I wake alone
in her Midtown West
tangled in the unforgiving
crimson of her sheets.
She left for work
two hours ago
but her side of the bed
is still warm.
A folded tank-top she wore
the night before was left
on her pillow
as a temporary substitute
for the spicy scent of her skin.
I reach over and pull it
under my pillow case.
The smell might drive me mad
right now in this half-dreaming state.

I turn towards the street noise
coming from behind the drawn blinds
and notice a pint glass on the night stand
that wasn't there when we went to bed.
It's full of tasteless water fresh from
the Catskill Aqueduct, hundreds of small bubbles
clinging to the side of the glass.
No lip marks mar the rim, no sip is missing--
it was placed here for me specifically
while I was still asleep.
I raise the cup to my mouth and swallow slowly
savoring its lack of mineral content or impurities.
Funny, I only drank water at restaurants
before we met. Now I crave it from her tap.

And this is what I say
to those who don't understand
that to love
is to forgive:
I've got my glass of water.


An Exercise

Think of your bedroom-- the place where you pay or someone more responsible than you pays to sleep most nights. Imagine this room of yours to be on the second floor. Then picture flames at the base of that staircase, yellow tongues licking the bannister in an ominous ascension. You, of course, are in your room when this is happening. The smell of the smoke wakes you from a shallow sleep. In the brief time that you have to escape you think of five things within your four walls that you value most. These items are the only things that you'll have time to fling through your window before climbing through it and down a fire escape. If you don't live in an urban area then assume that the ground is covered with two feet of snow, enough of a layer to cushion your fall. The snow is not important, though. Neither is that steel ladder. It's the fire you've got to worry about. It's coming, and it's coming fast.

Aside from yourself, what will you choose to save? Your wallet filled with various plastic cards establishing your identity, priveleges and credit history? Some photographs of people you miss and may never see again? A record collection that listens like a chronological timeline of your brief and meaningless existence? Life-changing books filled with underlined passages and notes in the margins? A pet whose gruesome death you don't want on your conscience? A marble notebook or leatherbound journal laden with things you were too ashamed to tell anyone else? A heartfelt letter that almost had you convinced that the race is not so doomed and people may actually care about more than themselves? A suit or a dress that you'll never fit into again but keep for nostalgic reasons? Hurry! Think! What matters most?

I've looked around my room tonight. I'd let it all burn.

Bellum para Vellum

In the places that most men ignore
where women would rather be touched
lays like tiny windblown wheat fields
that fine blonde flaxen hair
only visible in the morning light.

It's all there really is to live for.


We were too young to drink
legally and the gas stations
that sold beer to us
were way on the other side of town
so when the bottle of Jack
an older friend had supplied for us
ran out that snowy night
in the downstairs of his parents split-level
he was far from hesitant
to hit up the liquor cabinet
of the recently deceased.

"Here," he said. "Try it."
He handed me a small porcelain cup
full of a dark brown liquid
that seemed more like a baking ingredient
than a merry-making agent.
I sucked it down and tried not to vomit
my face a twisted expression of
gastric discontent.

"That's not bad," my altered voice lied.

"It's vermouth," he replied, taking
a big swig of his own
right from the bottle.
His post-swallow face was more impressive.
I was new to the game we were playing.

We were too young to care
whether it was the dry or sweet type
and too naive to know the difference
being years away from martini culture;
we'd barely graduated from forties of malt liquor.

The record played on to our senses
too dull to notice the ache anymore.
At his parents next party someone
would go to make a cocktail and notice
the bottle had been opened
but neither of us cared.

It was the price of Big-League living.
We were on the verge of something huge.

He may have found it since then
but I bet he played his cards wrong, too.



What am I
if not an ashtray?
a wandering, empty cathedral;

paper-thin walls
and a photo
telling the truth in my dreams.

And how is it that
you've redemption?
never with words
that weren't Scripture.

This wouldn't be Paul's
our sunsets away.

So where are we
to cast the keystones?
a clean bill of health and a promise.
The plot in the meadow's still barren.
The boathouse sank into the lake.

