On Jealous Skies and Wedlock

Neither of us had watched the sun set
over a prison yard before, at least
not to my knowledge. That rare
first for both of us was enjoyed
from the safety of my truck
as we drove by in the crisp evening air.

"I love when the puddles turn to mirrors
before dark," she said. "The ground is
black, but the pools of water reflect
the colors and light from the sky."

She said it from a trance without peeling
her face from the window or uncraning her neck.
Her genuine appreciation of the sight
made her words that much more convincing
as did the fact that she didn't take the image
too far with some sappy simile about shiny
coins dropped from heaven or something similar.
I held the wheel straight and looked over
at the scene to make my own observation.

"Or where the warm colors meet the cool ones.
The red turns to orange turns to yellow turns
to green turns to blue turns to purple."

Like most things, it sounded better in my head
before I went and said it. Hers was more creative
more poetic, more expressive, more everything
that I envied and would never quite tap into--
a gift she had and didn't use, but one
that I would die for if it made my tries less trite.

"Yeah," she agreed half-heartedly, still staring
at the skyline. "Something like that."


When the Movement Loses Sight

The waiting room is not
entirely uninviting.
When the obnoxious
atmospheric music
gets too be too much
the stereo's within arm's reach
and easily turned down
or in my case, off.
It's clear that the bathroom's
cleaned once a week
whether it needs it or not
and there's a can
of aerosol air freshener in there.
Plush pillows line the couch
and the lighting's just right
for whatever book's been riding
in the back pocket of my jeans.

But the thing I can't stand is the sign:
"Behind every successful woman is herself."

And it's not that I don't think
that there are slick women out there.
Hell, I've been trumped by a handful
that could take over the world
one life at a time if they'd only apply themselves better.
Their combined force is too frightening to fathom.
It's that even the worst of the chauvinist pigs--
the Bukowskis, the Hemingways, even the
shock-jock Sterns-- can admit that they were
only alive and well and had something to write home about
because of the undeserved love of some
gracious woman too strong to be defeated by their flaws.
So why then, I ask, do the over-liberated feminists
choose not to go the same humble route
by making and hanging signs such as this one?
It's the equivalent of saying "Not bad, for a girl."
Are the goose and the gander no longer equal?
Last time I checked that's what they wanted.
Somewhere along the way it went sour.

So I sit and I stew and read my damn book
and wait forty-five minutes to be beautifully reminded
yet again that like most men far greater than myself
I'll always be wrong when the fairer sex is concerned.
As long as we know and accept this fact
the world won't slip off its axis.

"Yes, dear. I'm coming."


Duality of a Strange Custom

I remember as a child
hearing what they did before a funeral
for the first time and wondering
what the point could be.
It seemed bizarre and foreign.
Seven-year-olds have enough to worry about
without nightmares of the dead.

Where's the term 'wake' come from
in reference to the viewing of the deceased?
Certainly the concerned party
(or should I say 'no longer concerned'?)
won't be jolting back to life
which leaves two other options:

Is the poorly made-up face, wired jaw
and waxy complexion supposed to awaken us
to the fragility of life?

Or do they mean that something's passed
something's gone, someone's not coming back
like the wave behind a boat that rides out
'til it's flattened and one with the sea again?

It's up for debate
though I suppose no one
but my bruised alter ego
will waste time in contemplation.
The one certain fact
is that mine will be
a closed-casket affair
if not for one reason
then for a host of many others.
They won't get the last word with me, pal.
It's hard to hear through pine.


non-quitter, non-spitter

The same cologne's been mocking me
for thirteen years and counting
calling me a fool to think
it'll ever stop that stench.
Putrid comes to mind
and the nostrils of the players.
Who could blame them for the face?
I know the look because I've given it.
I know the trend because I started it
or at least made it explode.
And what of your list of Good Intentions?
It's a float soon forgotten
in the Macy's Day Parade.

So aside from Polo Sport bottles
Chinese food fortunes have piled up
in my room since high school
with the stubborn hope
that one of them is mine.

And I tell ye, brothers
that the man who fails is the man without a system
though more often than not
it's the man whose system
does not allow for change.

I've had my shirt picked out since Tuesday.
Bear with me, I'm a pisces.
The forked tongue that you notice
is the product of erosion:
It's not the asp that stung them;
it's the reason that they came.

dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot

There, right there
the little bugger is:
stuck on my neighbor's roof
meowing away in vain.
The morning sun can't save it
as its paws slide along the ice
kicking and clawing at a pine cone
that finally falls off the edge.

There are no firemen coming
like they do on the TV shows.
Those guys are drunk down at
the station, an excuse to not be home.
I consider knocking on
the neighbor's front door
to alert her of the problem
but decide against it
since we've never spoken
and I'm convinced she's the one
who put her old man in the ground last year.
He and I only met a handful of times
mostly with no memorable exchange
but he seemed like an alright fellow;
alright enough, at least, that his rotting
Caddies in the driveway anger me
as sacrilege, a blasphemy against the dead.
Besides, the cat will find its way down
off that roof. It got itself into that mess;
it can make its way out.

Suddenly, as if it heard me thinking
the feline looks over and sees me through
my eighteen-by-thirty-two window
(I just measured that. Somehow it seemed important.)
for a full five seconds of simpatico bliss.
I sip my coffee and stare right back.
"Make your move, kitten. The world's your rotten oyster."

A few moments later it climbs down the tree
claws dug in for dear life, winter wind whipping its back.
One three-foot leap and its back on the ground.
Another false alarm, another bullet dodged.
Maybe we should stop tampering with the gods.
And there's further proof that we're all doomed:
the ones with dirty titles turn a lot more heads.


Ask a hooker how lonely Tuesday night can get.

And oh how quickly
life can go
from the jetfuel rush
of not knowing
she's a bottle blonde
until you get her pants off

to the humbling realization

that you've stomped upstairs
after a shower so long
that the hot water ran out
and you had to scrub your own back
for lack of better company
only to realize in your dresser mirror
that you forgot to rinse out
the conditioner again.

But it's not so bad.
I aged her with my eyes.


How It Almost Happened.

"You sound down," she told him.

"No lower than usual," he lied.

They'd known each other for ten years; knew the jabs and the counters; expected them even, or else something felt wrong.

"Let me amuse you with my latest failure," she pressed on. "You'll laugh and say you told me so."

He waited for what part of him expected to hear: the part that always assumed the worst, that knew that people don't change as much as they'd have you think otherwise.

"I'll do no such thing, but continue," he replied, crossing the fingers of his mind.

"I moved in with Brandon," she said as though dropping a predictable bomb of self-abasement, "for three weeks. Then he told me he couldn't be with me again, that I had to get it together. I got a bill for twenty-days' rent and utilities in his handwriting a week later." She waited for the laugh that wasn't coming. Even the cynics cringe at friends' failures.

His eyes narrowed in familiar sympathy. The road they'd known too well was upon them. "I'm sorry to hear that. He stopped deserving you a long time ago, Shayla," adding her name for emphasis. He almost hadn't done it at first for fear of it sounding too forced. Something else prevailed, though-- some opposite of pride.

"But I still believe in karma," she proclaimed with lifted spirits. "He was hospitalized right afterwards for an infected spider bite."

"Strange," he said. "The same thing happened to Melanie when she left me four years ago."

They paused to absorb the irony. It filled their souls like manna from hell.

"So do you want to meet for coffee?"


"Me neither."

And they went about their days comfortable with the knowledge that the other was still alive, still the same, and as shameless as clockwork for varying reasons.


Sweet as cunt so tight it hasn't bled yet.

"Not my brother
not my sister
but me, oh Lord
standing in the need of prayer.

Not my cousin
not my uncle
but me
Oh Lord
standing in the need of prayer.

Not my friends
and not my neighbors
but me, oh Lord
standing in the need of prayer.

Not my father
not my mother
but me
Oh Lord
standing in the need of prayer.

It's me, it's me, it's me, oh Lord
standing in the need of prayer.
It's me
it's me
it's me
Oh Lord
standing in the need..."

And they wonder why
a child raised with songs like this
develops a co-dependent guilt complex.

But thank God
for His omniscient hand
in the invention of the counter
which has found its way
into every diner worth its coffee.
Even the misanthropic
have not gone forgotten
in the eyes of our Holy Maker
and can read the paper in peace
without the shame of an empty seat
across a greasy table.
That place for any and all
drifters to sit is the last resort
of many; no foul-play involved.

And when the waiters started running
it's only left to ask:
Who was the first to set the new standard?

(The answer's as simple as the song.)

The one who stood in need.


Lights from a Fort Lee Love-Seat

Traffic up the West Side
shows no signs of dwindling down
as I sit and watch from a safe vantage point
high above the Hudson. It's a party
I guess, but I'm ready for bed
and Lady Death's overdue cousin.

Down towards Brooklyn
I focus on a single yellow light, one of many
in a flat stretch flickering.
And that's all that life looks like
from this far away, from a crowded Jersey
high-rise apartment where tonight
I'd rather not be.
Not tonight.

They're on and off and each one is five people
or twenty, or thirty, or none--
just a mirage. And when one finally dies
they all may leave, or maybe, if two are lucky
they've remained. Staying is the hardest part:
even for the stubborn; especially for the lonely.

A brat with no manners pulls a quarter from my nose
as I sit and sip my cocktail
painfully still the same. The ice has melted
and the crushed lime's gone bitter.
It takes a man to make me a drink anymore
though women are usually the reason.

I look for my light and find it again.
The kid points at my face
telling me not to move a muscle.
For once in my life it's easy to comply.

I'm no rock. I'm no island.
Manhattan is a cemetery
that I'll have to visit again sometime
if only out of respect.

Currently reading:
"Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army" by Jeremy Scahill.


a brace of pistols

We make those random basements ours:
home and forgiving
like the smell of leather.

I love him for speaking
in hypotheticals--such a
splendid way to translate
our less-than-such world.

"Would he give me a personal loan
to buy that house the wife wants?"

