, or being denied an alcoholic.
I rub her head and twirl a lock of hair
as she rolls back over and drifts off.
"OK, Sleepyhead. Get some more rest,"
knowing she didn't hear me.

A conclusion is drawn as I mull over what she said:
that damn mattress causes a lot of nightmares.
Must be something in the springs.

I get up out of bed again, done for good
with that cursed place for the morning.
Once she wakes up it'll be back to normal;
breakfast, brushing our teeth together, plans for the day.
Once I can turn on the light to read I'll be fine.
But like I said, until then
there's always the computer, always the rabbit.


If you need a stool sample you'll have to peel me from the oak.

The sound changes its hiss
when the shower goes cold
after someone flushes the toilet
or puts up a load of laundry.
It's something else
trivial and overlooked
that we'll take for granted
until we reach the point
where the lines on the pavement

I gave the time
to the girl in the green dress
once or twice
and it broke both our hearts.

Still, though he's sometimes soaked
with whiskey, bad puns
and even worse decisions
I still have that bluebird
down there somewhere
as I'm reminded every morning.
(Lures and matches, for another mattress.)

And someday I'll storm that gate
with my army of good intentions
bringing up the rear
and Saint Peter will laugh me
right off the battlefield.

No bother;
until then I'll keep on
making sure my decisions
aren't made in a vacuum
and not caring
that no one carves pumpkins anymore.

So take the toothbrush
to those teeth and lips
scrub away last night's purple failure
and drive yourself to work
still affected
but seeing straight enough
to dodge the next round.

On guard, motherbitch.


Green Goddess (Un)Dressing

Most mornings I wake up
and it's under my pillow
as though in my sleep
I hid it from whatever might
take it in my vulnerable state.
This time I knew exactly
what I was protecting it from.
In my last bout of sleep
I dreamt I was in my last employer's mansion.
I urinated in his toilet
not caring that I missed a little
turning some of the small blue tiles green.
Then his wife came out
in a dark brown suede jacket
only it wasn't his wife--
it was Jane.
She had dyed her hair dark
or maybe the color she'd shown me back then
was the false one, but those piercing
blue eyes gave it away regardless.
She was older in the dream
older than me even
with fine wrinkles around her eyes and mouth
that didn't succeed in detracting from her beauty.
I tried to tell her something
but my tongue was all jumbled
and she continued about her business
whatever it was
with a demeanor similar
to that which we'd both agree I'd deserve.
It was all too real
and when the alarm went off I was glad it was over and
only a dream, thankfully one I hadn't had in awhile.
That's the rub about ones like that--
they'll change your outlook on the potential
of the female form, for good and bad
and are far too clever and vindictive to disappear forever
even after the last call
which occurred on my way to New Hampshire.
But it didn't matter, since like I said
when I woke it was still under my pillow
and I stretched my limbs in preparation
for the day I was about to face.
That's the beauty of the sleep cycle:
it allows us to start over every twenty-four hours.
It's never as though a fragrance worn
for ten straight years has been discontinued.
It's never too dramatic to face
though sometimes a scream
with the windows up on the way to work
or a stiff cocktail before bed
or a phone call from your fiancee under that pillow
are needed to cope.
My bitch is in heat.
Where's yours?

Currently reading:
"Midnight Cowboy" by James Leo Herlihy.


Goodbye Sky Harbor

came on as I drove past
the shortcut to the high school
I attended six long years ago
and the tail lights in front of me
stretched and blurred.

But like Jimmy once said:
"I am but one small instrument.
Do you remember that?"

I still have
The Dream.
I hope you've shook the nightmare.


Now Buckwheat, please use the word 'dictate' in a sentence.

It had been years since I walked into that Army-Navy store out in Port Jervis. When I was a kid my old man and I used to stop in there whenever we were in the vicinity on a fishing trip to the Delaware River. He'd buy me some random piece of seemingly useless yet undeniably cool military surplus to add to my collection: a backpack or camouflage clothing or a trench shovel or a gas mask or a dud grenade, thus making my backyard Rambo fantasy sessions all the more real, and making him the hero once again. It became harder for him to be the man I needed as years went on, but that's another story.

