Life in the Big Leagues.

You stumble passed
your cracked mirror
at two in the afternoon
realizing two things:
you look like hell
and you get what you deserve.

So you made the six an eight: big deal.

The wind blew all the leaves off last night.
You're a week too late. Maybe more.

Of course there is a God, you fool.
Can't you hear him laughing?


The Hangmen of George Hillock

I'd been away with her for days; came home to
a sink full of dishes, a bar littered with empties
overflowing trash cans and general disarray.
Needless to say
I instantly wanted to leave again, head back
to her big city.
Twenty-five and still shackled to a roommate
is no pleasant state of being
but I can't have what I want yet.

After heading upstairs and unpacking my things--
a book I hadn't touched, some dirty underwear--
I went to pull the blinds and noticed something
floating in the bucket that I use to catch the condensation
under the air conditioner.
There he was, alright: the elusive mouse
that had been scampering about the second floor
darting under doors after stealing the rabbit's food.

The gray fur was thin and matted, his feet dangling below him
like tentacles of a jellyfish that'd never live to sting another.
It was quite a pathetic sight, conjured very little pity.

At some point he just gave up.
I wondered how long he treaded water for before succumbing.
What was his last thought?

The toilet flushed itself as the bowl filled violently with the contents
of the bucket, the mouse swirling
down to the septic tank buried beneath the front yard.
"Delivered by plumbing once again," I laughed to myself.

There's something to be said for the gracious loser, the one
who bows out humbly when he knows he's lost.
There's a story there, but not mine.


A maze in grays.

Right now
in Sweden
they're burning dead rabbits
to heat
their snow-capped homes.

Watch me swell
and fade
in the shoulder--
I'll be the madman walking
through the haze
of carbon monoxide.

We all want
to laugh with
in the dark.


Bury him in Gabriels, far away from me.

On a beeline trip for safety razors
(of the pink variety, mind you)
I witnessed a young father
in the produce aisle as he tried
to reason with his three-year-old son.
I could hear the frustration in his voice.
"Here, get in this cart (the kind with
the fake plastic kid-holder car attached)
since the one you're in now is broken and..."

The rest of his verbose explanation was equally arbitrary.
He should've just told junior to hop to
if he knew what was good for him.
A child who drools in his sleep
doesn't understand logical reasoning.
Then again, a man who still does
(and can't buy dark sheets for that reason)
doesn't understand much more
but I'll disregard this instance as anecdotal.

En route to my razors (well...hers)
I overheard a blonde mom in her late twenties
behind me as she answered her adorably redundant daughter
(who was also being pushed in one of those
car-shaped toddler toters, oddly enough):
"I love you, Mommy."
"I love you, Eliza."
"I love you, Mommy."
"Mommy loves you too, Eliza."
"I love you, Mommy."
"I love you, too..."
at which point I turned around and smiled uncontrollably
trying not to scare the two of them with my work grime.

My humble conclusion:
One out of two local parents has it right, knows what counts.

You can never tell them enough.
Some parents forget that; some kids do, too.


There's a crumpled picture of us behind the trash can
in my room. I'm sitting on his lap, my arms outstretched
for my mom behind the camera. (I must've learned
which parent was the better of the two at a young age.)
My father and I had the same eyes, even then.
In a fit of rage I went to throw that photo out a few months back
but retrieved it from the wastebasket. Somehow I felt it'd be
an irreversible sin so it sits on my floor out of site instead.
He doesn't deserve my love anymore
but despite his three-year absence I can't deny it's still there.
That's what hurts the most.

I won't become him.
And a eulogy is one thing I'd have trouble writing
if I even decide to go.


Blue chalk boxes, white chalk lines.

Those two non-cougars
put up a hell of a fight
but as the boys said
I was doin' work that round.
Three in a row, four in a row--
even called the pockets.
I set my partner up
to sink the final ball.
It was an across-the-table shot
that I advised him not to take.
Would've begged had their been no shame.
Sure as shit he sunk the cue
and surrendered the game of my life.
I swore the jukebox jinxed us, went back
to drinking my spiced rum cocktails.
The bathroom mirror proved her right again:
my new thrift store button-down was pink
not salmon. I may or may not have defiled the wall.

