Rocco, if you only knew...

"Jesus, kid. It's pouring off your face."

"Some of us work for a living."

"Yeah, but that's excessive."

"I sweat in January."

"You part...?"

"No, but my mom's Puerto Rican."

"My granddaughter's half."

"It's not so bad."

"Didn't say it was."

"I'm Italian and German, too."

"You're a mutt."

"Better than being an old dog trying to learn new tricks."

"Who said I wanted to learn anything?"

"I forgot, you're a stubborn old laborer."

"So can your dad cook as well as your mother?"

"No. He tried, though."


"I haven't seen him in three years."

"Why not?"

"He's crazy."


"That's why I'm glad I've got guys like..."

"So your mom makes rice and beans. You're lucky."


"Raining like hell out there."

"Tornado warning, too."

"You know anyone who's been hit by a tornado?"


"Then don't worry about it, Dorothy."

"But if I don't, who will?"

"Guys like me."



"Nevermind. Go push your broom."

"I'm not too old to knock you off that ladder."

"That's fine. If I get hurt I can go home early."

"This is your home, for the next thirty years."

"Not if I prove my father wrong."

"Something tells me you already have."


"What's wrong with your arm?"

"My tattoos itch."

"All of a sudden?"


Currently reading:
"Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller.


cause and Effect

When the honeybees die off
the plants will find a way
to pollenate themselves.

This summer's bat shortage
hasn't left me with any more
mosquito bites than usual.

But believe me when I tell you
that if the acid rain and bug repellant
hadn't hushed the bullfrog chorus
not even my best friend
could've dragged me from that lake.


Ode to the East Side

My reference to the misspelling
of her name in the local paper's recent article
went right over her bleached-blonde hair.
Something else was on what was left of her mind.
She told me that the bar was closing
at the end of the summer, that I
might not see her again.
"Keep your hair short
and save the beard
for when you're old like
the rest of the guys who
come in here. You're a hot tamale
right now."
Little did she know that neither the look
she preferred for me or the bar she worked at
would last to the end of July. I was only responsible
for one of those fates-- that's all I can ever claim.

I remember her crying on the porch
bumming a smoke, her lipstick
on the filter and her expensive chest
pressed against mine as she told me
she'd miss tending bar at that dump.
It was hard to watch such a simple
existence come apart so entirely.
It was hard not to get somewhat hard
though I'm not proud of that.
"Do you know anyone who would hire me?"
"For what?"
"As a waitress or bartender."
"I'll ask around."
Two weeks later she tried to lure a slightly more
desperate regular in with what she'd really meant.
I don't believe he declined, despite his eye contact
and vehement insistence that he'd controlled himself.
A good businessman can lie to your face.

The last time I was there someone returned
two cocktails, claiming the vodka was in the cola
and the rum was in the tonic. She replaced them
for free. Then she made the same mistake
and almost ran out crying. I could see
why the place was going under.
"Nice ring," she told some haggard sea wench
who was sucking on a granny cocktail
in the hopes that I'd been drugged.
"Some asshole gave it to me," came the shrew.
"He's only an asshole for giving it to you," I mumbled
into my pint glass, the words drowning in carbonation.
I thumbed through my wallet and bought the clearly lost
young couple at the end of the bar a round before rising
to my feet in an attempt to find the legs that'd
somehow manage to bring me home safely again.
It was how I wanted to remember that dive.
Guess it was a success.

White T-shirts as flags.

You're not around, you're out of town.
Who is it inside you now?

You never host, you'll never host
or you'll walk around a graveyard, ghost.

Is it decent of me to pace naked like this
if the blinds are drawn, the windows locked?

Sugar to wash the salt down for dinner.
The brownie mix will stay on the shelf.
There's no one around to grab me
a towel when I forget that there isn't one
in the bathroom mid-shower.

And this is what it was like to fold laundry.

I don't put any of them away
since I deserve to hear them laughing:
"Virginia, Virginia! Can't we go back there?"

But Baby, Baby, Baby
buy me time to load the mags.
Run around the yard if you've got to.
It'll all pay off in spades
if you
take it like a champ.

Did you have to spray my pillow with perfume
before you left?