"Sure he would. Of course."

"Would you sacrifice our hourly rate
to be happier doing something else?"

"In a heartbeat, brother."

"Does the State of New York
have Castle Laws?"

"We're to run if they come for us."

"Would you take a bullet
so that I could live to be a grandfather?"

"I'd take one if it meant seeing you tomorrow
and every day after until I hang these holsters up.
But let's hope Junior makes it through
high school without any shotgun weddings."


The rest is the rest and works well with the weather.
A brace of pistols. A sacred safe buried with a coffin.
What'll it matter when the worms come?, speaking
their stunning legalese.



I watch him shove the boiled yucca
I made to go with his rice and chicken
and am not shocked when the response
isn't overwhelmingly enthusiastic
even for a food connoisseur.

"It's a little bland," he breaks it.
"Maybe if it was cooked with garlic..."

Ah, garlic. The solution to everything, vampires included.

"It's been years since I've had it," I confess. "My grandma used
to make it back when she could be trusted to use the stove."

He chews, trying to like the root vegetable staple
so familiar to Puerto Ricans and other Latin cultures.
For a blonde-hair, blue-eyed German
he's trying admirably hard.

"Try adding more salt," I suggest. "It's basically a vessel
for that and olive oil." My words sound apologetic
but I don't begrudge the flavor. In fact, I'm taking my time
making sure the white, fibrous Puerto Rican potato
mixes with the yellow rice and garlic-marinated chicken
in every nostalgic bite.

How much of our childhoods were exactly that?
More, thankfully, than those that pale in adulthood comparison.

I'm no hippie, but...

It's an intentionally quiet Saturday as the three of us
watch the war movie about downed Army helicopters
in Somalia. The fourth friend snores through it
cocktail in hand as always. I think back to
the old lady I worked the drive-thru with at
my high school burger-slinging job. She couldn't
watch that film, two of her sons flew Blackhawks.
My eyes catch the screen and my OCD
sucks me back into the present.

"It's always bothered me that the flag patches
on the shoulders of their uniforms are backwards."

The ironic military expert of our group chimes in
with some interesting nuggets of wisdom:

"They have it that way with the stars on the right
because that's how it'd look if they were marching
into battle with the wind blowing against them."

I let this sink in for a moment, fully appreciating
the forethought that went into such a design.
It's the concept that bothers me, though.

If they can put that much effort into looking proper
going into battle, why not apply the same effort
into avoiding it entirely? I keep this to myself
for the time-being. The action's good, the guns
provide topics of discussion, and no real people
are dying in my living room; well, not from gunshots
at least.


Patients, Have Patience.

Having been trained right
by my mother
I lifted the seat
even though I was at a man's office
which he paid to have cleaned;
not his nightly castle
where doing so was one of the chores.
It slid halfway along the bowl
as I raised it
the screws in back
clearly in need of a good tightening.
When my business was finished
I went to my truck for a screwdriver.
There were still a few minutes
before my appointment
and the noise machine near
the door of the room where he held sessions
was still running so I knew someone else
was on a roll and in the thick of it.
What better way to kill time
than fixing a man's toilet?
Aside from the charitable aspect of the gesture
there was the selfish motive:
I'd already paid this person hundreds of dollars
to sit, twitch and show body language that implies listening
while I spewed out anecdotal half-truths
for forty minutes to an hour, depending on our moods.
If someone were to sit on his carnival ride of a toilet seat
slip to the side, fall off and injure themself
then find some sue-Jew lawyer to milk my shrink dry
all of the time and money I've spent
explaining the wreckage of countless gallons of rum
and sixty college credits would be wasted.
I pondered this potential catastrophe as I turned the screws
and secured the seat, making sure to use the antibacterial soap
provided on the rim of the sink afterwards.
The prior customer, dare I say patient
had wrapped up his pityfest in the interim
and when I walked back down the hallway, tool in hand
the good doctor looked at me as though his time had come.
"Don't worry. I was only fixing your toilet," I assured him.
"Really? Thank you. That thing's been broken
for over a year," he replied.
"It wasn't broken," I began
to correct him, then quickly changed my course.
"It's amazing how much can be accomplished
with a simple screwdriver," I said, trying not to make
him feel like the typically useless male homeowner
who comes pre-neutered and lacking common sense
at your nearest mega shopping center. I went on:
"Bukowski said it's the little things
that drive a man to madness: the toilet seats, the broken
shoelaces, the roommates that don't replace the roll."
He looked at me and asked who Bukowski was.
I absorbed the blow on behalf of my literary anti-hero
and moved the conversation along in a safer direction
like the wonderful drunken weekend I'd had with my friends
and a day of reconciliation that had come for my love and me.
When it came time to pay at the end of our long talk
my services were not reflected in the bill. I was not one bit
surprised since any Joe can turn a screw without having
a framed piece of parchment paper on his wall-- any Joe
that is, but the one with too many letters after his surname.
I handed over the check and rose to shake his hand.
My payment came in the form of sick satisfaction, a forced
acknowledgement that I was onto his rouse and no less a man.
"Ya know, Doc," I said, one hand on the doorknob, "I won't
tell anyone what your toilet proved tonight..."
He looked at me quizzically, praying for a punchline.
"I'm not the only one in town with a few screws loose."

Currently reading:
"Across the River and into the Trees" by Ernest Hemingway.

Another Dud

We descended into the basement of the apartment building
where we'd done a lot of plumbing, painting, and electrical
work over the course of the last eight months. The place
had started out as a brothel in the mid-1800s, then became
a moviehouse in the early Twentieth Century, was
subdivided into four separate units after that and was now
owned and rented out by one of Dave's customers.

"It looks a hundred percent better down here, doesn't it?"
Dave asked as he flicked on a light switch.

The place was a nightmare when we first encountered it:
dirt floors, wooden stalls that looked like dungeons, barely
any lighting, and a system of spiderweds thick enough
to slow your breathing. I was working for the union
when Dave tackled the basement cleanup project
and wasn't disappointed about missing out
on such a fun task.

"Yeah, man. Looks great. It's a shame I couldn't help."

Dave smirked and swallowed whatever words were
forming in his throat. He was good like that sometimes.

The grand tour led us to a room which had once
been full of defunct water heaters that plumbers of yore
had been to lazy to remove. The only thing still present
was a white spackle bucket sitting in the corner behind the door.
I walked over to it and investigated, assuming it was
left there intentionally. Dave, like myself, was a creature
of habit, if not reasoning.

"What's with the bucket?" I asked as I reached for
my flashlight to peer down into its contents.

"Take a look for yourself," he replied, his boyish
grin beaming at me in anticipation.

I reached down into the pail, which was half-full
of water, and pulled out a cylindrical object
eight inches long. It was a galvanized steel pipe
with caps threaded on both ends. One side had been
drilled and tapped, a small hole revealing the caked
white powder which had been packed inside the pipe.

"Is this what I think it is?" I asked in astonishment.

"Yeah," Dave said. "I hid it in there so the inspector
wouldn't see it. Probably the experiment of
some kid who lived here."

We both knew otherwise. A teenager would not
have had the foresight to drill and tap the cap like that.
I didn't raise this point, though. It was easier to
leave it alone.

"How do you get these messed up jobs?" I asked
my benefactor.

"Hey, someone's got to keep you busy
since our hall can't," he laughed.

It was true and I was grateful. My world would
be a far more dismal place without the aid of David.
A pipe bomb in the basement was no match
for the alternative-- sitting at home broke
and without a source for stories.


Daylight Shavings

His periwinkle Oxford looked a size too big
as though his wife had failed again
or the day's stress had deflated him.
I suspected the latter; a man with so many
framed degrees on his walls would not
settle for anything less than a model example
of bridal perfection. The trophy wives were left
to lawyers since the damned attract the damned.
Doctors, perhaps in freshman physiology, learned
how to clone their mothers for the greater good
of the marriage. Their divorce rate was low.

"Does it bother you?" he asked
not looking up from my chart on his clipboard.

"Not enough to make it worth acting on it."
I felt as though my epidermis was temporarily
transformed to plastic wrap. He didn't need to
glance my way to convince himself that I had
begged for abortions; I had watched families die;
I was a genetic contradiction incapable of being
related to a good patient like my mother; I was neither
what I made myself out to be nor what that chart said.
My foibles were beyond the scope of science.
I could no longer speak in the Royal We.

I heard a nurse yawn through the crack under the doorway.
Wasn't there some law against that?
A thousand ears were listening, or so I thought.
The truth is that I was merely another number--
in this case a less desirable one.
As a doctor and a man of probabilities
he suspected that there were cadavers more worthy
of life than me.

"Good. Then live with it as best you can,"
he said matter-of-factly as he loosened his tie
from around his neck with the hand not
holding the pen. His skin was sallow and waxy.
It looked bloated, like his body had been
decomposing in a river for two days
and then somehow became reanimated.
There I was getting medical advice
from a man beyond the Great Divide.
It seemed like a fitting decision considering
my track record. I sucked in hard
and tasted the infection. The dead were all around
me in that supposedly sterile room.

"Thanks, Doc. I hope to not see you soon."

He didn't laugh. Even if he'd never heard the joke
he would not've stooped to that.
A faint smirk shot across his taut face.
It wasn't because of my attempt at humor;
it was the fact that he got paid for this.
My curse was that I knew the difference.

Sundowning, baby.
They call this sundowning.


Always Opt for the Extended Warranty

The book was finally making sense
though it may have been too late.
My mother had pawned a bunch of them
off on me in exchange for the ones I'd lent her.
This one seemed the less of the evils, or maybe
it seemed the worst of the bunch
and therefore the most entertaining.
I was only appeasing her by succumbing
to the mindlessly predictable plot
shamelessly stuffed with a deeper, spiritual meaning
that'd fail to make sense to me for another twenty years
and countless failed attempts at flight
or at least a decent shake at the thing.

