And so they takes pages from
the book of my father:

I'd rather be hated
than forgotten.

Do the Devil's clothes
smell of smoke, too?

Currently reading:
"'Tis" by Frank McCourt.


It's no Water into Wine, but...

"How'm'I s'posed to shave in here?"
I shout over the hiss of the shower.
"The mirror's all fogged up."

"Rub some soap on it," she replies
in between shampooing and conditioning
with a nonchalance a Buddhist monk would envy.

I pick up the bar next to the sink
and take her advice
mumbling doubts under my breath.
Sure as the sunrise
it works: I can see my ugly mug
more clearly than I'd like to.

"Thanks, Babe," I offer meekly through the plastic curtain.

"No problem," she responds with a splash over the rod.
"Now hurry up and shave so you can get in here."

It's the first of many miracles that I'm sure are yet to come.


She's working nights
at the hospital
and I've been laid off
for two months
so what better place to be
than her room in the city?

I've already walked her to work
at seven this evening; now I'm
visiting her wing at two in the morning
since there's not much else to do
alone in her queen-size bed but read
and my man's going through a slump
that I don't feel like dealing with at the moment.

I'm in the elevator on my way up
to her floor. The old Hispanic security guard
standing at the opposite corner of the chrome affair
is staring at me politely with an innocent grin
that has me wondering why.
My reflection warrants no such welcome:
my black wool coat zipped to the throat, thick
brown beard and black wool watchman's cap
make me look like a wayward sailor
or angry cartoon henchman--
not the type to be studied and made light of
in a dangerously secluded public place
like an elevator. Confusion overtakes me
and then he clears his throat.

I have a hard time understanding him at first.
He's obviously spent most of his life
on whatever Caribbean island he hails from
and has not bothered to master the language.
All I can gather from his broken English at first
is that he's quite foolishly happy to see me.
The white hairs highlighting his gentle moustache
and eyebrows twitch with enthusiasm.
It's enough to make The Man in Black
ditch the chipped shoulder and listen a little harder.

"You look exactly like an old friend of mine, Manuel Garcia.
He was my sparring partner when I used to box.
I haven't seen him in forty years. Exactly like him...
It warms my heart."

"Yeah?" I ask inconclusively, still trying to decipher
how to appropriately respond to this stranded stranger
at two in the morning in a city that falsely claims not to sleep.

My sunken chestnut eyes find themselves
in the polished steel wall of the elevator.
They're ashamed for not knowing what else to say to this man
who clearly yearns for words that won't be coming.

"Have a good night," I mutter unaffectedly.
It's a cop-out, but my floor's arrived;
or rather, I've arrived at her floor.

He's too busy smiling at a memory to answer my arbitrary words.
Our chance meeting has made his night, no thanks to me.
Somewhere in a wooden box barely buried by Atlantic sand
Manuel Garcia's skull is smiling back.


Someday every Sunday.

Horseradish cheddar washed down
with mid-priced white wine
mostly naked in her mother's house
with the prematurely fading sun
begging through the windows
and all I can find to sum it up
is that first piss after
the second good lay of the day.


An evening, self-contained.

I saw the blues
through a fogged bar window
and apologized for the hardwood floor.
Whether or not
it flew
was irrelevant.

Drank all the spiced rum
in the joint, switched to Canadian Whiskey.

Tim said Yes so I did:
An old tactic, a cheap trick.
It cost us the monsoon season.

We passed a house
on our sober ride home
where I make the lights stay on
or used to.
(Work's slowing down, you see.)

And all night long
behind a soldered buckle
hollow-points fought
the tension of the spring.


Fun with phonetics.

Why the State of New York
requires these stupid plumbing classes
to deem our apprenticeship program
accredited I shall never know.
It's a sadistic cross between watching paint dry
and witnessing your friends' balls get ripped off
well knowing your turn's next
for three hours a night, two nights a week, five years.
And at the end of it all the eight of us will get our books
have our cards, become journeyman, mechanics
sit on the list waiting to go to work
like the other three hundred bums already there.
My kids will go to (and stay in) college.