You did, you did;
and I'm OK now, thanks.


trophy wives, trophy scars

Slowly, how the knife enters:
Acute pain where tip meets
skin latter giving way to
former with a
tearing heard
only at the
cellular level.
An oddly wel-
comed release
as surface pres-
sure and tension give
way forming a vac-
uum around the
blade. The en-
velope widens
to accept a
sharp truth,
to the
rushing red. No hurries here except to the end
of the book. I swore I wouldn't mention paper
this time. This was supposed to be about a
girl but I muttered about a woman instead.



Rocco, the fifty-eight-year-old laborer
on the job, had beat me to the deli again.
He was the coffee break boy for his company
despite his age; I was the same
because of mine. His order had already been placed
and he was sitting at a table reading the paper
when I walked through the door.

"Mornin, kid," he mumbled. "Take a number."

"Who are you kidding, Roc? Laborers can't read."

"I just look at the pictures," he said with a grin wise enough
to know to steal a man's thunder by beating him to the punch.

I read the breakfast list to the guy behind the counter
knowing he'd mess up at least one of the items.
Us coffee boys knew the place's reputation for errors
but the food was good and the devil we knew
was better than that other one.

"Have a seat, Mike," Rocco said, pulling out
a chair with his dirty steel-toed boot.

"Gave up trying to sound out the words?"
I wasn't giving up that easily.

He shot me a look that said "If you were my son
I would've just slapped you." Part of me wished he had.

"Lemme see that paper, pops," I said
in my best Brooklynese.

He slid the newspaper across the table towards me.
It was open to the horoscope page.

Rocco folded his arms and leaned back in his chair.
Even though it had rained for most of the last month
his face was the color of a ripening tomato, a hint of olive
still present in the tentative red. His curly, gray hair was
matted down from where his hardhat had been; it looked
like something that should've been keeping a dog warm instead.
But those sparkling eyes were probably just as bright
as they were in his high school yearbook photo.
That was where I tried to focus my attention when talking to the man.

"Hey, look at this. It says it's a four-star day for Pisces.
My luck's finally changed." I went on to read my favorable prediction
not caring whether he wanted me to or not.
" 'Something that happened in your past will motivate you to move
forward with one of your old plans. Touch base with the people
who inspired you the first time around. The timing is much better now.'
Not bad, huh?"

"You're just an apprentice, your life is still meaningless," he replied.
I gave him credit for his witty sincerity. It was obvious he'd been meaning
to remind me of that fact for awhile.

"Maybe so, but at least it looks good on paper. What's your sign?"

"It depends on which newspaper it is. Some say I'm a Cancer, others
bump me ahead to a Leo. I pick whichever one sounds better that day."

I found them on the page. Neither of them had as many stars as mine, but
there was no mention of death, doom, or gloom. They didn't sound
as appropriate as mine had when I read them aloud, though maybe
that's because we all make them relative to our own secret lives somehow.

"Sounds like I'm going for Cancer this time, kid."

"That's the first time I've seen someone say that with a smile," I said
pointing to his pack of Reds sitting on the table between us.
"Don't you think that's a bit of a jaded way to assess your future?"

"The future can't hurt anyone as much as the past. I'm not scared."

For a guy who pushed a broom for a living he sure was making sense.

I glanced down at his hands, gnarled and scarred
like the roots of a tree clinging to the edge
of a too-fast river, the current having its way with the flesh.
We both knew which horoscope was truly his.
Our eyes drifted to the five-day forecast
on the television that hung in the corner of the deli
in an admirable attempt at acting aloof.
I decided to let him have his lie;
God knows there are a good twenty people
who let me live mine every day.
Maybe twenty-one, though I'm still not certain.

"Rocco, you're up," the sandwich man shouted.

"I win again, kid," Roc said as he rose to his feet
to pay for his coffee order. "Ya gotta get up pretty early
in the morning to get the best o' this old man."

I decided to let him have that one, too.


Skipping Browning, for now.

It seemed a fitting time to finish
the anthology of poems that had been haunting
my night stand and lunch breaks for months.
Towards the end it finally became
what it should've been all along
but then again I'm biased
and no fan of romanticism.
People made fun of me for never
taking the clear dust jacket off;
not "people", but a person.
I've shrugged off bigger criticisms
mostly from reflections.
As if in search of one last gem
I flipped back through its contents tonight
making sure to check the first few pages
for some possible dedication in a script too perfect
to be recent. No such luck, though I found its source.
The library rental card secured
inside the front cover revealed
that it had only been borrowed nine times
in its fifteen-year term at
the Julia L. Butterfield Memorial Library in Cold Spring.
It seemed a waste, though for a reason different
from the one that led some liberal librarian
to donate it to the thrift store where I bought it
for a quarter: this was another kind of shame.
Nothing worse than waste, be it of space
or an idea. There was one particularly poignant ditty
at the end about a woman who kept the pocket-dulled
ring from her failed marriage on her keychain as a reminder
of what love is not--
it should have been the last poem
of that 524-page abortion.