So there I was two weeks ago, perusing through that same olive drab green merchandise a decade-and-a-half later. My wool coat, tongue-in-cheek thrift store T-shirt, tight Levi's and running sneakers made me stick out like a sore thumb. The thick beard I've been growing out didn't help the situation any, the Taliban look not being popular amongst God-fearing gun-toting good ol' boys from them there parts. Employees were sizing me up from the minute I walked through the door and I felt their eyes burning holes through my back as I thumbed through bins of stuff that would've gotten me excited as a kid and still had a nostalgic effect on me somehow. Finally, one of the burly ex-Marine (wait, there's no such thing) behind the counter manned up and asked the question they'd all been dying to hear answered: "Can I help you with something?" I quickly flipped through the rack of BDU shirts in front of me until I found a plain green one, held it up and asked if they had any in the back in a larger size. "No, we only carry them in sizes not made for real people unfortunately. Anything else would be special order, I could have it hear in a few weeks." He must've seen my spirits drop due to that last bit of information, considered the dense beard I had and put two and two together. "Let me guess-- you're going to be Fidel Castro for Halloween." My face lit up at his recognition of my intentions since it meant I'd chosen wisely. If this country bumpkin got it then my far more cultured friends and colleagues would for sure. I told him I had the right hat, pants, boots, and cigar to wear to my friend's party. He reassured me that those items would be enough to pull it off and that I wouldn't be mistaken for Papa Smurf. I laughed and told him that I had an OD green jacket from ten years ago, but wanted a shirt in case the coat got too hot to wear. We shrugged our shoulders simultaneously and went back about our respective businesses. I got a pair of WWII-style large-lens mirrored aviators and drove the forty minutes back home.

The costume went over well. I was pleased with the laughs I got out of it. One girl called her grandmother to tell her about it because apparently the old lady has had a crush on him ever since his coup in Cuba in the middle of the last century. If only my boy Fidel could have been there that night to see me do him justice, stroking the beard and biting the thick stoagie while refraining from trying to mimic the accent since I knew I wouldn't be able to pull it off consistently, especially as the alcohol set in. Somewhere on his island he was laying in that deathbed of his that he's been in for awhile now, rolling around on bed sores and cursing his failure to go out still standing. That's not to say that I feel bad for the guy. I heard recently on a radio talk show that in some form of autobiographical work the former Communist dictator claimed to have slept with 70,000 women in his lifetime. That's way more than basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain's impressive 20,000. That's probably a decent chunk of the Cuban female population. Did he have secret police who raided bars just before last call to round up unsuspecting women? I don't care how much game a man can spit, those kinds of numbers require some form of forceful tactic; roofies and duct tape, the Horny Gestapo, mail-order brides paid for by the national economy, something. And you also can't convince me that he would confess to sleeping with most of those women to his friends. With those numbers there's just no feasible way that the majority of them were attractive enough to brag about the next day at the bar. "Si, hombre. Me and that fox Marrrria really heet eet off last nah-eet." Chances are he kept most of the truth to himself. Quantity over quality, which may or may not have went along with his fiscal-political stance. Either way, pimps up/hoes down. Fiddy, this Bud's for you.


Where dodgeball victims congregate.

It's kids in casts
riding bikes too fast.

It's cigarette butts in the concrete I mixed
and those who step out of the shower to piss.

It's trying to use a plumb bob
on a windy autumn day.

It's references caught and dropped and missed
since we know that you know that I know
and don't care.

It's not a bandwagon
I'd expect to see you on.
It's keeping it that way.

It's going into the bookstore
and bumping into no one.

It's not being able to look across the table
and knowing what it means.

It's none of yours and all of mine
and from here on out that's just fine.

It's hard water in a hotel shower
and boy did we take baths in there
though we barely fit
with armpits smelling of moldy tents
and tired organs played just right
to the tune of 10,000 disapproving mothers.

It's my toes curling in my shoes
and how she won't like me saying it.

It's making the beast with two backs
as we both show our age.

It's plucking the crumpled photo
from the trash can.
(She didn't know I couldn't part--
the last act of a desperate man.)

It's a phone call at one in the morning
over a Dostoevsky story that got her down
and how right then I knew
all over again.

It's kids in casts
riding bikes too fast.
It's a drunk who drove his truck
kissed his driveway, then passed out.

I won't let me
let you down.

Currently reading:
"The Poetry of Pablo Neruda" edited by Ilan Stavans.