"Alright, guys," says my overzealous teacher. "If
an eight-inch pipe is full of unsaturated steam
at three hundred pounds of pressure, what do I have?"

"A hard-on," I say without thinking twice.

The rest of the class laughs in agreement.
My teacher is forced to accept this truth.

"Maybe, but what else?..." and the doldrums trudge on.

Two hours later I've finally managed to fall asleep
with my eyes open when the Soapbox Pipesmith
decides to call on me.

"If a thermal steam trap is stuck in the closed
position, what is it?"

"Fucking hot," I reply after waking from my
fantasy. The peanut gallery remains faithful
saving me from punishment, though that'd
have a hard time competing with what
I'm already being subjected to here
in the name of tradition and state-alotted money.

My teacher gives up on getting a straight answer
out of me and calls on the sorry bastard to my left.

"Jimmy, go ahead and read the second paragraph."

Jimmy blinks his eyes as if it'll help him keep
the smell of beer from wafting from his throat.
It appears he's having flashbacks from
both years he spent in the third grade.

Half-way through the paragraph
Jimmy's questionable reading skills choke
on what is arguably a toughie.
"This reaction is...is...ANAL-OH-GUESS.
ANAL-OH-GUESS? What the fuck kind of
word is that?" he asks in half-drunk frustration.

Two of my classmates look at me.
"Come on, Shakespeare," quips the guy
I've worked with most. He used to catch me
reading my car on lunch break. The nickname stuck.

"ANNAL-UH-JUSS," I mutter, my teacher's eyes
glued to my lips in humbled envy. I follow it up with
"Comparable" to clear any doubts as to the meaning
as eyes widen and grow bright with anger.

"Why the fuck would they use that word in a pipefitting book?"

"What's the sense in that?"

"What are we? Fuckin' scientists?"

"Why not just say 'comparable'?"

"Why they gotta fuck with me?" asks Jimmy
before finishing "his" paragraph.

All valid questions, really
much akin to
"What the fuck am I doing here?"

The answer comes to mind
as I look up just in time
to see the perfect pearly whites
in my teacher's mouth
shine with a devilish grin.

He's won for the night.

Confessions of a ne'er-do-well wordsmith.

I know I lose the meaning
and take the words too far--
the analogy, the image, the adjectives...
I run the theme pool dry
trying desperately to make sense
of what can't be generalized.

And for these sins, my guilty brothers
mea fucking culpa.

Forever doomed to flounder here
with the saddest lot--
fumbling half-talents of the world
never discovered to be forgotten.

But hey, it keeps me from masturbating...




My mother called tonight
just to tell me that
she'd cancelled our Thanksgiving
but had a frozen turkey
for me.

"Grandma's been beating
on the walls at five a.m.
and I've been searching
for a hole big enough
for me."

We still have some things in common.

My grandmother's reverting
to a child, my mother's rebelling
and I am growing older
by the minute.

And so I'll join the ranks
of the hapless twenty-somethings
deprived of a tired seat on the couch
for the Dallas and Detroit games.

Alas, the last holiday I held sacred


The hand that feeds.

Rabbits are silent sufferers.
Their vocal cords aren't developed
enough to make the sounds
that other creatures of similar size
are known to make.
The occasional grunt, a primitive-sounding
attempt at vocalized discontent, escapes
their heads once in awhile; other than that
the only time you'll hear a rabbit
make a peep is when it's mortally wounded.
And in those brief moments before death
it more than makes up for its years of silence.
I've seen a few flail around convulsively
as they squealed their last breaths.
It's something that sticks with you.