Mounting Saint Mary.

A marble would've rolled across the room
faster than one of the pinewood derby cars
my father and I made during my cub scout days
had I dropped one on the floor of
that Midtown apartment.
The paint was too thick, made the doors stick
and filled in the grooves in the trim.
My father could've used some
for the outside of his peeling house
though the yard looks great as always.

All I wanted to come home to was my air conditioning
and some comfort food, but my roommate made goat
for dinner.
Fucking goat.
Canned soup isn't going to cut it
and the truck's too tired to go back out

so I'm going to bed hungry:
hungry, but well-loved.
It's more than I deserve.

I know I'm no knight, girls
but I seem to remember a few good ones
we spent together.
Carry them in your back pocket
right next to your knife.

The Sins of Your Gods

The bar was supposed to be
closing in ten minutes; the black-shirted kid
behind the tap had flashed the lights
three times to designate Last Call
but none of the seasoned old men
sitting in the smoke-filled room seemed
to notice. It'd take more than some
amateur mixologist to drag them out
of a ginmill before they were ready to go.

I approached Ernie first.
He was standing, just as he wrote
with a short, melting tumbler next to
his right hand. A sweater choked his neck
and bull chest as he sweat into his moustache.
He looked more like a Rizzo than a Hemingway somehow.

"You got such a bad rap unfairly," my subconscious
told him. "They called you sexist, but your females
were always stronger if you really read the lines.
The sun only rose when they told it to, and arms were
dropped when they declared armistice. It doesn't get
much closer to the truth than that."

"They still didn't get it," he sighed to someone else.

"It was enough to drive a man to his shotgun."

"A man should never keep it far away," he replied
as his eyes drifted off to his happy hunting grounds.
I was thankful that his eyes and the rest of his head
were still intact for my dream. It would've been
traumatic otherwise.

"But what about the ones that got away?"
It was a feeble attempt, but I had to make it;
I knew he was already gone.

Bukowski must've overheard me from his corner
of the bar. He shot a thumb in my direction
and whispered something to the spineless bartender
who had given up on kicking anyone out.
I picked up my cocktail with the intention
of heading over to see Hank and clarify
what I meant so I wouldn't be crushed
by the thought of a hero laughing at my naivety.
The bartender must've responded with something
that the old man didn't much appreciate. Hank
knocked his wine glass to the floor and swore
at the terrified young man behind the oak.
"Try saying that after you've been weened
from your mother's tit, you ignorant little shit.
Now hand me that bottle of scotch."
I decided not to go see Hank. Some images are best
preserved by never being seen up close.

"I'll tell you about the ones who got away,"
came a soft voice from behind me. Sherwood Anderson
tapped me on the shoulder and handed me his card.
I slipped it into my back pocket and had a seat next
to him. His business suit and oil-slicked hair
seemed far too classy for such a dive. It made sense
that he'd rather be associated with these men
than the ones he had been forced to interact with
in the real world, though. He made the sign
of a throat being slashed to the bartender
to suggest cutting Bukowski off. We both
tried not to laugh at the attempted manslaughter joke.

"Do you know what the real shame is, boy?"
he asked in his usually hidden Ohio accent.
"Not the skirts that escaped, but the stories."

I thought back to how he died. Splinters from
a toothpick that garnished a martini consumed
during a going away party had been caught
in his throat and caused an infection
during his cruise to South America.
He died in some humid hospital in a country
that didn't understand the langauge he loved.

Hank succumbed to cancer; Hem offed himself--
they both saw it coming, had time
to fire those last shots from the hip.
Sherwood still had some aces up his sleeve
when he was called home. His notebooks were
probably found by relatives and auctioned off
to the highest bidder, the roots of the random
words and phrases tragically misunderstood.
He was heartbroken by his inability
to get it all down in time-- a writer's greatest fear.
I could see that the handkerchief in
the breast pocket of his blazer had been used
recently, probably in a toilet stall
where no one would see a gentleman weeping.