A middle-aged woman
long-robbed of her flowing locks
sat at my eleven
reading her book club's latest assignment.
The television blaring from the corner of the room
which most of us tired Toyota owners were ignoring
played a soccer mom cooking show.
When the phrase "all white-meat chicken" slipped from
the host's mouth like a promise of quality ingredients
I saw my fellow reader's head snap up
as if being cued by the words. Some Mexican peppers
were mentioned next and she frowned; Carl wouldn't like
all that spicy business, especially since the ulcer got worse
after his lay-off. Her head dropped back down
to her trite little novel like a defeated old hen.
Then I saw the title on the cover.
It was the same as mine.

"Mr. Vargas, your truck's done with the diagnostic.
It's the power steering pump. The part's four hundred,
the labor's two. Do you want us to go ahead and..."

"I'll live with it for now," I grumbled, tucking my book
under my arm as I reached for my wallet.

For now, maybe. But for how much longer?
I pondered my options as I made my way outside.

"Oh, we're reading the same book," the shorn sheep
babbled as she passed me in the parking lot.
Carl would be livid that the alignment had cost so much.
He always warned her not to hit those speedbumps so hard.
Her voice was fraught with the fear of telling him the damage.
"Do you like it so far?" she asked, pointing to my bookmark
two-thirds of the way through the tightly compressed pages.

"No hablo ingles," I said in my best John Wayne
as I left her to scratch her head. Carl hated when
they couldn't even speak the language...

Life's a book that no one else will ever bother to read.
I don't expect a second glance, let alone a Pulitzer.

Currently reading:
"The Celestine Prophecy" by James Redfield.


The First Line Of A Story I'm Too Damn Chicken-Shit To Write

It was an autumn we were cheated, when the leaves turned brown and fell without the usual consolation prize of that fleeting orange bliss.


Meadow Soprano, Where Art Thou?

Wives and daughters of New Jersey policemen (, and I'm not limiting it to New JERSEY policemen, but know for a fact that such is the case with their little haven of perfected nepotism) are given faux-metal badges with rubber suction cups on them to stick to the insides of their windshields. These Get-Outta-Jail-Free Cards are rather large and obvious, even for the rarely bashful Smokestack State. In order to catch any potential thieves of said Holy Grails, wives and daughters of New Jersey policemen are instructed to take them down one month out of the year which, of course, is agreed upon by yes, you guessed it: the Fraternal Order of New Jersey Police (or FratOrNJeP, as I like to call it. Actually, this was my first time, but I like it and may use it in the future). Anyone seen operating a motor vehicle (MV) with the pseudo-badge proudly displayed during that designated Dark Age is instantly pulled over, interrogated, forced to describe their most traumatic childhood experience in dramatic detail through interpretive dance, and released to hopelessly wander the jug-handles, roundabouts, left-hand exits, and other absurd oddities of the New Jersey Highway System...and God forbid they're Asian; then we're all at risk.

You may be asking yourself: Self, what about the husbands and sons of New Jersey policePEOPLE? Well, quite frankly, they're left to fend for themselves. No one likes a man who can't make his own way in this world. Besides, the Situation doesn't have a Courtesy Badge in his ride. Why would any other brah possibly need one?


Justification: Too Much Hemingway Dialogue, Not Enough Sleep (For a Reason)

"...but all you do is..."

"Not all. Just mostly."

"Then why don't you...?"


"Because you're scared of being...?"


"Then why are you still...?"

"It's the one thing that only I can do, and I like that."

"Jesus. You're just as..."

"Watch it, now. That's my..."

"...for now."


"Then you both deserve..."

"...the best."

"But is that really...?"

"The Good Fight's worth its weight in empties it's inspired."

"And the bad ones, Socrates?"

"Won't get honorable mentions at any funerals."

"That's a bit melodramatic. You make..."

"...good drinks. Care for another?"


"You're a rare, easy customer."

"You need all the help you can get."

"You're not the first to say that, though I tend to disagree."

"That's because you're stubborn."

"I prefer 'persistent'."

"Whatever it takes to help you sleep..."

"Not until Friday night."

It's Out of the Question, Genetically Speaking

"Is that your cat?" I ask the three-year-old
as I point to the black mangy tom
sprawled peacefully on the radiator
that Dave and I replaced.

No answer from the girl.

"Who's that on the TV?" I try, nodding towards
the latest, freakish neon cartoon shipped with love
from Japan to rot the minds of American children.

She smiles a bit, revealing a full set of rounded teeth.
They're so perfect and miniature that they seem fake.
I'm surprised to see them, considering she doesn't speak.

I try the cat thing again. It seems more organic.
And besides, if she decides to make conversation
I know more about cats than I do about new cartoons.
Her green eyes light up her milky face
and the near-white ringlets draped over her ears
twitch with delight. Her right hand pats her thigh
three times in an inexpressable jolt of excitement.
It's got nothing to do with what I'm saying.
She just likes to hear me speak-- a trait she'll grow
out of in another fifteen years if she's anything like
the rest of her kind.

"That cat's silly," I venture, but the patting stays the same.
I begin to wonder if she even speaks English.
Maybe they do things differently in Walden.

"Alright. Boiler's up and running!" Dave calls
from beneath the floorboards. Nothing's leaking.
It's another minor miracle of the plumbing world.
Hallelujah, praise the Lord, pass the ammunition.

"All Quiet on the Western Front!" I yell back down.

"Huh?" Dave asks.

"It's a...nevermind. We're all good, baby!"

The girl, of course, pats her leg some more.

"Leave that poor man alone," the young mother
pleads from the kitchen. I wonder how she knows, if
my reputation precedes me as far as the next town over.
"Come and get a cookie, Lily," and my audience wobbles away.

Lily, the perfect name for a gorgeous bundle of almost-albino life.
I wonder if they had another one picked out, but changed it
after her birth since it was too fitting to pass up. (Yes, these
are the things your friendly neighborhood plumber thinks about
when he's in your home. These, and how to screw you.)

Lily and mom come in from the kitchen, cookies in hands of both.
Dave climbs the basement stairs and enters the room as well.
The three of them look at me, but only the one who knows me
asks what the smile on my face is about.

I pat my thigh three times and shrug
hoping the training pays off someday.


Grumpy Young Men

Fall foliage and a valley
carved deep by the Hudson's tide
drew me to the park
for a bout with Hem and loneliness.
His latest on my list
was on the Spanish Civil War--
something else he watched
but didn't fight in, then transcribed.
It was a recurring theme with him.
I was beginning to respect his writing more
and his farce of bravado less.
No, that's not true.
He lured me in
like those leaves.

The parking lot was empty
when I faithfully arrived.
It took me by surprise that
the high-for-season temperature
didn't bring out the illegals
cooking and fishing and playing in the water.
I thought it'd be too loud to read.
Instead I had a ghost town.

There was one old timer walking near me
on the path to the beach
where I used to lay with lover.
I noted the lack of people.
He said the same of yesterday
aside from a man in a kayak
who started in the Great Lakes
and was heading to the Gulf
for a charity for wounded vets.
"The aquatic Appalachian," I quipped
at his gray beard. He knew when
to break the conversation with a humble
"Have a good one," before it got too awkward.
I was thankful and sad at the same time.
Hemingway had conjured himself
only to vanish in thin air again
this time without the use
of his trusty twelve-gauge shotgun.

And that air was more than fierce
as it blew off the water and tried
turning pages prematurely.
The wind was whipping clouds
predicted to cast showers overnight
to the point of my discomfort
and immediate agitation.
I muscled through the story
of betrayal in a wartime bar
and made my way for my vehicle
and the safety of my room--
the waiting set of another tragedy.

The ride home gave some ammo
for the cynic in the critic:
Behold the daylight drug whores
of the main drag in my city.
A traffic light presented two bumpers
with opposing views stuck on:
"Pray the Rosary" and
"Born OK the First Time"
(a shot at Holy Rollers).
I made peace with happy medium
and told them both to scratch.

But the kicker in the sticker
didn't come until I laid down in bed
to read again and heard the uncommon
combination of lawnmower and crickets
through my open bedroom window.
An overly ambitious neighbor, or perhaps
a proscratinator, was trimming his grass
in the pitch-black of six-thirty.
Coupled with the insects it sang nothing less than home.
I tossed the book, hit the lights, and complied
with what fate gave me: a symphony to sleep through
while my mind erased the day.


The Joys of Being Cold-Blooded

The orange has peaked
at this end of October.
It's the most vivid display
since I was a kid
or maybe this year
I just notice it more

like the God Rays
reaching down
like fingers through the clouds
kissing outstretched legs
of six turtles on their log.
It's late in the season
for them to be out
but no one's pulling over
to shout that towards the pond.

Statistically it's proven
that men stab up
women thrust down
and me?
I lash out wildly
in every direction
favoring the one that's easiest.
In this case it's my driveway:
a harmless, homeless number.
Be thankful for the rote.

But those stubborn, timeless turtles
in their late October sun
are God's immaculate orgasm:
a happy mess that feels good
without having to sleep
in the wet spot.

I'd gladly sleep in yours.

Currently reading:
"The Fifth Column" by Ernest Hemingway.


An Alto In the Weeds

My mother didn't tell me
'til after my fifth-grade concert was over
but she used to stand outside the bathroom door
and listen to me practice singing "Hallelujah" in the shower.
"It was beautiful," she lied, and tried to imitate my pre-pubescent
butchering of the a capella, one-lyric hymn that I sang in chorus
(back when God was still almost tolerated in the Arts programs
of public schools, as long as no Muslims were on the roster).
She must've known that if she'd told me I would've stopped.
A mother always knows when you'll stop.
A mother knows you'll stop
before you do.

Currently reading:
"The Torrents of Spring" by Ernest Hemingway.


Clearance Conscience

It was a sign that my fear of change
had to be faced:
the office furniture store down the street
was having one of its outdoor used swivel-chair sales
as I was driving by en route to my union hall.
I told myself I'd stop by on my way back
not sure if I actually would.
My desk set at home was the same one
my mother bought for me when we moved away
from my father's town thirteen years ago.
It'd served me well throughout that time.
The chair, however, had been designed for someone
with a wet weight half of my current size.
As a result the padding was not so comfortable anymore
and I could only manage to sit at the computer
for forty minutes at a time without having to stretch
my legs and relieve my sore behind.