I squat down next to her cage
and rub her nose, the valley on top of her head
between her bulging eyes, the notch
at the base of her skull where her ears protrude.
She bows her head and lets me pet her
in a rare display of submission.
The tolerance she's showing is
not to be confused with affection.
After half a minute it becomes too much
for her feral nature to bear
and she grinds her teeth in muted frustration.
I give her soft beige fur one last stroke
and retract my hand from her cage
in order to respect her desire to be left alone.
Still, not a sound from her crouched five pounds.
She remains motionless as I turn and enter my room
a rigid statue of an ironically cold-hearted animal.
Only now do I hear her munching on some hay.
Things are back to normal in her world again.
Sometimes I feel bad for disrupting that continuity.
This strangely unrequited love is something
I've grown used to somehow.
I hope to never have to do that again.

Rabbits are silent sufferers.
I wonder whether or not its a classic case
of opposites attracting.

South Sea Pearls

Something strangely chilling
about the word 'ribcage'
makes me shudder to think:
What's it really holding, anyway?

Optimists and onanists agree:
Somewhere there's a world
where mice die of natural causes;
where no one really knows
who cast the first stone;
where history repeats more slowly--
But don't bother calling your local travel agent.

Although I'm not a Catholic
at times I feel as though
I gave something crucial up for Lent
and never got it back.

I blame it all on a number of things
inflation and the diminished value
of the Chinese Yen included.
Don't you?

Currently reading:
"The Life of Pi" by Yann Martel.


Fool's Gold: Twenty at Twenty-five.

I was rolling around
on tie-dye sheets
in a tiny expensive room
dimmed by drawn shades.
Strings of Christmas lights
my mother had sent with me
for my foray into college life
tried their hardest not to
shake their heads in shame.
It was easy to ignore
as other issues usually took prevalence:
nine-times-out-of-ten I was
hungover or still drunk from
naively sweet whiskey sours
and I had trouble keeping food down.
The smell of bourbon
still turns my stomach
five years later.

The familiar "cha-ching" sound of
a cash register that meant she'd signed on--
I was waiting for that noise
as much as I was dreading it.
Regardless, I'd perk up.
Maybe she'd reconsidered.
Maybe she'd say hello, ask how I was.
Maybe I could put up a new pathetic away message
to punish her with the guilt that only I deserved.

A good thirty pounds packed
themselves on between
the desperate months of
October and January of that year.
Various victims between then and now
would see me in different weight classes.
Gone was the sleek seventeen-year-old.
The stretch marks they'd find
later on under the hair
came from that period;
the scars under the tattoos--
yeah, those too.
I'm thankful there aren't many pictures.
Part of the reason
I have yet to own a camera.
Hoping that might change.
I'm ready.

When that Stones song came on at a bar
I'd down my drink and buy another
even though Mick got her name slightly wrong.
We never tried. I never tried.
I am this time.

And truth be told
I forget what she smells like.
Guess that means it's finally over.

There's a new standard in town
and I know she's here to stay.

Praise the lord.
Pass the ammunition.


No cork in the wine.

"My, what a pretty lake of death you have..."
he squandered as the emeralds grew deep and dark.

Later on that week they laughed the ghosts away
from half-way point hotel beds

and the beach at Acadia was fine, just fine.
(There was no cork in the wine this time.)

Surely his uncle is missing out.

Currently reading:
"The Continual Condition" by Charles Bukowski.


fer da chilluns.

snow leopard, snow lion.
why's that crocodile cryin'?

is it 'cause he's missing out
on what he knows he cannot have?
or is he just now finally seeing
that it wasn't in the bag?
are there many captions calling
his senses all apalling?
or does he know too much
for a lizard in the sand?

snow leopard, snow lion.
you ain't the only one who's dyin'.


Now that's what I call quality customer service.

"So, Mr. Vahsen...now that we've cleared up your phone's service difficulties and established your hundred-dollar contract renewal rebate...is there anything else I can help you with?"

"No, Gary. Not unless you can straighten out my girlfriend." I was standing in her kitchen gazing towards her bedroom door as I said it. She was on the other side of it sobbing under the comforter. Both of us were guilty for our own reasons, though neither of us cared to admit it. We'd get over it; we always did.

"Ha! I've got a hard enough time with my wife."