I didn't know how to console the poor man
so I didn't bother trying. A good writer
knows what not to say and when not to say it.
I patted him on the shoulder and pointed
towards our belligerent friend who was now
passed out on his placemat, his forearms his pillow
the bottle of scotch in the crotch of his elbow.
The bartender looked relieved
as he scrubbed a pint glass.

"And to think that man outlived all of us,"
Sherwood said with a grin as the color
returned to his face.

"He couldn't have done it without you two,"
I replied, counting my singles and leaving
a generous tip under my coaster.

It was time for me to leave.
I had a new story to wake to.


Great Expectations

I'm digging through a stack of CDs now, but most of the ones up here in my room are useless: the classics are scratched to the point of ruin, and the unlabeled ones are demos from defunct teenage bands I used to play with onstage. It'll be a silent romp with the buttons tonight, I'm not in the mood to play YouTube DJ. Besides, nothing I could find up here in my deceivingly safe hermitage would top the chorus of that last song I heard on my ride home. Those lines about first wives and everybody leaving are just too damn catchy. They made me run that last red light between my room and me tonight. And if I'd had someone in the passenger seat or a pack of smokes to console me I would've sped right past my driveway and went for the ride that I would've taken had I been seven years younger.

I used to do this with a beer can statue and an overflowing ashtray next to my mouse pad. Now I'm lucky if there's a squirrel on the tree outside my window or my ancient neighbor's out back sucking on a cigarette that should've killed him years ago. As long as this cursor's still blinking there's still hope. It was no overstatement when I said I need these people like holes in my head, though maybe that'd relieve some of the pressure. The phone keeps ringing, but it's not who I want it to be. Not tonight.

Sometimes my mother doesn't understand the power of words. She's a classic example of why one should respond instead of reacting, should take a few moments to let that filter between brain and mouth kick in. I know she usually doesn't mean to be harmful with her statements; at the same time, however, she should know her son well enough by now to realize that he's an over-sensitive emotional packrat who takes words, both written and spoken, very seriously. Tonight, Ma, you failed.

We were watching TV over a meal she'd made to lure me to the house. The fried flounder with onions always went so well with white rice, peas, and carrots. It was a combination I'd enjoyed since childhood, a tried and true time machine that takes me to a better place when there was still the semblance of any kind of family life. A segment about infant memory came on as we chewed our food at the table. She reached for the remote control and turned up the volume. The reporter said that newborn babies start memorizing events in the womb, simple things like the theme song of the mother's favorite soap opera. My mom smiled and looked over at me; "Stevie's Tricycle" she said. That's the title of a book she used to read to me through her stomach and after I was born. It's been packed away in a cardboard box somewhere for years, but if you opened it to any page and gave me the first few words I bet I could finish the sentence. And the colors, the lush greens of the bushes in the background and the red and yellow fruit, presumably peaches, hanging from the trees in little Stevie's yard. I remember those, too. The tricycle was fire engine red and had long streamers dangling from the ends of the white handebars. I wish I remembered more things like those streamers.

"Maybe you subconsciously remember what he did," she said after swallowing her bite of rice. I knew which "he" she meant, the only one it could possible be. I pretended not to hear her and hoped she'd change the subject. She didn't.

"I was seven months pregnant with you when he..." but I cut her off before she could finish.

"Please, Mom. Not to be rude, but I don't want to know."

I have enough reasons to hate the man, to fear him, to love him senselessly despite his abandonment, to pray I don't complete the cycle. Some pieces of the puzzle should remain brown-side-up for the sake of what's left of my own well-being. My mother didn't seem to agree. She wanted to fill me in on some abusive act that he perpetrated while I was still defenseless, not that I'm much less vulnerable now. Shit, I haven't seen the guy in almost three years and I'm still haunted by his Roman nose and blank shark's eyes.

The rest of the meal was silent. Mom acted as if I'd insulted her by not wanting to hear the tale that I knew would only break my heart further. Part of her was hoping I'd complete her sentences like I would've if she started reading "Stevie's Tricycle" so she wouldn't feel so alone in that memory. Thankfully, it's not one we share. I cleared my plate and put it in the sink making sure to express my gratitude for dinner. She nodded her head flippantly and took a sip of the white wine she was drinking from a dixie cup. The kitchen didn't feel as warm as the womb.