I did the unthinkable and stopped on the way back.
The chairs were strewn about randomly with no
regard for color, quality, style or price.
A middle-aged salesman with a purple coldsore
on his upper lip came outside and greeted me.
I asked about the one that caught my eye, a hunter green
number in excellent shape that sat low to the ground.
He fumbled with the paddle underneath the seat in an
attempt to show me how to raise it before realizing
it was broken. I offered him five less than the suggested price.
He told me he'd let it go for ten instead. How could I argue with
a deal like that? I paid and placed it in the bed of my truck
checking my rear-view a few times on the ride home
as if it'd somehow fall out and spare me the chore of
replacing my old faithful wooden number.

It felt like sneaking a paramore into the house.
I lumbered up the creaking stairs with it
like a clumsier Frankenstein's monster.
The rabbit ran when she heard the racket.
Then again, she ran whenever I approached.
I wheeled the chair into place next to Old Faithful.
Same height, more or less, with a favoring on the less side.
Shamefully I rolled the old chair away and slid the new one
in front of the desk. I sat and set my hands
on the keyboard with little-to-no regard for the "home row"
they tried pounding into my muscle memory in my ninth-grade
keyboarding class. I was up to ninety-something words-per-minute
but went right back to my hybrid style of hunting and punching
as soon as the semester was over. It's not that I can't be trained;
it's more a matter of stubborn resistance.

The mouse felt a bit out of reach with the slightly lower position
but the arm rests served as a pivot point on which to rest
my elbows. The keyboard was also a fraction higher
and marginally out of reach, but part of me liked that aspect.
It felt as though I were stepping up to the plate to write.
That's how it should be; otherwise you're doing it wrong.

I looked over at Old Faithful in its temporary position in the corner.
The diving knife I strapped to its leg when I was fifteen and
my stepfather first moved in would have to be removed.
An honorable legend further stripped of glory; it felt like sin
and not that kind that we revel in at night. The kind
that we try to hide from the friends who truly matter.

So hear I sit in this second-hand chair that's new enough for me
typing away about an oddity of life that could only be
over-analyzed by with someone with too much time and heart.
If it were any other way you'd be surprised, though.
The most sacred things never change.


Sushi Worth the Mercury

First there was the second round.
I couldn't come. I faked it.
Love's so full of mercy
that I try to share
with you.

Caught a whiff of carnival:
greasy food and greasy people.
Caught a scratch
I couldn't itch
and threw it back at you.

There's not a rep in this department.
There's not a soul to sell.
The subway preacher damned us both.
Let's sin our way to hell.

And if I die before I wake
I pray my stocks my mom does take.
I'd leave them all in your name
but I know you'll join me, too.


Systematic Failure of the Pull-and-Pray Method

The drone of powertools and
hungover yell of the laborers sinking shovels
had a lull long enough for a rare
chance to correct my mentor
in a semantic slip-up:

"He's not a setback
or a situation. He's
your kid, whether or not
you still see him."

Fifteen years of a weekly
financial burden dissolved
as a sublime dry ice
punctuated by a brief moment
in which my teacher
looked at me
with the hatred of the kid
whose mother sent celery
and peanut butter as the group snack
for his kindergarten class.

"You know what I mean."

I tossed him a bone
in the form of a nod.
The difference between right
and righteous is merely a matter
of grace.

Forgive us fathers
for we know not
what we do.


Jimmy Hoffa Fought, Died, Was Shipped to China in the Trunk of a Crushed Japanese Car for This?

A dump-truck driver's life is known to have its share of waiting. That's not to say he's necessarily lazy. It's part of the teamster's routine. His bed has to be filled in order to commence carting off the load to whatever unfortunate destination it has in store. Some guys sleep. Others smoke little black cigars, though not as well as Clint in his early Westerns. Then there is the literary crowd...

I witnessed a specimen of the latter variety today. As I walked by the truck I caught a glimpse of a familiar, bold-lettered font on the cover of a magazine; perhaps a computer-enhanced hip as well. The driver was hunched over the steering wheel like a preacher over his pulpit. His eyes were fixed upon the pages. He was waiting for his load, alright. I left before it came.

And women complain about the ones that are only a bit foul-mouthed...


Hardhat Stickers and Trophy Scars

A lull in the work and a crest in the confusion lends time to relieve myself in the three-by-three portable latrine on the jobsite. It's after eight-thirty, we've been working for over thirteen hours to get the steamlines tied back in by tomorrow's deadline-- a promise made flippantly by an absent owner at a job meeting without consulting his foreman as to the true state of things. Through the thin plastic walls I overhear another pipefitter talking to his five-year-old daughter on his phone. A welding machine buzzes and hums in the background as it guzzles gasoline.

"I'm sorry I couldn't see you today, OK? I had to work late again, OK? Do some artwork for me and I'll hang it up when I get home tonight, OK?" That last part about reaching our homes this evening feels like a goal that can't be met at this rate, but it sounds like he honestly means it. Maybe he doesn't realize how far under the gun we are. I'm the realist of the crew if nothing else. Strangely, I'm also the youngest.

We crawl back down into the manhole. There's a sixty-pound bag of grout in the way of our work that a laborer must've left behind. For his diminutive hourly rate I can't blame his lack of ambition. I pick up the bag and move it to the corner of the concrete vault, taking a moment to read a warning in fine print after setting it down. I decide to inform that fitter full of apologies of all the danger we're in.

" 'This product contains crystalline silica, which in the State of California is known to cause cancer'," I recite. "We sure are lucky we're on the other coast or else we'd be at risk!" I jest.

The joke fails, barely earning a smirk. He's got other things on his mind. And the knowledge of our certain death is beginning to rival the redundancy of a snare drum. He's moved on to bigger and better. His cell phone's in his hand again, but this time it's not pressed to his ear.

"What are you doing?" I ask. "Taking pictures of what not to do for the Union magazine?"

"No. I'm sending my wife a video. She doesn't believe I've been working for thirteen hours in the rain. She thinks I'm having a rendezvous."

I ponder what his spelling of his last word would be. It's just as doomed as he is. I decide right then and there to get out of the trade before it claims another casualty. I lift the collar of my sweatshirt over the bottom half of my face, inhale a deep whiff of decay, and realize it's too late: it isn't the wet leaves I'm smelling this time.


Rule of PoeTRY #831.27, Sub-Division 6-A, Clause VII: Naming the Stillborn.

Line unwritten's
a shallow threat
a sterile thought knowing better
than to admit it's ex-
for the sake of
the record
the potential ear.

(And to think they
to write
chivalry's obituary.)


A Vintage I Can Appreciate, Even If It's Not My Taste

I'm going to tell you the worst thing that's ever happened to me
this side of the county line.
I'm going to let you feel my wrist for a pulse
only to find a jackhammering.
I'm going to show you how crazy I am
without asking for your pity in the form of a mercy-fuck.

Tonight as I read Vonnegut-- an old, yellowed copy
she bought for under a dollar (a token of her love)--
fifty-some-odd pages fell out.
It was only a matter of time.
The spine had been broken, cracked through the binding
in two places.

Every night in bed and every morning in my truck before work
I held it gingerly in a vain attempt to prevent the inevitable
(an accidental metaphor rears its pompous head)
while reading the nourishing words of a man madder than myself.
But it matters not. It's gone now. He's dead, forget about it.

It can't join the ranks of the works on my shelves, not in
that tattered form.
It's tainted. It's flawed.
And it isn't printed on acid-free paper.
It won't survive the move. It won't ride the weather.
It won't see tomorrow. It won't last forever.

My blood's still flowing hard through my
like when I get so...so...nevermind
with You-Know-Who.
It's the closest I've come to panic attack.
Will this be the second book in history
I've started and never finished?
No. No, it can't.

My jaw's pumping now; the tendon's in my neck
are bulging: I'm making the same face
that my father did when he lifted weights
when I was a kid and we still spoke
and Kurt Vonnegut was a stranger
and my father was not
and now KV's a friend instead
and oh, isn't that a funny coincidence?
No no, it's a SIGN.

But I need to go to bed now.
Care to join a liar?


What's fact, what's false, and what's slightly stretched to bridge the gap.

Firemen in Tennessee stood and watched
a house burn down
because its owner hadn't paid
his seventy-five-dollar firehouse fee this year.
Only after the flames had spread through the yard
and threatened a paying neighbor's home
was the fire extinguished, and masterfully.

Authorities in Beacon have been
hot on the trail of a moose on the loose.
Experts say it must've wandered down
from its northern realm by accident
but something tells me it was chasing
some tail and made a wrong left turn.
Been there, brother. Good luck finding home.

I recently texted a union contractor
by whom I was previously employed
at six o'clock in the morning
telling him I love him
by accident, of course.
Fortunately he's been out of business
for years and has probably had his
company cell phones turned off
or at least that's what I'm telling myself.
Perhaps I should not operate a phone
and motor vehicle simultaneously anymore.

There was a day last week
when I unintentionally ended
every sentence
with a wink.
I hated myself on that day
slightly more than on the rest.

Morning sex is nice and all
but it only makes us late.


Currently reading:
"Jailbird" by Kurt Vonnegut.


Emptiness is godliness through the Law of Syllogism?

I was twelve years old and dying at the same rate that I am now--one day at a time--though the money and the maidens didn't matter then, or at least didn't play as noticeable a role. Cash received in Christmas cards and other tax-exempt sources was thoughtlessly squandered on whatever tickled my fancy right out of my nylon and velcro wallet. One such investment was "The Aeroplane Flies High, Turns Left, Looks Right" or a similarly pompous title conjured by the conveniently tortured mind of Billy Corgan: lead guitarist, lead singer, founder and CEO of 90s-rock alternagroup The Smashing Pumpkins. (To what the genre was a self-proclaimed "alternative" I'm still not sure. The stuff hit you as often as a middle-schooler's cheap cologne.) His feminine whine assaulted the airwaves for almost ten years of viable commercial success. One of the band's many logos, a small heart with the letters "SP" brilliantly incorporated into its center, soils my left bicep to this day in the form of my third tattoo. And unsurprisingly, since my first favorite band happened to fall into my lap at a time before the existence of rent or car payments, much CD-binder real estate is occupied by said group.