The next joint was no better in its luck index.
There was a five-dollar cover, a rare occurrence
for that painfully predictable hole-in-the-wall.
The band played mostly songs from
the same defunct grunge act.
A brother member caught my ear
and forced me into talking shop
for two cocktails and three shots
until the lights flickered
signaling Last Call.

My friends and I were filing out
into the downtown city street
when five gunshots echoed
from what sounded like a few blocks away.
Driving up the main drag towards home
revealed the crime scene.
Five squad cars formed a semi-circle around
a strip of sidewalk littered with
derelict denizens with questionable intentions--
roaches running from the rollers, a cynical street fair
at four a.m., more tax dollars thrown down
the tubes along with the life of a dark-skinned Duane Doe.

It happened too late to make today's paper
but I'm sure I'll see it in tomorrow's.
It's a small town, but not too small.
Someone besides my pool partner scratched on the eight.
Let's hear it for impeccable timing.



In the artificial darkness of your room
I battle backaches. Street noise. Hunger.
The temptation to get up.
Light oozes through
the cracks in the walls while you
let out little cat-like sobs of comfort
that I pray I've had a hand in bringing
with my stubborn presence.

Those green-gray eyes cracked open
or maybe it was a dream.
You swore you wouldn't sleep again.
I'm glad you tried one last time--
Your knees in my chest, your toes in
my shins, my calloused hands
between your warming calves.
I shove my head beneath the sheets
and smell our musty sex
hanging densely in the air-- once, twice
three rounds to take us down for good.
For good?
The best. The only.

The guys at work wouldn't get it.
Well, maybe a few.

I know now that to love is to
fight off insanity in shifts.

Your turn.


The Monte and a Skeleton.

We were seventeen
and almost virgins.
Couldn't hold our beer worth a damn
let alone our liquor.
Our cars had been around
the block, but we hadn't.
His was a knockoff of a common
car of the time, a terrible teal sedan
that reeked of suburban complacence;
mine an awful beige boat
with two massive doors as heavy as I was
and a front end that made
potential cutter-offers think twice.
Our portable CD players
plugged into our tapedecks
and we parked in the same
two spots on South Street
Monday through Friday
rain or shine or teenage angst.

We swore we were it, man.
Even had a band.

A few times at red lights
he made the mistake
of letting me get behind him
with that fifteen-year-old beast o' mine.
I'd let off the brake just enough
to snug my bumper against his, then
tap the gas in a mock attempt
at pushing him into traffic.
His eyes would flash wide
in the rear-view mirror
as his foot slammed on the brake
to try to stop the slow forward roll.
Whatever sophomore girl
was in his passenger seat at the time
would laugh. I'd blow smoke out the window
and smile as my torn speakers blasted
what then seemed to matter.
But music, like jokes, get old.

I wish I had it in me to rear-end
a friend while driving these days.
Whether the surveys admit it or not
we're gods at seventeen.


A few weeks' worth of mild heart attacks.

It'd happened several times since I'd seen him last--
My hand had gone for the horn prematurely
in a sad-sack false alarm
when I thought I saw his truck approaching
in the lines of on-coming traffic.
The roof-racks always proved to be different
upon closer inspection, the drivers had no beards.
My hand went back to the shifter.
The lump in my throat sank southwest.

Then today he finally called: made the same jokes
we've had for years, did his impersonation
of that journeyman we couldn't stand
but suffered through together.
It was good to hear his awkward optimism
not knowing how to respond, where to
next take the conversation.

When I got off the phone and went back to work
the pipes seemed to slam themselves right together.

I wasn't so alone anymore.
I had my make-shift dad back.

He's got more closet space than God.

"Keep my name out of your mouth,"
from a riled, silent bird
still ringing seven later.
It's no wonder some hearts
keep strict bankers' hours.

Peeling pipe cement
from my hairy, mangled arm
doesn't take the mouth
of the boy who's found a gun
under the pillow of his love--

I wipe, see blood;
Again, with hopes crushed
by the crimson in the hazel:

Some things are as
they should be.

It's like trying to describe
colors to the blind.