My stepfather was well into the vodka by the time I went back to the living room to talk to him about work. He repeated himself within the same sentences and sucked at the tumbler of ice like it contained some unknown cure. It seemed like a good time to make my escape since the conversation was going nowhere. I went upstairs to bid my grandmother farewell. She told me in her native tongue that she prays for me every day and that God is with me wherever I go. I rubbed her back and thanked her even though I wasn't so convinced as to God's intentions for keeping tabs on me. I feel more like the guinea pig or the jester than the beloved son most times. And that's just what my name's supposed to mean, Michael David: "He who is like the Lord; Beloved." It's laughable, really.

That laundry must've been crucial to the next day's outfit. My mother was folding it with the fervor of a desperate stockholder as the line graph plummets. "Goodnight, Mom," I said as I gave her a hug. She barely wrapped her arms around me, didn't look me in the eyes. "What's wrong?"

"I'm tired, Mike," she lied. She'd been tired all her life, partially from dealing with people like my estranged father and the drunk downstairs. It had never been an excuse to half-ass her only child.

I left her to her folding, grabbed the bag of leftovers she'd packed, and headed for my truck, fumbling for my keys in the pocket of my jeans. When the stereo came on I was glad to hear that blue-collar voice belting the woes of a lost generation. And when that song I mentioned earlier came on I hit twenty over the speed limit like that dreaded "he" was following me. Sometimes I wish that was the case. I'll never let my hostage get away.


The right man for the job.

The pit of my stomach spat on my lungs in disgust
as I hit a pothole the size of a small child.
I felt like the hubcap I'd seen leaning against a speed limit sign
a few miles back, praying to be reclaimed--
the worst part being that it was my own fault as usual.

It had almost been a year since
someone had plowed into the sign
in front of the local volunteer ambulance corps.
The culprit must've been well over the legal limit
since the sign was a good thirty feet
from the road. Even I don't drive after that many.
It took them three months
just to remove the broken cinder blocks and wood debris.
Volunteers must be a dying breed.
There was yellow CAUTION tape
wrapped tightly around the scene like dismal garland.
It was an eyesore that reminded me
to be grateful that it hadn't been me
behind the wheel or in front of the hood.

I was on my way home from a memory today
when I saw the latest development
in the sign's slow restoration: a man in a trench
around the perimeter of the four-by-six foundation
preparing a solid bed of dirt on which to lay his block.
I say "his block" because it was just that; there were
no scrawny teenagers looking to make a summertime buck
or underpaid Latinos looking to feed a family.
It was simply the man, his trade, and a labor of love.
I could tell he wasn't getting paid for the job
by the look on his face, the sway in his step, the arch in his back.
It takes a man who works with his hands to notice these things.

The sun was at its golden peak and my lap was very empty.
The mason was in his late fifties, a yellow sleeveless shirt
showing decades worth of sun-spots on his shoulders.
He wore a large-brimmed straw hat as if he were in his garden
and didn't seem to care how long it took
to tamp the dirt down with his feet in that trench
so long as it got done
and got done right.

He wanted it to be better than the last.
His name would be on it.
His dinner would be on the table when he got home
and his wife of thirty years would rub the skin cancer
right out of those weary shoulders after his nightly shower.
They'd make new love and fall asleep mid-chapter afterwards.

It wasn't the first time I was jealous of a man closer to death.


Changed men, alright.

It's so hard not to laugh when
the broads have the nerve to hit you
with something like
"My Gerald would never do such a thing,"
or "James has changed so much
since I've met him," or my personal favorite
for obvious reasons:
"You're a bad influence on my Richard!"

Let me lend you ladies a clue about that nut Jerry, that
consistently grinning gin-drinking Jimmy--
They're the same as they were before you met them
when you're not around, and when you finally
bail and leave me to buy the rounds in the aftermath
they'll still be the same men with just one more
excuse to get sloshed.

And for Christ's sake, leave my Dick out of this.


A Sunday Afternoon

We found our own eight feet of beach
along the Hudson, delineated by twisted trees
and vines reaching out towards the salt air.