My first musical purchase had come in the form of the CD single of "1979", a minor lie of a radio hit released in the year 1996. That disc still sits in its case on one of my shelves to this day, the four original band members walking out of a roller-rink in some sort of drugged-up stupor, pastel make-up and silk and leather attacking the dizzy lens. I listened to the six songs on that disc until they became a part of my heartbeat. It wasn't a matter of "playing them out" as can happen when something is listened to too frequently; I simply didn't hear it anymore. Everything was alright if I heard Billy's tinny pleas. The songs became home, the status quo soundtrack to my life in homeostasis.

But home too becomes tiresome for most. After several months of repeated play I decided to move on to bigger and better through acquiring the entire album. This proved difficult, since the confused Wal Mart employee had never heard of "Melancholy and Infinity Sadness", partially because it didn't exist. My mother tried to aid in the search, but her role as liaison was limited due to the error on my part to give the correct title. Alas, the internet had yet to be invented (and not by Al Gore, despite what he'd have you believe). A few more desperate attempts at conveying the correct title to the slightly subhuman employee of Satan led to a positive response from the almighty computer: "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness", a double-disc to my delight, was out of stock but could be ordered for the mere price of $23.99, which I gladly forked over to the boy in blue. A week later and it was in my hands, in my room, in my ears and the ears of my mother and pet rabbit, neither of which had much say in the matter. More and more singles kept being released off the record, more and more music videos were made, and each time I felt like an old friend was succeeding. Billy and I would conquer the world, so long as I and millions like me kept buying posters, pins, patches, shirts, and compact discs bearing the name of his creative baby. There must be a specific date for when Rock-n-Roll was reduced to Capitalism in purest form, but musical historians will have to duke that one out on their own time and dimes.

It came as no surprise that I sought out the ultimate in geek-level fan merchandise: a six-disc box set--complete with 124-page booklet of lyrics, liner notes, and general egocentric babble--of the band's six singles off "Mellon Collie". Sure, it cost between fifty and sixty dollars and I already had one-third of the songs in my possession (the six singles from the record, plus the B-sides from the aforementioned "1979" CD), but could a pricetag truly be placed on fanhood and dedication? Yes, folks--you've come to the right assumption: music collection was one of my earliest forms of obsessive compulsive behavior, though not my first. A fixation with even numbers (Freud might say as an attempt to bring fairness to an unfair environment) and repetition to achieve them to achieve them came at an earlier date, but I won't bore bore bore bore you with that.

My mother's Sears-bought stereo could not be accessed fast enough. I sprang into the condo and loaded its six-disc changer with the entire overzealous collection, then plopped myself down on the beige rug in front of it, watching the digital seconds and tracks tick by in orange block lettering. By the end of the musical marathon I was sprawled out on my stomach and barely able to keep my eyes open. It seemed as though one song, the last one in line, had been playing forever without making much sense. I came out of my quasi-coma and glanced up at the time display indicator. The track had been playing for forty-three minutes and counting! Thumbing through the pounds of paperwork provided in the package led me to the name of the "song" in question: "The Pistachio Medley". Upon closer investigation I realized what I'd been unfairly subjected to. The entire track was simply a string of totally unrelated riffs and snippets that'd been taped in the brainstorming process for the album's composition, most of which consisted of heavily overdriven guitars poorly recorded. Not one word came from Mr. Corgan's mouth. Not even a bassline could be heard. It was simply a guitarist or two jamming with a drummer for ten seconds at a time, only to be copied and pasted between two totally different pieces of metallic trash. It was a vain man's display of true power, a sad way to take advantage of an impressionable young mind. I hit the power button and stormed up to my room. If I hadn't paid eight dollars for each of them those two posters would've been instantly ripped down. Billy Corgan had cheated me. Later lackluster releases over the course of the following eight years would prove that it wouldn't be the last time. But what's that they say? You never forget your first?

For nostalgia's sake I popped the telltale CD into my truck's stereo last week and forgot about it. When that disc finally came on last night I turned it up and rolled the window's down on Eighty-Seven since no one could hear me anyway. But that last song, that piss-poor "Pistachio Medley" hit my ears like a ton of ancient aural bricks, so I stopped playing air drums at eighty miles-an-hour to do the only appropriate thing: I pictured myself and my first taste of disillusionment there on that plush carpet and laughed.


Winter Weight Blues

"I've made plans for Sunday.
I've prioritized."
Well, me too.

The rabbit knows
when something's wrong--
she hops a little slower
and never towards my room.

Sometimes the voices
speak to my hands
but deep down I know
they'd like that too much.
You see
I make my own sun, brother.
I've given up on trying
to chase it.

We both deserve
that peace
whether there're demerits
or ribbons on our chests

though I suppose
the only thing
sadder than doing
the laundry
and finding her things
mixed in with mine

is folding my clothes
and not.


Time Is Money, and To Waste a Man's Is Wrong

They say you have to be an alcoholic or divorced to be a good welder; the best of them are both. Maybe it's because you've got to be used to all that alone time under the mask, the hood, the shield. Maybe being accustomed to those two forms of self-destructive isolation train you for the solitary darkness, the blinding flash of the arc rays, the toxic fumes that choke your lungs, the iron filings that fill your nostrils and make you blow black snot in the shower, and the heat that drenches your leather gloves and jacket. The art of welding is a sure bet for making money, but it's a hell of a way to make a living-- one that sends you to an early grave. Despite that merciful perk it was never a skill which caught my interest.

Sure, I could trudge my way through stitching a few joints in a pinch if it meant making a quick buck, but I wanted to limit my involvement to that rare scenario. In the final year of my pipefitting apprenticeship, the dreaded welding class, I merely went through the motions. I didn't even bother to show up for the test at the end that'd determine whether or not our union hall could send us out on the job as welders. Most of my classmates who did take the test failed anyway. And besides, from the young age of fifteen I knew it'd be a person that dealt my coup de grace, not a blue-collar profession. I didn't want to deny the gods their rightful say in the matter by letting a trade steal the glory.

There was one thing I learned in the booth that year, however, aside from the fact that bonding ferrous metal through the intricate process of heating and cooling is not for me.

I had just finished my first pass between the two pipes I was joining; the "root", as they call it. My instructor happened to be passing by and saw that I was ready for the next phase, or the "fill pass". He ducked his head into my booth and inspected my work briefly.

"Looks good, kid," said the pudgy, red-faced Irishman.

"Thanks," I replied half-heartedly. It was no secret that I loathed welding. I did anything I could to stall, even if it meant carrying the scrap steal barrels out to the bins behind our hall. That basement was the cleanest it'd ever been due to my desire to avoid the assigned task at hand. I'm sure they miss me now that I'm gone.

"You could've been a hell of a welder if you'd started to care earlier in the year," he said with a benevolent smirk. He knew I wouldn't take offense. Back-handed compliments are routine in the building trades. They're the only way of giving credit without coming off as anything less than a hardened, masculine construction worker full of piss and whiskey. The denial's quite amusing most times.

"Thanks," I said again, this time with more conviction. I lived for those clandestine male-bonding moments. My instructor told me to proceed and walked away.

The fill pass went well, or so I thought. Visually, it's the least critical step in the process. The root sets a foundation which can be seen from inside the pipe; the fill acts as "filler" to level out the gap between the two pipes; and the cover pass, or "cap", leaves an even, wide, aesthetically pleasing finished product for the world to see. The world in this case usually winds up being limited to the maintenance crew in whatever facility we happen to be building or renovating; regardless, their admiration for what trained union labor can accomplish is something for which to strive. If my pipefitting brethren heard me right now they'd throw up in their hardhats.

My teacher returned when he noticed the blue glow of the electric arc rays had ceased. I lifted my helmet and waited for that pat on the back again, but this time it wasn't there.

"What happened?" he asked, his aging eyes squinting at my weld.

"No good?" I asked.

"You copped out on this one," he said. Gone was the playfully sly tone. This was the man's livelihood and the future of our craft. The continuation of our local's work meant his pension would be covered. Failure on my part meant food would be taken off his table when it came time for him to retire. Cat food would be the main constituent of his diet if our local union were to dissolve. "See those rough spots with holes in the steel? That's where the molten metal wasn't hot enough because you hesitated. It's weak and brittle there."

"I can't run the cover pass over it and melt the bad spots out that way? It'll look fine when I'm done." As soon as I'd said it I knew I'd blundered.

"No!" he snapped. "You can't put good on top of bad. You can't hide lousy work with a decent facade. Grind out the fill pass and start over."

"But it took me..."

"I don't care how long it took you, kid. You're mine from five to eight, two nights a week. You finally almost got it right. Make it happen this time."

He let the curtain fall back between us and moved on to the next booth to critique someone else's work. I couldn't hear his voice, but I pitied his next student. I picked up the grinder and removed my sub-par attempt. The next step would have to wait. I had to make the immediate right first. Poor welds yield leaking pipes. Faulty foundations lead to falling houses. And relationships with issues unaddressed follow suit. It's not the way it should be, but it's the way it is.


"...maybe a woman, maybe a sonnet, maybe a lack of proper diet."

"You moved the goddamn knife," Sue said after settling into bed. "It's not on the night stand."

"Yeah. So?" Bernie asked aloofly. He'd had a rough day at work. All he wanted was some sadly mechanical missionary and a solid night's rest. Bernie often asked for too much. Consistency on Sue's part when it mattered most was at the top of that list; security in anything at all a close second.

"You're a creature of habit if I've ever encountered one," the unsettled woman responded. "I know you lay there and twirl the thing at night while you read or talk to me on the phone when I'm out of town."