I still won't know how to take it
when all's said and done
but the funeral.
Father, your son couldn't make it.
Fattened and killed for the feast.


Perpetuating Stereotypes on the Streets of Manhattan

We were walking through
the Garment District
or one of its impostors.
Twenty feet ahead of us
a group of three young black men
were walking passed the storefront
of an overpriced boutique. One of
them knocked a legs-only mannequin over
presumably by accident, though totally remorseless
and proceeded to laugh as he caught up
with his two cohorts and sped away.

A black couple was walking
five strides behind the offending party.
The man shook his head, picked up
the display, brushed off the jeans it was wearing
shook his head again, reached for
the hand of the woman by his side
and continued on down the sidewalk.

"See, Honey," I said once we were at the corner.
"That's the difference between a..."

"Stop," she interjected.

"...and an Af-..."

"I know."

"...and I'm glad that the latter gets just
as frustrated with the former as we do."

We both pondered how inclusive a "we" I meant
and continued with our lovely day
accepting the fact that all of us live
in an imperfect world.


Not for a billion dollars.

With my unfailing luck it was a gay bar that I chose as a cave in which to lick my wounds. It was dark and very wooden, and with a name like the Ninth Avenue Saloon, who would've thought? When I first walked in there were just a few regular workingclass guys having an afternoon beer: a construction worker, a mailman, some other nondescript laborer. Little did I know that it was more of a Village People routine than a simple Happy Hour crowd. When the Asian businessmen and flamboyant artists sauntered in half an hour later it became quite clear that I was surrounded by homosexuals in their celebratory nest of sodomy. But again, how was I to know? The rainbow flag next to the mirror behind the bar seemed commonplace; many businesses in the city show their support. And the jar of neon NYC condoms sitting on the bar between my coaster and the bowl of popcorn so graciously presented to me-- that could fit in anywhere, too. To be honest it didn't bother me at first. The Spaniard tending bar was making my Canadian Club-and-Cokes fairly strong, though now I question his motives, and the silent looks I received from the corners of various eyes were not so intolerable. My black wool watchman's cap, thick beard, and heavily tattooed arms must've thrown them off a bit. I honestly believe the glances I received were more of a sizing-up than a checking-out; they knew I wasn't one of them, they just wanted to know what in God's fairy-hating name I was doing in their fine establishment. And really, considering my reason for being there, it made quite a bit of sense: the Ninth Avenue Saloon was the last place I'd encounter another woman.

But of course, as in any fine tale, there has to be a conflict. Mine came half an hour into my medicinal drinking. I'd been diligently plugging away at a crossword puzzle the whole time in between long sips of my cocktail when an elderly gentleman walked in from the cold. The stool next to mine must've had his name written all over it despite the fact that I was sitting far down the oak minding my own business with plenty of empty seats between the door and me. He sat down, glanced over at me rather conspicuously, and ordered a beverage. I felt his eyes all over me, could hear his brain arguing with itself over what to say. It was one of the most uncomfortable feelings I've ever experienced. I now know what those poor young women who get gawked and whistled at as they walk by construction sites feel like; except I was never and would never be interested in any advances made by a man, let alone such an old and ugly one.

"It's very cold today," my new fan pathetically broke the ice with. He was an unflattering seventy with a grotesque scar that split the front of his nose in two. It looked like an ancient axe wound, the kind of thing that makes ex-lovers cringe in retrospect and young mothers turn the heads of their staring children.

"That's the Northeast for you. Maybe you should move down South." I sipped my whiskey and kept my eyes fixed on the crossword book before me. Sixty-nine down was a hard one, alright. The irony did not go unnoticed.

"Ah, very true. It is to be expected." I noticed a European accent that I couldn't distinguish.

The old man didn't peel his eyes from me once. I felt his corneas burning into my flesh. Part of me wanted to put my coat back on for some protection from this utter violation, but it'd be too blatant. I was hoping he'd take the hint and leave me alone if I gave him the cold shoulder. You'd think I would've learned about how far hope gets me by now.