I stood on the tips of my toes
picking mulberries from the ancient tree
and dropping them in the cup of my hand
to eat from the comfort of the folding chairs
she'd brought. Her flip-flopped feet
were being accosted by brackish water
as the waves tripped over themselves
and crashed onto shore.

My fingers were stained purple
from over-zealous berry handling.
I smashed one on her forehead
but the juice wiped right off.
My sinister side was disappointed.

We stared out at the shining crests
and diving gulls. Twenty-somethings
flew by on jet skis. There were some boaters.
I was glad no one waved. It was far too nice a day
to lie again.

Part of me was legitimately frightened
that my old man would come walking
along the trail and find us.
He's the one who showed me that place.
He's the one who's shown me a lot of things
not all of which were quite as beautiful.
Back when we still spoke
he told me that he saw me sitting on a bench
at the pier in Cold Spring with a pretty young blonde
under my arm and didn't want to bother us.
That story's stayed with me moreso than I'd like to admit.
Like I said, it's a legitimate fear.

"My dad would like this place," she said.
"He could take pictures."

Was it possible to get the red-eye out of the Devil?
No, of course not.
I kicked a piece of driftwood into the river
letting the receding tide decide its fate.
It was more fair than the norm.

A group of kids came running down the trail
and right into our cove.
They wouldn't have been able to gather
any mulberries, even if they knew how good they were;
I'd picked all the ones low to the ground.
My purple-stained hands hid each other
in my lap, the blank stares of innocent children
enough to condemn a guilty conscience.

The youngest one, a slender little white-haired girl
climbed into a crotch in the J-shaped tree that extended out
over the water. Her father came along to take a picture.
The smile was just as fake as mine used to be.
We don't want to fake those moments, Dad.
We want to live them.

"Do you need help getting down?" a concerned older
brother asked as she maneuvered her way
back to the ground without answering.
I remained poised and ready to pluck her from
the shallow water if she slipped.
I knew she wouldn't fall, though.
Not after that bitter Kodak moment
that didn't capture anything worth keeping.

"Look at the truck on the railroad tracks
on the other side of the river," I said.
"It must be one of those ones that has
steel wheels instead of tires to ride the rails.
You couldn't pay me enough to do that."

"But they must know the train schedule,"
she said, the kid in her showing
through the potential front-page tragedy.

"Sure, but people make those schedules.
They're susceptible to human error.
It's no science."

She didn't disagree.
She must've been learning when to let me go.
We changed the subject.
And after we got home I learned that mulberries
are an aphrodesiac.


conscience treading water

Have you ever noticed
how places that sell things
which you may want to keep secret
all have the same black plastic bags
with the diagonal gold stripes?

The liquor store has them;
the gun store;
the porn store--
carnal, violent vices all hidden
by the same thin layer
of opaque petroleum product.

No? Didn't think so...

As the Fifth Horseman sits with furrowed brow
talking shop to a blank wall
in a crowded house sans chocolate
too lazy, tired, and dry to go out
with morals forced oblong.


Less talk, more bull.

I crept up to the red
light and craned my neck
southward to check out the livestock
in the trailer one lane over.

The mid-afternoon sun shone
fiercely through the translucent roof
casting a yellow glow upon
the motionless cattle.
All of them had horns, some the size
of my forearm.
Their eyes were big and dull
but not in a dumb way;
more like a shark's dead eyes--
the kind that know their power.

I wondered if they were being brought
to the slaughter or to greener pastures
maybe even put out to stud.
The blank looks on the faces of the Mexicans
in the back seat of the pick-up towing
the trailer didn't clarify the matter.
The driver adjusted his sunglasses
and braced himself for the sharp left turn
of the entrance ramp leading onto the highway.
There was a lot of money hitched to his vehicle.
There were too many tools in the back of mine.

When the green arrow permitted us to proceed
I let my foot up off the brake slowly and started
to commit myself to the turn
taking one more look at the naively stoic bulls.
There was something to be learned from them
but the line of cars behind me wasn't about to wait.

It's been one of those weeks
when the animals have more to say.
The world may never know, right Mr. Owl?


Blood Money

We were driving back from
the gun store I'd discovered
out in Hopewell. I conned him
into joining me after work
by offering to drive. Some men
are even cheap with forty
dollars-an-hour in their paychecks
plus benefits, but if that made me like him
any less I wouldn't have invited him.