Gary and I were still laughing when we hung up our respective phones. A little anonymous guy-to-guy therapy. And somehow, when we opened those doors again, it wasn't so bad since we knew we weren't alone.

Can you hear me now?

Yeah, Gary. Loud and clear.

Currently reading:
"Bless Me, Ultima" by Rudolfo A. Anaya.


Botched Recipes

"A lot of short skirts out tonight," I say as I notice the cabby's eyes wandering the sidewalk.

"Yes, a lot of freaks."

His response is succinct. I can't tell if he appreciates my effort to break the silence or not. This one's not talking on a hands-free cell phone in his native tongue, maybe he could use some conversation. Maybe we all could use a good talking to.

It's Halloween in the City and the gals are dressed to the nines. He calls them freaks, and in his culture they probably would be considered so. I think about how strange a custom the holiday is and try to imagine how ridiculous it must be to the man driving me home. It starts to matter less and less as the street numbers climb, as the avenues rise. I'm almost where I want to be: back with my own little freak.

The car ahead of us has a bumper sticker on its dented trunk that seems redundant and pointless at first. "I <3 My Wife." I think about it for a second and realize its implications, the novelty of such a statement in this day and age. The light turns green and my driver gives hubby a good lean on the horn to wake him up. The back of his head isn't visible from behind. He must be an old man, probably married fifty-five years to his high school sweetheart. It's easy to forgive him for not letting up off the brake so quickly; it's just as easy to understand the cabdriver's frustration. Time is precious to both men, though for different reasons. Twenty-five years have taught me enough to grasp the importance of considering the source, trying on the shoes. Forgive. Forgive. It's all we can do.

I'm fumbling through my wallet for small bills as the cabby and I pass a yawn back and forth. There's no language barrier when it comes to sleep. I decide to tip him well. He thanks me in a genuine tone that only a foreignor can pull off successfully. The hallway in the apartment building smells like ethnic foods from around the globe, all of which are loaded with garlic. My stomach growls as I let myself in with a turn of the key.

She's still asleep. Last night's shift was a rough one-- only three other nurses on her floor as opposed to the usual six. I rummage through the refrigerator and cabinets in search of ingredients for the meal I'm about to make. The smell of food might rouse her from her slumber. If not it's no big deal. I understand. Forgive.

I've been laid off for almost two months, the occasional side-job here and there: a bathroom addition, a gas manifold in a new restaurant, some blown heat lines, a boiler, a curiously named hot water heater. Just enough to supplement my income. I can pay the bills and have some cash left over to play, but I'm not exactly rolling in it. She's the breadwinner right now, and that's fine by me. It feels good to breathe easier knowing I ain't no Atlas. Not all the time, at least.

I crack two eggs into a metal bowl, scramble them, assess the amount, then add another. There's a red bell pepper in the fridge. I slice half of it into the bowl, toss in some green olives, grate some jalapeno jack. A half can of refried beans hisses in the frying pan as I spoon in some leftover rice.

(Pay attention now; here's where I mess up. Again.)

I pour the contents of the omelet bowl into the same pan as the rice and beans.

The eggs disappear into the brown mass of refried bean goodness. The cheese melts nicely, the vegetables warm up. But the eggs. The eggs are gone. All the hot chili sauce in the world won't make up for that blunder. Eggs rancheros this is not, regardless of the tortilla. I stir the brown concoction around as it stiffens up and finishes cooking. Too many ingredients used to start over. It'd be such a waste. Should've cooked the omelet separately, added the rice and beans afterwards. Chalk it up to experience.

The bedroom door opens and she comes out in her robe, eyes still swollen with sleep.

"Whatever you're making smells amazing," she groans as she scratches her cheek, still adjusting
to the light.

"I messed up. The eggs blended in with the beans. They're in there somewhere. I..." but she cuts me off.

"Oh good. I won't have to see them. I don't particularly like them anyway."

She pulls out a plate and sits next to me to eat while my heart reaffirms to my head that I'm still the luckiest man alive.

Behold the broken god of redemption.