I had to shatter the awkward silence for fear that I'd explode so I asked him where he hailed from. "France," was all that he replied with as if to discourage any further discussion of his origins. I was not so disappointed, though it made me wonder if he'd had some horrible childhood that had chased him to America, to the bars, to other men's arms, to believing that it was OK to hit on me even though I was so very uninterested. Had his stubborn persistence earned him that hideous scar on his nose in his unfathomable youth? I almost started to feel sorry for the man, but he obliterated my pity shortly afterwards.

"You have a lot of tattoos," he said, touching the piece on my right forearm and thus crossing another boundary. "This one is interesting."

I lifted my arm to show him in the dim light of the bar. "It's a pipewrench, a pen, and a pin-up girl," I said with a bit of emphasis on the last word. That hoping got me nowhere again. Frenchie was relentless.

"I see. You're doing quite well with the crossword," he commented, his praise as unwanted as his company. A sick smile shot across his pock-marked face.

"These last few are tough," I said, catching myself before I shared which number I was stuck on at the moment. Putting any unclean images in his head was the last thing I needed.

"The last ones always are," he replied with the air of a man who's done a thousand puzzles in his lifetime. His eyes burned hotter than ever.

In a sincere effort to give my stalker a hint I turned to my left and asked the Asian man in business attire the time, not caring that I clearly had a watch on my wrist. He answered coldly without glancing in my direction. The others weren't going to bail me out. I had invaded their territory, thrown off the balance of their atmosphere, and would have to fend for myself. It sounds odd, I know, but I felt so betrayed.

I had to get up. The bathroom seemed the only logical escape, and the three cocktails I'd downed didn't disagree with leaving my body. By the time I returned from relieving myself Frenchie had relocated to the far side of the bar.

Another old man came out of the woodwork and stood behind Frenchie. He rubbed his shoulders vigorously, kissed him on the lips when he turned around, and consoled him. "Don't feel bad," he said with a feminine voice that didn't match his burly physique. Right. Sure. Side with him-- the rude old pervert who can't take a hint. It was time for me to head back to her apartment. These guys weren't my type, and not because of their sexual orientation. They simply weren't fair. I'd had enough of that feeling for one day.

"Alright, gentleman. Have a good one," I proclaimed after donning my coat and leaving a hefty tip. The heavy-handed bartender deserved it. He made my drinks as strong as I would've at home. I felt that he was the only one on my side in the joint, even if he was trying to get me sauced up to lower my inhibitions for the sharks to make the kill. A few stray nods and "Take cares" mumbled out from the ranks of the regulars and I was out the door and on my way.

The avenue felt strangely warmer on my walk back even though the sun had set. My pockets were filled by my firm fists for a lack of a better place to put my hands, not to stay warm. A Mexican bus boy was closing down the outdoor eating area of a cafe for the evening. I was five steps too short to aid him by holding the door as he wrestled a dish bin full of cheap porcelain in through the entrance of the establishment. It felt like a crime in timing.

She'd be angry when she smelled the whiskey on my breath, and the comedic affect of my mishap wouldn't warrant telling the story. "Karma," she'd probably say. Maybe she'd be right.

Three pigeons picked at some chicken bones in the street. I wondered if they realized they'd become cannibals.


Unleash the cadaver dogs.

After reading the eulogy she'd written me
my telephone rang-- her mother:
the one person who might change our fate;
but, as usual, it was just the contents
of her pocketbook dialing away-- a false alarm.
Life was becoming a series of those.

I shoved my muted phone back into my pocket
and returned my focus to the road and staying on it.
How was I supposed to take welding class seriously
on a night like this? The bond formed by two metals
paled in comparison to the other one that'd been broken.
My classmates were mostly married, either experts or victims
of that coveted and feared union. I was glad I'd stopped
to buy a pack. Enticing them with a smoke break behind
our union hall would encourage some much needed company.
The four walls and dead authors of the last five months weren't
enough. Admitting that felt like another isolated defeat which
worried me. It's battles that lose wars, mostly for want of nails.