"I used to do a lotta 'coon huntin'
when I was your age," he said
with a drawl not uncommon
in his neck of the county.
"My dog would chase it up
a tree, then I'd shoot it
in the head so I didn't ruin
the fur and make it worthless.
One time this big ol' bastard
wouldn't stay still for long enough
to get a good shot so I blew the
branches out from under his feet
until he finally climbed down the tree.
My dog wrestled the 'coon for awhile.
When the 'coon bit him I kicked it
and the thing reached out and grabbed
my leg. My dog grabbed him from behind
and snapped his neck without puncturing
its skin. He was a hell of a huntin' dog.
Made me a lot of money, too."

"So why'd you give it up, Ed?"

"My dog died."

"Why not get another one? Too much training?"

"I didn't want to waste my time with the impossible.
They say you only get 'coon dog in your life."

"And three good women."

"Nope. Only one."

We sat in silence for half a minute
pondering which one of us was right.

Thankfully a toll booth broke the silence.
Ed reached into his pocket and whipped out
the crisp dollar bill that'd bring us back to
where we belonged, whether or not
either of us were fully convinced anymore.

Currently reading:
"Poor White" by Sherwood Anderson.


Best served cold.

My partner, who's more of an opponent
had left work an hour early
to get his car inspected, so he said.
No one argued with his request.
I was thankful for the silence, didn't mind
working alone. My foreman wanted
some holes punched in the backs
of the classroom heaters we'd be
installing the following week.
I was focusing on not wailing my left thumb
with the hammer as I held the screwdriver
in place when I heard someone
enter the classroom behind me.

"Just came back to get a few things,"
came a timid male voice.

"Hey, it's your classroom," I replied
putting my tools down and swinging
around on my knee. Sure enough
it was him. There was no mistaking
that tall lanky man in his late thirties.
His dark brown hair was in the earliest
stages of a comb-over, his thin-framed
glasses dangled loosely from his head
and his top front teeth looked as though
he used them to open bottles.
My friends and I used to make fun of him
in junior high, but now he was a legitimate teacher
who didn't even realize he had the last laugh.

"No more subbing for you, huh?" I said
with a congratulatory smirk.

"No....no...." He seemed afraid, like I'd
just mentioned his own personal Vietnam.
"Did I have you?"

Have me? Please. He'd never had anyone
his whole life. But with a name like
Mr. Kaiser it was hard to forget him
and all of the World War I jokes we made
about him thanks to our social studies lessons.

"Yeah, I remember you from junior high.
It's good to see you got a job!"
I instantly regretted saying it after
hearing how the words could be misconstrued
as a back-handed compliment.
It wasn't meant to be malicious.
He didn't take it that way, though.
I could tell by the way his chest heaved
in agreement with my statement
about his long-awaited achievement, the one
that I'd give all the copper in the world to claim.

"It's tough being a substitute teacher. No one
takes you seriously."

I didn't want to break the news that there
was little chance that that had changed.
You either have it or you don't, despite
what that framed piece of paper says.
"Well not anymore, Mr. Kaiser."
The high road seemed more reasonable.
I even threw in his name to make him
feel important. He deserved it for the hell
we used to put him through without his knowledge.
He was the kind of man who undoubtedly spent
some serious time staring at the ceiling at night.

"It must be strange being back in a Newburgh school,"
he said. Suddenly I felt as though he were onto me.
That sheepish grin of his wasn't so harmless anymore.

"Yeah. I've recognized a few faces."
There was a conscious effort made
to avoid grinding my teeth.

"Man, I swore I left my computer speakers
in this closet. Guess not. Don't get old."

He obviously didn't know me as well as I knew him.
Still, I figured I'd brighten his day a bit.

"At least you'll be one of the lucky ones come September."

"How so?" he asked, visibly intrigued.

"Your classroom is on the east side of the hallway.
The ones on the west side aren't getting new
ventilators installed; therefore, no AC."

Those bashed-in teeth poked through his lips
in what I took to be a shy smile.

"The other teachers will be jealous. There'll be
arguments made about seniority, tenure, and old age
regarding who should get the cooler rooms."

"We'll work it out," he said in a humble yet confident tenor.

I believed him. People like him always do work it out
despite the years of subbing and other trials.
Me? Can't say the same quite as enthusiastically.

"Time to go home and check my house again,"
he mumbled unaffectedly.

"Have a good one, and good luck
finding those speakers," I said as I knelt down
to get back to the task at hand.