"Oh yeah?" Bernie asked, suddenly intrigued in his partner's newfound detective profession. "How do you figure?"

"It's a switchblade, Bern. I hear you flicking it open over and over like a damn nutjob. I still can't believe you walked four blocks back to that souvenir shop in Key West to get it."

"It's a collector's item. They're illegal here. That thing's worth money. And I hadn't treated myself in awhile at the time so..."

Sue's cold thigh pulled away from Bernie's roasting leg. She wasn't buying any of his ruse. She didn't want any of his heat.

"That's not my point," she scolded in that motherly tone she knew damn well he couldn't stand, the condescending rasp of stubborn omniscience. "I know why you moved it to the dresser."

"Oh yeah?" Bernie asked for the second time in forty-three seconds, this time after swallowing a freshly formed lump in his throat. He wasn't the best liar in town despite Sue's accusations. Being an only child with no dog had forced him to take the rap time and time again. It had also forced him to share, ironically. He had to split his love between two very different parents in two very different homes, whether or not either of them deserved it at any given time.

"You think I'm going to stab you in your sleep," Sue said as casually as a confident prosecutor closing a foolproof argument. There was no need for flare anymore. She had him pinned like a glass-cased butterfly.

"You're out of your mind," Bernie laughed, though visibly uncomfortable. Small beads of sweat formed on his brow ignoring the fact that the cool September air was rolling through the open window. "I was playing with it the other night and left it on the dresser is all."

"Yes, the dresser. Close enough for you to stumble for in the evening while you read your damn Bukowski, but far enough that I'd have to get out of bed to grab it if I wanted to put you out of your misery in your sleep; and me out of mine in the process."

"Jesus, woman. Stick to your day job. This midnight detective shit is not so impressive." Bernie almost said it with enough gusto to convince himself of his statement. Almost.

Sue laughed in unacknowledged triumph. Bernie laughed like a pardoned death row inmate. Her thigh warmed up after sliding next to his. The thin layer of sweat on his forehead evaporated. The next morning he put the knife back on the night stand, but neither of them looked at it for two full days, and with damn good reason. They knew to choose their battles just as they chose their friends: sparingly.

You Missed an Almost Perfect Sunset

It was rare for me to forget
it, but I'd left my phone at home.
By the time I returned
from picking up my weekly unemployment
money the moment had appropriately passed.
If I'd had it on me in my truck
I would've told her to look at
the western sky
even though we'd been on better terms.
Those purple clouds piled above
every shade of orange proved
that I'm at least agnostic.
In her state she may have taken
my westward advice figuratively
as a tip to hit the road;
or worse yet, too literally--
for I know what lays under that
beautiful skyscape
just across the Hudson:
I know What, Who, but
most of all
that question that nags
we keen observers--

Like liquor stores, postage stamps
and clothing drop boxes:
They're everywhere
until you need one.


The Hardest of Swallows

What bothered me most
about my ride home
aside from the fact
that the flag girls were gone
was the bloated raccoon
guts up near the concrete
divider that throttles the traffic flow down;
specifically that
it was doomed from the start.
It wasn't too slow
or too anything else--
it only had nowhere left to run
but into the tire of some tired dolt.
"It could always be worse,"
I reminded myself
like the giraffe
who starts life with some grunts
and a six-foot drop to the ground.
The end, the beginning; man, animal:
it doesn't much matter.
We've got the same sentence.


Hosanna from the Hip

"Repent!" he said above my head
to heathens not present
only the susceptible ten-year-old son
stuck by visitation rights
deemed fair by the fine State of New York
and an unaffected courtroom.

"Glory!" he'd shout thrice
one for each of the Holy Trinity
as we crested Storm King Mountain
on our way to church
or my mother's
and it's a small wonder
that I'm only this crazy.

"Repent, for the Kingdon of God is at Hand!"
His black, front-heavy, eighty-something Monte Carlo
the one with the pins that held the hood down
the one where the heat always ran, even during summer
the one that only opened on the passenger side
the one in which he hit a car in Stony Point
and picked up his vanilla cone from the floormat
wiped off the gravel and continued to lick
that one
was pulled down to Cornwall
the lowland of our trip

but in life's many nadirs
I've discovered since then
that it's much more than that
at stake, Old Man.

You took something
that wasn't mine to give.
I wish I could tell you

White Noise in the Gray Area of Seeing Green

Dave and I were lucky to still have our manhood. We'd both almost dropped testicles in the process of moving two boilers, two oil tanks, and eight cast iron radiators in the house where we were working. Morale was high as usual, though that owed nothing to the state of things. Even on sidejobs union guys know how to make our own conditions. There's nothing like a locker room joke to improve a standard day of residential plumbing.

Nature, or the three electrolyte-laced beverages I'd used to aid my hangover, was calling. I walked out of the kitchen, down the hallway, and into the bathroom. As I stood in front of the toilet I heard Dave's boots thumping louder against the hardwood floor. He must've thought I'd gone to retrieve the last remaining radiator.

"You need a hand with that big boy?" my poor partner asked before rounding the corner and realizing that I was urinating.

"Sure, come on in," I said through the bathroom door, my smile clearly audible.

"Wow. I walked right into that one," Dave said quite correctly. That type of set-'em-up, knock-'em-down routine was the norm for the many workdays we'd spent together over the years. It made me appreciate our time together for more than just the money. It filled a definite void. I'd venture to say that was true for him as well.

We finished for the day. It was more a cutting of losses than anything else. We needed more fittings to proceed with piping the boiler. Dave had somehow under-bid the job by fifteen-hundred dollars. There was a fax machine involved in the material list blunder that caused the catastrophe. A man of his word, he was not going to raise the price he'd given to the customer, even though I tried reminding him that he was in business to make money and had a family to feed. "That's not the way I am, Mike," just as I knew he'd say. It made me love the man. "We can try to use some of the material I had in my garage and send some of this new stuff back to make up part of the difference," he said. I wasn't going to kill him with my labor fees, either. After all, if he makes money I make money, the opposite also being true in the long run. When it came time to give him my hours I'd knock off a day's worth and hope he didn't notice. He'd do the same for me.

"You sure you don't want to come for dinner?" Dave asked as we loaded the last of the tools into our trucks. "Amy's going to order Chinese. I'll pick it up on the way home."

"I don't know. It's late and I might have to go make amends with..."

He cut me off before I could continue. "Come on. You have to eat anyway, whether it's with us or at home." The man had a point. I caved. "Go talk to my wife until I get back with the food," he said before hopping into his blue Dodge diesel. It sounded odd, as if I wouldn't've engaged Amy in conversation if he hadn't told me to. His phrasing was so simple most times as though he were an Indian chief. It furthered the honest impression he left upon me-- a straight shooter, though he never had time to come to the range when I invited him.

"Glad you could make it," Amy said as I sat down at the center island in their kitchen. An apple aroma filled the air. I lifted my nose to draw it in deeper. "Apple crisp. Dave's favorite. The oven's been on for awhile, though. I've got to cool it down in here before he gets home. He's hot-blooded."

"It's fine in here, Amy," I tried to assure her. "Take it from me. I sweat if I think too hard."

Ignoring my assessment of the temperature the good wife opened a window and turned on the exhaust fan. Then she poured herself a glass of wine, offering me one before opening the freezer for some ice cubes to chill her drink. "How about a beer?" she asked.

"That'll work," I replied. I didn't bother with the stuff at home anymore. It didn't do the trick like liquor and went through me so fast that it felt like I only borrowed it. A cold beer was more of a ceremony for me: an accepted token of appreciation for being invited into ones home. I twisted off the cap and took a long swig, pressing my knees together as I sat on the stool and being thankful that there was still something there to hurt after the day's back-breaking labor.

A dull ache in the tip of my left ring finger made itself known for the first time since I could finally rest for long enough to feel it. An ingrown nail-- funny, I seldom fell victim to those. I rubbed my finger for long enough for Amy to notice. "You'll have some gold there soon enough," she chided. "Did Dave ever tell you about the time he lost his wedding band at work?" I shook my head. "He was up at the prison renovating bathrooms. Everyone on that job had to be fingerprinted. The soap they used to get the ink off was very slick. He didn't notice until lunchtime that his ring was missing; figured he'd rubbed it off while washing his hands and tossed it with the paper towel. When he called and told me he was almost in tears. I told him we could buy a new one, but he said it wouldn't be the same. His foreman let him go dumpster diving for the rest of the day. I was shocked when he called me back two hours later telling me he'd found it. I'd never heard him sound so excited before. I hadn't realized what a big sentimental mush he was. I knew I married a warm-hearted man, but he sure didn't seem to care that much about the rings when we were buying them."

Amy took a small sip of wine to punctuate her narrative. Every word was perfect, every pause in place. She'd obviously told the tale before. I didn't blame her. She knew what she'd found and had every right to be proud. It was worth more than any ring.

We spoke of easy things for a few minutes: her three boys, the dog, the perfect September sleeping weather, Dave's insomnia. The discussion turned to Dave's side of the extended family, a topic he appeared to avoid. "What's his father like? That's the one on the wall with the Quaker beard, right?" I asked, rubbing my chin with thumb and forefinger to demonstrate what I meant.

"Yeah," Amy said, not hiding her disdain. "He's a mean person. Very hard on Dave especially. Criticizes everything he does."

It made sense. Dave was such a genuine, generous person who would do anything for someone he cared for; strangers too, for that matter-- case in point: the grand-and-a-half he was prepared to lose on his current heat job. "I can see that," I said. "Dave is such a good man that it seems he's trying to make up for what he never had." My friend's headlights pulled into his driveway, thus ending our conversation. It was proper timing. Enough had been said, enough had been reaffirmed.

"It's hotter than hell in here," Dave said as he came in with the grease-stained paper bag. Amy winked at me and opened another window. His three boys ran into the room and clung to his legs like piles in a pounding surf. My stomach lifted, my heart sank. He deserved this. Did I?