A song that would've seemed sad
regardless of its lyrics came on the radio.
Some small Mexican kids waved at me from the back
of the bus that I'd approached at a stoplight. I feigned a smile
but couldn't find the gumption to wave back. I'd told enough
lies that afternoon, most of them to myself--
"I'll miss the cat most," being my favorite of the batch.

The welding went surprisingly well
perhaps due to the welcomed distraction
but when the call came I left
and the rest is the rest.
Even a window's entitled to a shade.


Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

When Officer Henderson arrived on the scene there had already been one murder. Marty Jenkins was standing on the porch of the Rosetti house, his dog's still warm corpse dripping blood on the slate near his feet. It was going to be a long shift for Hendo if the current scenario was to be any indicator.

"How we doin', Marty?" the policeman asked casually. The two men frequented the same coffee stop in the morning. Henderson was hoping to hear a tone similar to that sort of encounter, but knew it wasn't coming. Other neighbors had called the station for fear that things were about to get ugly based on the shouting coming from Vince Rosetti's porch, though solely from Marty Jenkins. This approach was a feeble attempt, but one that the officer felt he had to make.

"Everything was fine 'til Vince shot my dog!" Marty exclaimed like a third-grader who'd been called on to answer a difficult math question and swore he knew the right response.

"That's not what happened, Hen," Vince's steady voice came from his place behind his cracked front door.

"Everyone knows you've got an arsenal in there, and that you're a crack shot. Who'd'a thunk you'd kill your neighbor's pet, though? You're an animal, Vince. Ya know that?"

Before things could escalate any further the veteran member of the Newbury Police Department decided to interject. "Let's not go jumping to conclusions, Mr. Jenkins," Hendo said, his change in tone and familiarity being noticeably altered. "We'll get to the bottom of this. Don't worry. Mr. Rosetti, did you do what your friend here is accusing you of?" The pleading sound in Hendo's voice would've been enough to convince someone to agree regardless of the truth, but Vince Rosetti was known to be a man of his word.

"It wasn't me who shot the damn thing, Hendo," he answered unwaveringly, his strikingly dark eyes fixed on the officer's. "But I can't say I blame whoever did. That thing's been barking from five to seven in the morning for the last two weeks. Someone was bound to get sick of it eventually. If Marty here couldn't handle keeping his dog inside then maybe he should've brought some nice quiet goldfish home instead."

Marty was so appalled by Vince's words that he took a step back, kicking his dead dog in the process. His heel bounced off of the animal's snout as if his hand had never stroked it. It's presence was reduced to a source of evidence. All affection had been drained from the relationship the moment that shot rang out, destroying the tranquility of the crisp February morning. Officer Henderson felt his blood pump harder to fight the sudden chill that came over him. What was he to do in a situation like this? Half the people in town owned guns and five of them had yards that bordered the Jenkins'. Vince Rosetti was the obvious assumption for a man like Marty Jenkins for precisely the reason that the former's initial statement had displayed: he wasn't afraid to do and say what he felt was right, regardless of the consequences. It was something that Marty would never understand, and one that gained the respect of Hendo, even in his Officer Henderson role. Still, some effort had to be made to satisfy the violated party.

"Vince, would you mind letting me take a look around? If a shot was recently fired from inside the smell of gunpowder would still be in the air." Hendo's right eyebrow raised as he finished his last sentence as if to signal his desire to end things quickly and in Vince's favor. He knew the oath he'd taken as a peace officer long ago required him to protect and to serve, but somehow it was harder to do when it involved hassling an honest man like Vince Rosetti to appease the Marty Jenkinses of the world.

"Not a problem, officer," Vince replied with a nod that signified his understanding of the lawman's intentions.

But before any of the three men could make another move the second shot of the morning broke the tense silence. Then a third, a fourth, all coming from directly behind the Jenkins' house.

"That's the old Colston place!" Marty yelled from his newly acquired safe position behind a fifty-five-gallon drum Vince kept in his yard as a burn barrel. Officer Henderson noted the speed which Marty displayed in his strategic displacement.

"Sure sounds that way," Vince agreed.