Riding on baloney skins.

Last winter I was driving home in my then-new truck during a brutal snow storm and had a near-death experience. I was on a hilly stretch of Route 94 in Blooming Grove, a road I've traversed hundreds of times in the last five years. A red Jeep, very similar to the one my father drives, ironically, lost control and came spinning at me at about forty-five miles an hour. There was no room to veer off to one side or the other since both shoulders were narrow and sloped down to deep ditches. My body froze as I braced myself for the worst, the friend on the other end of the phone still rambling. Somehow I managed to avoid being hit by the rotating death truck. It's spin was timed perfectly so that our vehicles were parallel at just the right time and I skated by unscathed. I looked back over my shoulder and watched the vehicle slam into a tree backwards. There was no way I could stop with how slippery the roads were so I informed a police officer at the bottom of the hill who was directing traffic caused by a fender bender.

Every time I'm on that section of highway now I think of that day. That red truck's still coming at me, I'm still waiting for the impact that isn't coming. Once burned, twice shy-- only this time I made it out intact. Sometimes the underdog breaks even.


fine print

I'd decided to take
the back way home
from work
since it was three-thirty
and school was getting out.
The winding road
passed through a valley
where vinyl-sided
split-level houses
cluttered the fields
that were once grazing pastures.
It seemed some sort of crime
against whatever god you choose.

The image presented to me
by the route was surreal:
All of the driveways
were the same shade of midnight.
All of the mailboxes matched.
Most strikingly of all, however
was that where each driveway
met the road stood an anxious
disillusioned mother waiting for
the bus that'd bring her husband's children
back home to pick at another
unappreciated meal, to dream another night
in a bed that was taken for granted.
They stood like rigid sentries
their eyes unflinching as they stared
through my windshield, through my entire
truck. I could see where their beauty once
was before the soccer practice schedules
and "late nights at the office" took their tolls.
The men whom they married may or may not
still have loved them, regardless of
whether or not their secretaries went
that extra mile. Maybe those women
were waiting for their husbands
at the ends of those driveways as well?
Was part of them praying that he
finally would confront the truth
and not bother to come home?
A bold assessment of the situation, you may say
but if you'd been there with me
to see the fire fading in their eyes
the notion wouldn't seem so far-fetched.

I sped through that gauntlet
and told myself none of that would ever become
the fate of my beloved.
Some promises, though no less important, are easier
to keep.


...and let this be the worst of my sins.

He conveniently misses my calls all the time.
I'd like us to be more than what we are, to get
him up to speed on me, to learn his ropes and landings.
The ball's rolling around on his side of the court.
I have a feeling it always will.
There's no one there to blow the whistle.
That's alright by me.

We're two old fish with numerous hooks
streaming from our proud, wide mouths
like tattered badges of valour and injury--
they ain't reeled us in just yet, would have to wake up earlier.

At least once, maybe twice
we sat in the high school library
on our common free period
passing sheets of loose-leaf
back and forth across the table
since the angry Asian librarian, all of four-foot-nothing
ruled her precious silence with an iron fist.
Our shared sick sense of humor
made it hard to contain our laughter.
Even nerds like us could get in trouble.
Saying 'us', meaning 'him'.

When the others poked and prodded
in those loud marble hallways
I wanted to stand up.
I didn't.
They say you regret the things that you didn't do
more than the things that you did.
It's true.

Part of me sees now that it didn't matter to him
anyway. He was on a different plane.
They couldn't touch him.
A forcefield of tragic humility.
The wisdom of an old soul.
Good God, if that's a lesson...

But I put those notes in a folder, made sure to keep them.
They're in a box somewhere in my attic.
I'll dig them up one day when he finally breaks out
and changes the world in some small way
as all of us who've known him
know that he will.

He forgets that about himself sometimes.
We all do.
I'm here to remind him.

He conveniently misses my calls all the time
but it's hard for a dunce like me
to be offended
by a brilliance such as his.

It's threadbare advice, but I mean it.


Two in the bush.

They were both in their early forties
but dressed and wore make-up
like they were trying to live vicariously
through their teenage daughters.
It was sad and painful to watch
from between the bottles on the other end
of the liquor store, their dirty blonde heads
yapping away like the ankle-biter dogs
that were probably waiting at home for them.