I was quiet through the meal, letting the high school sweethearts talk as I ate my General Tso's. I'm ashamed to admit that I was consumed by a jealous flame, even though the boys got rowdy in show-off mode and refused to go to bed after dessert. Dave's right-- What's a couple thousand dollars when you've got the world under one roof?

Amy made a small pan of apple crisp for me to take home, hinting that it'd be nice to have it returned with some sort of food in the dish. Brownies, my specialty, would do the trick. It was no fun making them for myself anyway. I said my goodbyes and headed out. The kitchen was already empty when I turned and looked back through the windows. They'd embarked on the rest of their evening unencumbered by the temporary speedbump of last-minute company. I did ten under the speed limit the whole way home. There was nothing worth the rush waiting for me there. There was no one opening windows to let the cool night air inside. Perfect September sleeping weather. Right.

Currently reading:
"Absence of the Hero" by Charles Bukowski.


A Blessed Union in Paradise

Luckily for us the convenience store sold greeting cards and was accustomed to patrons in subcasual beach attire. Fort Lauderdale was as inviting as it was going to get. Like most of our collective exes it'd offered all it had and still came up short. I'd had enough of the redundant tourist trap and wanted the next day's vows to be given so we could drive south to Key West, somewhere I hadn't been yet. I consoled my selfish desire by reminding myself of what a brat my cousin had been growing up and that little had changed since then. There's nothing like family to warm the already sweating heart.

"You can stop looking now," I said. "I've got the one."

My girlfriend looked at me with crooked eyes after glancing at the front of my selection while I rummaged through the display case for the proper envelope.

"But there's a desert scene on the front," she argued. "It's supposed to be a wedding card."

The boyish grin she fell in love with beamed at me in the reflection of her sunglasses. As usual, she knew what I was thinking before I said it. I entertained her fancy regardless.

"That's exactly why it's so fitting-- a barren life of desperate struggle, plagued by the occasional mirage of fleeting happiness. Besides, it's blank. I can write something along congratulatory lines inside."

She didn't respond verbally, though her weight shifted magnificently from one sandal-shod foot to the other. Hard.

"You're too much," she said as we approached the register.

"As long as the check I put in here's enough...that's all they'll care about anyway."

We walked out, both partially right, both partially hoping that we wouldn't succumb to the same pitfalls of life that seemed so inevitable to the hordes of fools around us.

We won't. We can't. We're too hard in the spots where they won't get us again. We're too soft in all the perfectly wrong places, like the drunk who only survived the accident because his limbs were loose. Bottom's up.


If you think about it, anatomically, we're all full of shit.

Sleep, the cousin of death
sends unfair farewells
though it's not for naught that
squirrels hide nuts
where the lost tree sprouts from later.

But if the book is left untouched
and the signs are left unread
then it won't be long before
the hooded farmer makes your bed.

So onward Christian soldiers
as you stumble towards your home
well-knowing that the best of you
was sold by Jews to Rome
long before the scribes corrupted words
with their values and their whims
and the politicians' battle cries
sought to rally against sin.

Sorry for the rhyming one
that comes off as a lie.
We all get sick of plumbing
broads and absent fathers:
topics trite.


Blessed with a wicked backhand.

The steady racket of the Friday morning commuters
shooting and spreading from the barrel
of the Lincoln Tunnel just outside her window
fills her room with familiar noise as we lay naked
after making love, or as close as we would get to it.
We've both become accustomed to sleeping through it--
the noise, I mean-- though I'm not quite as proficient
due to less practice.

"You look good," she says in a surprised tone that insinuates
that the opposite should be expected, that her statement
is a reward for good behavior or congratulations for
making it through an ordeal that would normally
cause one to look less than 'good'. To put it simply
it sounds like she's talking to one of her goddamn
cancer patients after a rigorous course of chemotherapy.
But, of course, she means my physique. I'm down
to this year's rock-bottom summer weight
and the sweating off of pounds has ended for the season.
This is it. This is as good as I'm going to get for now.
I've finally gotten closer to having the swimmer's body
that she wants, but will I ever be the man she needs?
Not the one she says she does-- the one she can't deny.

"Thanks, Babe," I say, looking through the shades
and trying to picture the agitated motorists so as
to be grateful to be in the safety of this room.
"So do you."


Not so funny anymore.

In a lull in the preparation
of an adventurous four-course
laid-off breakfast at eleven
I take a break to feed the feline.

The lid of the can of cat chow
sums it up succinctly:
"Pet Food Only" printed
in purple ink by a laser--
another machine that took a man's job away
and forced him to consider consuming
the contents of the can.
They used to joke about this very act
of desperation. They used to do a lot of things
that they don't do anymore.

"Savor these meals, Buddy,"
I tell the begging cat
weaving figure eights of anticipation
between my bare legs, a muffled meow
caught in his stinking throat.
"The beginning of the end is upon us."


These Walking Wounds

What I loved most about Tony was his refusal to acknowledge the existence of a bush, let alone beat around the motherfucker. This time, however, there was no less awkward way to say it. It came as no surprise that he didn't bother trying.

"I can't fuckin' believe it, man. She grabbed his cock." And with that he dumped his coffee out on the pavement for the third time that week.

My coworker came right out with it, alright. Suddenly it was clear what was bothering him on that bright Friday morning. Payday was usually more upbeat for the men, even towards the end of the job when all but the naive see the lay-off coming. Those were fighting words, though. My partner's head was tormented by a looped reel of celebrity fondling on his girlfriend's part. I felt for the guy, as platonically as physically possible.

"What do you mean?" I asked unnecessarily. I knew where this was going. He'd mentioned his old lady's latest star obsession a few days prior.

"Remember when I said she was going to try to find that over-tanned cast of 'Cali Coast' while she was on vacation? Well, she did. She and her friends were out at some club that I wouldn't be caught dead in and the whole Guinea gang showed up with camera crew in tow."

I took a sip of my coffee. It was cold as usual, but unlike Tony I tried to force it down. The apprentice on the job always made the coffee first at the deli instead of waiting a bit for the egg sandwiches to be closer to completion. Amateur. "And?" I prodded as sympathetically as I could convincingly muster, grateful that it was something I'd never have to worry about.

"Sure as shit my girl weaseled her way through security to get up close and personal with that spiky-haired douchebag that calls himself The Dilemma. Before that asshole even had time to call her a grenade she had his balls in her hand." Tony paused for a moment, looking for the results of a litmus test on my face to decide whether or not he should continue. I'm not sure if I passed or failed. Regardless, he continued. "I knew I should've went with them to make sure nothing crazy happened." So there it was: he sought solace for his self-criticizing hindsight.

"No way, Tone. That's her fault, not yours. Don't beat yourself up over it." There, I'd thrown him a bone. It's not like The Dilemma had thrown one in his beloved. Or had he? Maybe the groping was only the tip of the iceberg. You know, the old deceitful trick of telling a small part of a shameful event to avoid being questioned about the whole ugly truth. But that led me to my next question: How did Tony know any of this? I asked him to explain.

"She told me her friend did it," Tony said with a straight face.

That was it. The jig was up. There was no way a grown man would come to that conclusion based on the facts presented. I called him on his bullshit with a deep belly laugh. His eyes narrowed to sparkling slits and that devilish grin I'd grown to love shot across his face.

"You had me there for awhile," I said, but it was more than a practical joke. Episodes like this one were how construction workers felt each other out. Who could be trusted with another man's feelings?, the things that most of us blue-collar suckers claim not to have? I hadn't laughed. I'd given the soundest advice I could. I'd passed the test. The apprentice was a different story.

"Walshie," I hollered in the general direction of the apprentice responsible for my ice cold coffee. He'd taken to sitting by himself on break to avoid Tony's wrath, his failure to see that oft-beaten bush. "We know you spit in this shit, but at least bring it back hot." He looked at me without smiling. It was true: he had a lot to learn, and not just about our trade.


Fill 'er up.

"Do you need matches with that?" the round-bottomed young blonde asked him from the relative safety of her eight-hour stance behind the gas station cash register. Her make-up, as usual, was far too thick, especially around the eyes. A gold nameplate swung from a fourteen-karat necklace, bookended on each side by huge hoop earrings that she could probably touch with ease using her tattooed ankles. The currently incarcerated father of her second child always loved that trick.

"No thanks. I'm good," he replied, taking into careful account that what took man so long to discover and was once so precious was now given away for free. Fire, his mind clarified with the mental equivalent of a cynical chuckle. Not that other, sloppier commodity-- though both had been known to burn greater men.

"Don't forget your smokes on the counter this time," she said, letting on that she remembered his previous distracted blunder. There was a sharp glimmer in her pale blue eyes that proved she saw right through him as well as most of the others had. He cupped his hand to accept his change as easily as he'd accepted his fate.

Greater men, indeed, old chap. Greater, scorn-singed men.


We're only as good as we look under fluorescent lights.

Rabbits chase the cats
in these regulation daymares
as the lightning bug's last glow
wastes in the shadow of the stove.
It's a lousy consolation
when God writes us a rain check.

The women like the scars
until they hear who put them there.
My calf muscle dangles
from the back of my leg.
I reach down and grab
where the cramp ripped me awake.
Again. Again. It's happening again.

We don the lay-off cowboy boots
and listen to the blue-hairs sing:
"It wasn't in the cards, Kid.
They would've been like you."

Opt for the reading lamp
since the ceiling light
looks too much like
the end of a tunnel.
They've tired us enough
with that ugly lie called hope.

(The rabbits win. It makes no sense.
The cats run down the steps.)
I guess that's the Roman in me.

Currently reading:
"A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn, the Last Great Battle of the American West" by James Donovan.


A Traveler's Fleece, An Anchor's Eyes

After three hours straight
in the car with my father
even the scenic route
became boring.
Winding two-lane highways
through the back hills of New England
all blended into the same monotonous route.
The old man would sense my
sudden disillusionment with our trek
and try to muster up whatever
bit of excitement that he could
sometimes in the false form
of a gentlemen's competition.