Officer Henderson wasn't about to question the two men. He instantly reached for his radio and called in the location of the disturbance. The three of them remained with their feet planted firmly to the frozen ground in anticipation of another shot. It never came. When three more squad cars pulled up in front of the Rosetti home Officer Henderson snapped back into action.

"Alright, men. I don't know what's going on over at the Colstons', but there might be a burglary in progress. Let's wait and see if anyone comes out." The authority in his directives comforted the younger police officers. Newbury had never seen any real violent crime before, but cable TV piped in plenty of haunting images. Every man in blue wanted to go home to his wife and kids at the end of the day more than he wanted to be a hero. If the revered Officer Henderson wanted to wait it out, they'd wait. Gladly.

But before any of them could even recall the last time they'd drawn their weapons from their holsters other than to clean them the mystery was solved. Old Man Colston came storming out of his cottage with his hands raised high. "Take me in, boys! After takin' care of that first nuisance earlier this morning I decided to get rid of that other thorn that's been in my side for the last fifty years. She's on the kitchen floor, dead as doornail."

Officer Henderson took the ornery old man into custody, making sure not to tighten the cuffs too much. This would be a lot of paperwork, alright. At least it happened early enough in the day to make supper at home feasible.

Marty Jenkins stood up straight beside the steel drum he'd befriended. As he scratched his head he turned to face the inevitable scorn from his long-time neighbor who'd been wrongly accused, only to find out he was wrong for the second time that day.

Vince Rosetti was already back in bed waiting for his alarm to sound. Winter was the off-season for the building trades; he was savoring his unemployment. It was foolish to get out of bed before nine for anything short of the Rapture.


The Drawing Board

"Stop reading love letters and help me move your mattress," I half joked. She was kneeling down beside her bed, a shoebox's capacity of old bill statements, forgotten parking tickets, and various other correspondence strewn about her on the floor like the paper orbit of a beautiful sun.

"It's from you," she replied, trying to hide the watery sheen her eyes had just acquired. Why'd she have to find this now? So much for production.

I stepped closer and looked down at the three poorly ripped pages of composition notebook paper. They were folded into three unequal sections. It looked like a four-year-old had torn them out and butchered their creases. Even in the early days of our courtship I'd failed her. My coordination, my presentation, my overall effort: they were lacking. Only my intentions were there, but what good had they done us? Or anyone, for that matter?

"Oh. Right. I remember that crooked I." And I did, though partially because I'd drawn an arrow to it and made mention of its ambiguity in the margin of the paper. It looked like an upper case Z, or perhaps a 2.

Scanning the fine-point black ink over her shoulder didn't jog any tangible memories in terms of content. My observation of the letter was like that of a child looking for constellations in the night sky. They're there if you say so, those mythical beasts. So were my yearning words of yore; I just didn't recognize them. Acknowledging their presence was an exercise in faith, a faith as fake as my father's.

The climate of the room changed, though not due to the hissing radiator. She shot me a smile, one I didn't deserve. "You're the best, Babe." I wished I knew which ancient line had convinced her of such a fanciful notion. It could be the premise for a best-selling book to dupe the masses.

"Thanks. I think I can lift this mattress alone," and I did. Somewhere in the back of my dense skull I sensed that I'd be doing a lot more things on my own quite soon. This first act seemed like good practice. Even my absent dad would agree with my assessment: Christ, too, was more fisherman than carpenter.



"I'm venturing out. Back hurts. Book's boring."

"Oh, good. Walk around the city for a bit. I'll be home in a few hours."

"My highlighter's running dry and I need some hot sauce for my burrito later."

"Speaking of later...could you pick up some batteries while you're at it?"

"What size? AA or AAA?"

"I don't know."

"Well I'm not going to check."

"Why not?"

"I'd have to touch it."


"It feels weird without you here."

"You're such a man."

"Thanks, Babe."

"It wasn't a compliment."

"Text me when you come up with one then."

"It could be awhile."

"Love you, too."