"Isn't this a good brand of vodka?" one asked the other.

"It must be. It's expensive. But my husband
swears by this one. Besides, no need to go all out
for the party."

Something told me her husband drank
whatever rotgut booze he could get his hands on
and with good reason. It's often easy
to pity a man you've never met at
a time like that. If the brief time I'd spent
in the presence of those two broads was any indicator
then there were probably a lot of nights spent
hiding in those vodka bottles after dinner.

"Excuse me, sir," the apparent alpha female hacked
in her mentholated cigarette rasp.

I glanced up from the bottle of red I was considering
and prayed she wasn't talking to me.
Even us heathens have a god in certain instances.
I lucked out.

"Yes?" replied the disinterested clerk from
behind the cluttered counter. I could see right through
his act. He was just as annoyed with these two as I was.

"Is there a discount on wine if it's bought by the case?
See, we're having this party, and..."

I could bore you with the facts and figures, but I won't.
Suffice it to say they got their damn discount
and then got the hell out of the store.

I had been waiting for them to stop taking up precious
real estate at the register so I could deposit my handles
of rum and vodka, my three bottles of cleverly named wine.
I set my alcohol down on the counter and waited for
the thirty-five-year-old clerk to ring me up.
Both of us were relieved with the store's restored silence.
The air had calmed as soon as the bells on the door quit ringing.

"You couldn't pay me enough to go to their party,"
I said as he started punching numbers into the register.
"Not without earplugs at least."

"I know exactly what you mean," he said.
The tone of his voice was appreciative; he was glad
that someone else had said what he'd been dying to say.

"Here, try a bottle of this," he said as he reached for some
vodka that was in a box to his left. "We're phasing it out."

This man I'd never met in my life took it upon himself
to repay my small gesture.

"Are you sure?" I asked as I handed him my bills.
I didn't want to take advantage of the guy, but who was I
to look a gift drunk in the mouth?

"Yeah. It's on me." His smile sealed the deal.

My ride home from the liquor store was vastly more
victorious than usual. Sure, I'd spent almost a day's pay
but that one bottle of free vodka made all the difference.
I knew I'd only gotten it because of my smartass remark
and that was fine by me. My demeanor has its benefits
when applied in the right situation, when I meet the right people.
Unfortunately, however, those people are being phased out
just like that free vodka.

It's not as bad as our mothers said it'd be.
It's worse.

Currently reading:
"The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz.

Don't get in a cab if the driver is caucasian.

"I think it's that one lid has
more skin," she tried to lie at first
until our better judgments kicked in
and forced the truth upon us
as is usually the case.
It's only recent news
that I've got a lazy eye
though I've always known
about the no ass issue.
My mother calls me "Plancha",
the Spanish word for "Board".
I've never forgotten to wear a belt anywhere--
I wouldn't make it out of the house
without noticing that my pants are falling down
since there's nothing there to hold them up.
Even physical abnormalities have their advantages
if you look hard enough. Just ask...
No, that'd be mean.
I'm cynical and self-deprecating
but not a heartless misanthrope.
Let the masses find their own specks;
I can see the plank in mine.

Last week I got a letter from myself
and though that I was tripping, that my mind
had finally unhinged.
Took me a few moments
to realize it was a
I'd submitted with my pistol permit application.
Now take a second to decide what's scarier:
the thought that there are two of me
or the possibility of me having a concealed handgun
should the fine County of Orange decide that
that's a good idea.

Work should be fun today.
It's four in the morning and I can't sleep.
The ceiling fan spins off-kilter with an unsettling rattle
and it's too cold for the window fan
so I'm shit out of luck when it comes
to my insomnia cure-alls.
White noise or whiskey
and it's too late for the latter.

It's funny, but no surprise--
any of it, really.
I remember the relief I felt
in third grade when I learned
about the water cycle.
Up until then I'd thought
that we turned off the faucet while brushing our teeth
to prolong the day when we'd eventually run out.
For those of you who find me neurotic:
you should've seen me pre-third-grade.