"Have fun with your heater," I heard over my shoulder
as the door closed behind me.

The hammer practically swung itself
for the rest of the afternoon.
My thumb didn't stand a chance.


force-fed umbilical cake.

Her hair was smiling, alright
and I guess I could've stayed there longer
had her tarnish not been my draw
had Brock Davenport been my name

We're all entitled to a little
revisionist history
to stay on the saner side of things
if nothing else
goiters and iodine deficiency
point crooked fingers at each other
and miner poets fire their red rockets
impotently into the ceiling fan
in search of that big nut.

Good girl: you've lost your gag reflex.
It's the only way to survive 'round these parts.

Good god:


214, 28, 28A, 213, 32, 52, Home.

If you were man enough to be here
you'd probably be proud:

This time I didn't make
that wrong sharp left
wasting sunlight.
This time I didn't turn down
Old Kingston or let a second
do the same, sinking in my seat.
This time there were no turtles
to save in the shoulder
and no guilt brought on
by tell-tale rear-view mirrors.

My right hand on the knee and the shifter.
My eyes on the road and the river.

I was just like you again.

I've known a lot of beautiful women
and some of them almost
knew me.

We left the fireworks early
to avoid getting stuck in traffic
after I spilled your beans.
Yes, the consensus remains the same.

Wish me luck on this one, Pop.
Your God and mine may differ
but our passion's still the same.

And to think I'd rather pretend that you're dead.

"iMe joda con cajones!"

"Do you know what
that woman just said?"
I asked as we walked out
of the department store.

"I'm not sure, she was speaking
too quickly."

"Most Hispanic women do when they're mad..."

"So what'd she say?"

" 'Fuck me with balls,' " I smiled wide.
"Let me make that a little more clear
by adding some punctuation:
'Fuck me, with balls.'
The pause created by the comma
differentiates the two parts of the sentence.
She doesn't literally want to get fucked, but
she feels as though she is for some unspecified
negative reason. The 'with balls'
in this case is also not to be taken literally;
rather, think of the connotation implied when
someone says 'That engine's got balls,'
or something else that exudes brute strength.
The most colorful phrases in the Spanish language
don't make sense when translated word-for-word to English."

"Thanks for the lesson, professor."

The irony of the accusation made me cringe.
'Fuck me, with balls' indeed...


That Richie Cunningham could be a real cocksucker when he wanted to be...

No one likes an awkwardly close
two-seater men's room
especially at a bar
but someone's got to
break the silence.

We were both done
draining the vein.
I made it to the sink first.
The motion-activated sensor
wasn't working
despite my drunken hand gestures
in its general direction.

"Jesus Christ. Just my luck," I said
while doing the rain dance.

"The fuckin' thing only works sporadically."
We were both a bit impressed
with his alcohol-unimpaired vocabulary.

I squatted down, reached up to where
the steel met the porcelain, and
tightened a loose fitting with my left hand.
It worked when I tried summoning
the water gods again.

"Good job, man," he rejoiced.

"I'm a plumber by trade. Don't tell anyone. It's embarrassing
but practical, and it pays the bills."

"Hey, I've seen your work. I know some people..."

"I hate even working on my own house, but thanks."

Last Call came an hour later.
The bartender only bought me one drink
despite all the rounds I'd shelled out
my hard-earned cash for.
My left hand twitched with the lack of appreciation
and that sink managed to break itself again.
What would the Fonz have done?


Man's only friend.

Long-deceased pets of yore seemed a safe topic
for the awkward post-dessert conversation.
A woman more than twice my age
reminisced across the table about her childhood mutt
as I wished my glass of milk wasn't empty.

"Princey lived to a ripe old age. He snuck out
one night when a female dog
in the neighborhood was in heat."

I laughed on the inside at the euphemism
and scratched my plate with my
chocolate-smeared fork.

"We found him dead the next morning.
Well, he wasn't totally dead yet.
We brought him to the vet
but it was too late. Apparently
he'd had a heart attack."

She'd politely failed to mention the God-decreed
act that brought on the coronary, of course.

"Poor guy," I said
half under my breath
while trying to hide the smirk.

I didn't pity his luck.
That's how this old dog
wants to go out someday, too.

Currently reading:
"An Apology for Crudity and Other Stories" by Sherwood Anderson.