"You see that car way up ahead?"
he asked a tired, ten-year-old me.
"Can you read the license plate?"

"No way, Dad," I mumbled
my head against the passenger side window.
"It's too far to see."

Taking his cue
he squinted overzealously
making sure to emphasize the fact
that he was tapping into some superhuman ability
in order to decipher the characters printed
on the back of the license plate
that was at least an eighth-of-a-mile ahead of us.

"CK...P...," and he'd pause, squeezing his eyes
even tighter to further the illusion.
For a self-proclaimed Christian he sure was
keen on getting the best of an innocent child.
"...638. That's it. Let's go take a look."

He managed to find the accelerator
for long enough to catch up to the car
and verify the plate number.
He was correct. I was impressed
and slightly in awe of my father.

It took me the rest of the trip to figure it out
but I did: he read the plate and memorized it
then dropped back a good distance and waited
for me to zone out for long enough to be duped
into believing that he could see that far.

He failed to see farther
as the fate of our future now tells
and it wasn't the worst of his fibs.
Still, there are times
when I'm grateful for the fact
that he ever lowered himself
down to the level of us sinners
for long enough to seem remotely human.

And somehow I know
that he learned that trick
from the same man he swore
he'd never become.


For Todd

I hadn't ordered yet. Sweat was already running down my face as it had been all morning. The agony involved made me instantly pity the poor slob who had to slave in front of that sweltering pizza oven all summer long. There were suddenly worse fates than construction, though it was hard to fathom.

"You next?" the dripping young Italian man asked me.

"No. He was here first," I said, nodding towards a kid who looked far too young to drive. I was on the clock and had to be back to work by half-passed, but fair is fair regardless of age. Junior stepped forward to the counter, reached up to lay a few singles in front of the register, and looked Guido in the eyes as if he were about to say something profound.

"Corner slice of Sicilian, please," the boy said sincerely, more telling than asking.

"Sorry. We're all out of corners. I have a middle piece, though."

"No thank you," replied the youngster in a tone just as humble as if he'd received a positive response. The about-face came before the dough-slinger or the plumber in front of him had time to fully comprehend what'd happened. The two of us watched as he mounted his ten-speed and pushed off with his right foot.

"Can you believe that kid?" my confused cohort asked. "Rode his bike all the way here in this heat for nothing."

"Yeah, I can," I answered after considering the question for three brief seconds. "He's not one for settling. Let me have that middle piece."

A drop of sweat fell from the tip of the pizza man's nose as he looked at me unconvinced. He'd never understand so I didn't bother trying.

The crust was burnt. I never went back.


Thigh-High Modus Operandi

"Sorry, Honey," I say under my breath
after slashing her sunburnt face.
"I swear I didn't mean it," but it doesn't matter now.
There are no witnesses this time.
It's the perfect violent crime: unreported.

When I can't bear to watch her bleed any longer
the pipes call my name for the umpteenth time.
I lift the wrench and resume tightening
with an oath to be more cautious of the jagged
steel in the joists left dangling by the demolition.

Though the tattoos don't mean as much these days
it's still my skin underneath them.


Sunday School finally pays off.

It was only nine o'clock and already up to ninety-five degrees. The six of us sat in the shade of the school's brown bricks on milk crates borrowed from the adjacent cafeteria. There was no air-conditioning in the building, though even if there was we'd vote to sit outside. The smokers would demand to be in open air so they could effectively ruin their lungs. Majority ruled and coffee break was to be shared together. It was one union tradition not fading faster than the likelihood of steady work in an unstable economy. No one dared challenge it, from general foreman all the way down to apprentice. It felt good not to be the latter anymore.

"Get a load of this," Bill said as he turned his newspaper towards us. "They caught a seven-hundred-pound grouper off the coast of Brazil."

"You sure you didn't add a zero by mistake?" I asked after freeing a chip of bacon that'd lodged itself between two teeth.

"No, man. It says it took ten men to reel that monster in."

It was high time for another chiding voice to chime in with disbelief. As the greenest mechanic on the job there was only so much chop-busting I could get away with without having rank pulled on me unofficially. That voice came shining through without hesitation, without missing a beat.

"I know you can't read a tape measure, Bill," came Matt with a vengeance, "but whole numbers can't possibly baffle you as much as fractions."

"Read the article yourself then," Bill replied in the same tone that his eight-year-old probably used on him when it was begrudgingly bedtime. Things were getting thick in the humid summer air. Scott, a gray-haired old timer, took his cue to jump to the aid of his challenged union brother.

"He's not making it up, boys. Haven't you slobs read the Bible? Remember Jonah and the whale who swallowed him? That wasn't actually a whale; there are none in that part of the Mediterranean. They say that a giant grouper like the one Bill's talking about was probably the culprit." And with that Scott leaned back against the wall, his milk crate up on edge. He was proud of himself for sounding so superior. Someone had to stand up for us lay pipelayers. Why should it not've been me?

"I beg to differ with you there, Scottie," I said with a smirk only convincing on a man who knows which cup the pea is hidden under. "I've read that parable, too, and like much of the Bible it seems to be more of a metaphor than a text to be taken literally." A few of the guys turned their heads at that point. Their styrofoam cups stopped being so interesting. So this was why they heard his nickname was Shakespeare...

"What do you mean?" Scott asked, clearly flustered. His milk crate had lowered itself to the pavement again. A death-blow would still have to be delivered, however. The first harpoon was only to draw blood.

"Well, the 'whale' was probably meant to represent any big, lousy situation that could easily 'swallow' a man..." I replied.

Scott's left eye twitched. The others were listening intently. I'd managed to bring all eyes on myself, whether or not that was a good thing. It was sink or swim for the new kid. I swung hard.

"...this stupid four-week plumbing job, for instance," I concluded with a smile, thus shattering the suspended silence. All six of us laughed heartily at the discomforting fact that summer renovation work was only a temporary fix, that we'd all be back on the bench waiting for a phone call to go to work or our weekly unemployment checks. There were worse things to fear, though. There were bigger, whiter whales.


A healthy scorn for copper, mirrors, and size-twelve font.

So we're stuck back in the plumbing trap
my union brethren and myself
for our six weeks of work a year
when the schools are closed
for the summer
and renovations are in order
though the little runts won't notice.
We walk the marble hallways
scratching sweaty heads
and kicking ourselves
for winding up back here
smoking in the boys' room
though for me it's extra poignant:
I should've stuck around
and made something of myself
made someone of myself
made it into a nice desk job
doing what I love and getting paid for it
but most importantly
the showers would come before work
instead of afterwards.
And there's a sign in the tech room
where my crew has set up shop
in an ironic twist that only I notice.
It reads "There's no such thing
as a dumb question
except the one you don't ask."
My uncle Ray who did fifteen years
used to tell me that
as a kid and now I'm left to wonder
which vital query my mind omitted
though I know that whatever it was
would've been directed at myself--
What do I want? How badly?
Whom will I not become someday?
"Get over here, Kid," a fellow journeyman
yells at the senseless apprentice.
At first my neck jerks in the direction
of the order, old habits dying hard
but that's not my role anymore.
I'm a mechanic now, a genuine union pipefitter
overpaid and underappreciated simultaneously
a resentful shell of a man who should've been more...
but I can fix your pipes, pal
just as well as I can proofread
my letter of resignation.
Signed. Sealed. No plans to deliver.


The Lining on the Miles

It's the tail end of a shower
after ten hours of rough construction
on a ninety-five-degree day.
I glance down at the dirt
under my fingernails
but refrain from reaching
for the brush I keep
for just such a purpose:
there's no one around
who matters
to see it

Currently reading:
"The Garden of Eden" by Ernest Hemingway.


For a jaded friend, on his birthday, who'll never see these words.

Life is not a Magic Eye puzzle
waiting to be solved through savvy staring.
The Big Picture won't pop out at you
simply because it isn't there.
Find the patterns, learn to appreciate them
if they can't be loved entirely
and be sure that at midnight next year
someone will still be calling you.

I hope it isn't me next time.


It's no wonder that God lives under water.

In a fitting twist the book was soft and the sand was hard, the beach blanket fairly indifferent. We were in what she considered shade, but sweat still ran down my forehead above my mirrored sunglasses. "That seagull's got it out for us," I told her between pages. "It knows we have no food. Remember the one in Maine?" I watched the angry white bird scowl in our direction while it paced hard in the sand as if its visceral stomping would conjure a meal in its midst.

"No, not there. The one that kept raiding picnics at..." but I stopped listening when I realized I wasn't the one who'd joined her that time. The Korean War became interesting again. I lowered my eyes to the non-fiction in my lap. It beat the hell out of the current truth. More beach-goers showed up as the lazy Sunday morning progressed. The mighty Hudson rolled its discontent against the shoreline. I kept mine to myself.

A young father, tanned and toned with a tattoo high enough on his shoulder for any shirt to hide, stood above his toddler as she balanced in the tide. To splash the brackish water was divine and she was making herself a god. Great-- another female deity to rule and ruin ones life. Still, she was a cutie. Dark brown curls fell over her eyes. I caught my companion watching the same show and knew what she was thinking. "I wonder if he put sunscreen on her." Yup, I knew what she'd been thinking.

Back to the book: an M14 strapped around the neck of the only unscathed survivor of Truman's top-secret mission fighting his way to the Thirty-Eighth parallel, Gooks and Chinks yelling their dirty pig latin all around him in the night, the hovering threat of Commie pinko Russkies dropping their nukes from afar. But he made it; our hero made it, and World War III never happened, or if it did we never knew about it and we basked in our ignorant bliss. Not all sacred ceremonies happen in a temple. I stroked her hair until she couldn't take it to confirm my old assumption.

"Come on, let's go home and have lunch." There's no need to specify. Who could argue with food? We walked back to my truck, mostly hand-in-hand aside from one brief spat when I foolishly corrected her Spanish, without running into my father on the path. If you find more to be grateful for you'll lead a longer life.