Copper and Steel

Out of sheer boredom I decided to "sign on" for the first time in months. The real-time online talking platform lost my interest years ago. I'd much rather leave it to the long-term avenues of discussion such as email; or better yet, write something that only the most motivated potential conversationalists would even respond to via post, though sometimes they prefer the cowardly anonymous route. Besides, I was once enslaved by the Instant game, my moods and actions being too easily determined by the presence, state, or statements of other people who didn't realize their power over me. The constant need to be in the Matrix became a sick addiction, thankfully one that I managed to escape. So now when I visit it's only to remind myself of how much I despise it.

Today was a typical session. A few people I'd rather avoid tried chatting me up. Some others I tried making contact with didn't respond, leaving me to wonder if their "Away" status was either true or a convenient ruse. And then there was B100452. We didn't speak or try to, but I knew she was there on the list located on the right side of the screen. Beth was an old lady I worked with at Burger King eight years ago. She smoked cheap American Gold cigarettes that I'd only bum when absolutely desperate and drank stale decaf in between taking orders on the drive-thru register. Her hair was always a vibrant red closer to purple, though she was sixty-something. During slow times in her shift she'd pick the wheat-back pennies out of her drawer and trade them for ones in her purse-- a simple collection for a woman raised in simpler times. Her three sons had been reared in the traveling military fashion, her husband a retired soldier. Their boys wound up becoming servicemen as well, one Army Ranger and two helicopter pilots. She used to show me pictures of their families, all of which seemed the same: wholesome, God-fearing men hugging smiling blonde wives from the midwest, both surrounded by eager boys in close-cropped brown hair. I see Beth's screen name on my list of fairweather friends now and wonder if all of those smiles are still there. I know her husband passed away a few years back. She told me when I ran into her at the gas station, her hair finally its natural gray as if in defeat. Have her sons faired well in these last war-hungry years? Have the trophy wives managed to neglect the widow's black veil? Are the kids still alright? I hope so.

And one day years from now I'll make the mistake of signing on again and B100452 won't be there. I won't run into her at the gas station, either, and I'll be forced to wonder: Do people on the Internet ever really die? I suppose it's akin to her wheat-back pennies. You collect them, lose some, find others.



We were years and cases beyond needing another excuse to drink, but we conjured one anyway. There were three weeks solid where I'd call him to go "car shopping". My twelve-year-old sedan was coming apart at the seams and I'd been working steady enough to justify monthly payments. It was time to invest in something worthwhile-- new to me, though not necessarily "new". The string of used car lots along 207 became our playground. The bartenders on the strip almost learned our names. This one sorry dame conned us into buying the promotional glasses that were used to serve a new beer we'd been sampling. One of them broke a week later in my dish rack, some roommates being better at doing dishes than others. I still have the other one. When I look at it I remember those three weeks of clandestine stool-sitting. Needless to say I didn't buy a thing from any of those hustlers; wound up selling my soul to a dealership near Jersey that laughed when I tried to trade in the beater. And my friend and I? We're limited now to Saturday nights, though if I needed more I'd have it. Any excuse for a beverage. Anything for a wingman. A cup of sugar, a gallon of milk. It's there.


Liver like Swiss

I look down at my spread palm and wonder where it came from-- the injury, not the hand. Two fools made the latter almost twenty-six years ago. Last night's bout was pretty heavy; so much so, in fact, that for the dwindling life of me I can't remember acquiring said wound. The half-inch-wide diameter of red irritated flesh dead between the base of my right middle finger and the horizontal crease that runs the width of my hand stares back at me and laughs: "You lost control again. You don't even remember."

Like a self-abhorring patient who says "It only hurts when I do THIS, Doc," I stubbornly press down on the bruise. If I close my eyes I can find it through my tactile sense, the small raised bump at its center drawing me in like a sad homing beacon. I look closer at this nucleus and notice a dark purple shard where it resides. A splinter of bone, perhaps? There my mind goes running off again. Damn that hypercreative brain housed by that unnecessarily thick skull. It's gotten me into so many waltzes. It's gotten me here, into this. I press again, harder this time, as punishment. The cocktails weren't enough. I had to chase shots with them as well.

Checking my email reveals a sudden burst of subpar inspiration before succumbing to the alcohol's effect: a few trite words meant to encapsulate a mood, a moment, that may or may not have happened. And what will it amount to? The same as the rest of this: nothing. How many shallow nights have ended in this same vein, a last-ditch effort text message sent to my email account from the safety of my mattress since the liquor made it too hard to get back up and stagger to my desk. It's hard to remember when beer still did it for me. It's just not strong enough anymore. I want to disappear when I drink. Most times I succeed.

But back to that nagging sore on my hand-- Where did it come from? When will it leave? I scan my lapsed memory in search of its origin. Slamming it down on the bar, perhaps, after a rough swallow. Christ, I've become him. The revolutionary loses again. The new boss, same as the old. And for the record that's not being kept any longer, Fuck Pineapple Larry. He doesn't even exist.

"The Four-Legged Avenger"

I was sitting at my desk
when I witnessed it through the window:
the handyman the widow next-door had hired
chasing a dog down the stairs. It was obvious
that he'd let the pooch out of the house by mistake
and was trying to catch he before it escaped into the yard.
He failed, stumbling awkwardly down the steps
in pursuit of the canine on the loose.
The widow and the handyman's helper
emerged from the door, a frown on the former's face
a smirk on the latter. The small white-and-black dog
ran off to kicked up leaves with his back feet
under the big elm that canopied the rear half of the property.
The handyman, winded and in his late fifties, reached down
tentatively as the dog barked his discontent.
It was no surprise that the old coot would miss
as he lunged for the dog's collar. The smirk and frown
grew larger simultaneously. The handyman slapped his thigh
in frustration and spit sideways onto the driveway
wishing he could mutter the list of four-letter words
that were running through his mind. The sign on his van
would not allow for that, though: "Friendly Home Repair, LLC".
The dog began to run in circles around the garage, barking
his battlecry of scorn as he pounded a victory lap into the ground.
Whistles, threats, the clapping of hands: none of them worked.
A plume of smoke rose from the widow's face
as she lit a long slim cigarette and ran her bony fingers
through her tassled gray hair. Her reddened face squinted
in my direction as she tried to make out whether or not
she saw a shirtless tattooed man sitting at his desk
watching her dilemma through the window. If it'd matter now;
if she could hear me through this double-paned glass; if poor old Richard
weren't rolling in his grave like a rotisserie chicken, I'd say it:
"You put the old man six feet under. This is what you get."

With your libido, yes.

Don't get me wrong:
I've loved the ride
though I envy those most
who've never lost sight
of whom and what
they've wanted.

Pray it's not
this neutered sundown
of a declawed life
sleeplessly wasted
in a town where no one's
grown up yet.



"I've got some road work for you,"
his deep voice boomed
over the phone.
For a brief second I feared
that meant paving
until I remembered it was February.
"I need you to go pick up some blueprints
for me. I'm bidding a couple jobs."
It was good news for an unemployed plumber.
Besides, anything sounded better
than being confined to the four walls
of my room so I gladly volunteered.

It felt fast doing ninety on the Thruway.
Looking down at the speedometer aged me.
My silver pick-up had some get-up-and-go
but the Blue Bullet easily did a hundred in its time
duct-taped bumper be damned. For a car that was
ten years old and held together by rusted bolts and luck
it held its own. It held a lot. It held what I let go.
Thinking about it then brought a belated smile. It's just not
what the cards held. The exits passed silently until
it was my turn to get off.

I'd never seen a gas pump that worked so inefficiently.
The price rose so slowly that I could count along.
My hand froze in place from holding the nozzle.
I rubbed it with my left one to get the blood flowing again
as I walked in to pay for the fuel. The fifty-spot
he'd given me burned a hole in my pocket. At least
he'd reimburse me for gas and tolls. I was on my own
when it came to that egg sandwich, though.

"Good luck," the tired clerk said as she handed me
the receipt. "Oh wait. You didn't buy a lotto ticket."

"It's OK. I need it just as much," I replied.

She laughed, but didn't mean it.
I took it not to heart.



"Jesus it was cold out there."


"You sure you don't want me to turn up the heat?"

"No thanks, Joe. I'll be fine once my bones warm up."

"That's all you are anymore: bones."

"I've been eating more."



"Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"I swore I heard something coming from over there."

"It's in your head. That's all you are anymore."

"Good one. You still want to watch a movie later?"

"Not really."

"What's wrong, Jane?"


"I know when something's bothering you."

"I'm just worried."

"About what?"

"This is the way I felt last time."

"Last time what?"


"Oh. Oh."


"Well. It's impossible, right?"


"I mean you can't be."


"But if you were..."

"I couldn't."

"I know that. I wouldn't ask you to."

"I couldn't, Joe."

"It's alright. Stop crying. Please? For me?"

"Sorry. You're right. It's probably nothing."

"There! That. Did you hear that?"


"It came from the closet. Let me go check it out."

"I'm not stopping you."

"No wonder we're still cold. The window's open."

"There's a window in your bedroom closet?"

"Yeah. This part of the house was an addition."


"So they built the closet afterwards and left the window."

"Seems pointless."

"But why bother boarding it up?"




"Did you open the window?"

"I didn't know it was there. I couldn't."

"Right. You couldn't."


My mother had stopped by
after her grocery shopping
to borrow a few books.
The burdens of the tethered housewife
put her in a funk sometimes;
we both agreed that novels
might offer some escape.
They were waiting on my kitchen table
when she came reeling through the door.
A firm hug, my hand through her hair, the
cold still on her scarf stinging my face.
We made small talk as only blood can.

"No! Don't eat those," I warned
as she shoved a chunk of brownie
into her mouth. The fresh batch
my roommate had made the night before
laid on the stove so deceivingly innocent.
"They're doctored. Wait. You might like them."

She sliced a strip off with a butter knife from the counter
and continued to partake of her other form of escape.

"These are good. Can't even taste it.
Tell him to come cook at my house sometime."

I laughed. There was a time I wouldn't have.

A conventional childbirth was out of the question.
My mother still has the C-section scar.
My head was too big when I entered the world
but it's shrunk a bit since then.
Don't let my hat size fool you.

Currently reading:
"The Battle for Spain" by Antony Beevor.

Blame it on poor camera-work.

The first train back upstate
was a bust; the alarm clock
decided to die the one time
I needed it and Grand Central
was too far to make it in ten
minutes, even by cab.
I took my time getting ready
and made the 9:47 instead
which had changed to the 9:52
since I'd checked the schedule
on the previous day. Metro North
has that luxury. The cars
were still mostly empty half an hour
before the departure so I had options
in the seat-picking process.
In lieu of taking one on the east side
of the track I went for the spacious
three-seater on the right. Let the fools
have their river view, I've fallen for
that trick enough times already.
The books are better anyway.
I'd be switching between the stories
of John Updike and a book on
the Spanish Civil War.
I've learned to go the whole trip
without looking up from the pages once.

But on this trek something changed.
A sudden jerk by the conductor
jostled me enough to warrant an upward
glance from the trusty words of Mr. Updike.
We were under a bridge in Westchester somewhere.
A makeshift bed was sprawled out next to a pillar
blankets and shopping bags covering
a tattered mattress that became another man's treasure.
Its owner wasn't present, probably off foraging somewhere.
It's appalling how many people live under the bridge
in the most literal sense in a nation that's so quick
to send foreign aid and fight others' battles.
Mao suggested that we "Civilize the mind
but make savage the body." It seems
somewhere along the way the two got confused.
The angel Azrael comes for all of us eventually.
Those bridgemen don't fear Death, though; it's St. Peter
who'll be fumbling for words.

I went back to my short stories for the rest
of the way north. My stepfather was waiting for me
at the Beacon station. The Spanish Civil War
was an effective topic to curtail the awkward silence
in the car ride to my house where a day of cleaning laid in wait.
He's a history buff. I tried to explain the
Abraham Lincoln Brigade and how Hemingway
was one of the American volunteers who fought
against Franco and fascism, but it he didn't get it.
Maybe I'll lend him the book when I'm done. Maybe not.

If I'd made the 8:47 the bridgeman still would've been in bed.
It's a good thing I was late.