A Humbled Dostoyevsky.

The firing squad was halted
and the white hood torn from his head
before the sentence could be carried out--
his pardon came just in time.
The young anarchist was spared
by the grace of providence.
He grew and learned and wrote of life
and death
more convincingly afterwards.

He left his first wife
or maybe she died
or maybe it's the same damn thing
and replaced her with a girl
a third of his age
who cooked and cleaned and trimmed his beard
and fulfilled his selfish libido until he slept
and then woke him from his nightmares
about the lack of a God or a Father
that he wanted
so hard to believe in
and when that wasn't enough
and he had to get it out
but was too weak and blind to write it
she transcribed his words for him
though that book was never completed.

And somewhere in Russia
he's buried now
and has been for well over a century
his works translated in at least twelve languages
though there's only one that matters
to us foolish disciples who claim to know him best:

To love and to be loved.


on tenterhooks

The yogurt's so cold
it temporarily freezes my teeth
as I stand mostly naked in the kitchen
forcing down a snack even though
I'm not hungry. Turning the refrigerator down
seems like a good idea, but I'm not
known to act on those too frequently;
I let the notion pass downstream
floating lazily on the current of my mind
when something else distracts me.

It's a hole in the window screen in front of me
big enough for a small animal
such as a squirrel to fit through with ease.
The duct tape repair job is peeling
from the edges of the portal
lending free passage to the moths
who've been swarming around the lights at night.
There's a roll of tape up in my bedroom, but again
that sounds like too much work. It's not that I'm lazy
it's that the government has been dutifully paying me
to do nothing for the past eight months
and I wouldn't want to let them down
by breeching my end of the contract.

But, as usual, I go back to that hole.
It was chewed open by a squirrel
two summers ago-- a squirrel which
I've had the awkward honor of meeting
in my kitchen on more than one occasion
while walking in the front door
during one of its dry goods raids.
When the first screen was torn
we thought it was a fluke.
We closed that window and chalked it up
to chance. Four other windows
wound up being shut, however
after the persistent critter showed
how determined it was to break and enter.

It must've been the same one over and over.
It hasn't happened since that summer
so I suppose it moved along or died.
It forces me to believe that animals
are more than just instinct and muscle;
some of them have character, have souls--
even the lowly gray-furred tree rats
that chitter and chatter and lose buried nuts.

My spoon scrapes the last of the yogurt
from the side of the container
and slides into my mouth
as I think back to that summer
and the squirrel that got the best of us.
I use my tongue to remove a raspberry seed
from the canyon in one of my molars
and stumble towards the stairs
where a new book, a new world
a new distraction awaits
while I cringe and weigh the costs
of losing two more lives.

Even the mighty Ohio
catches fire sometimes
and its entitled.

Curently reading:
"I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson.


The Accidental Artist

to the shoulder
of your road
were the
rotting carcasses
of a fox
and a squirrel.

That hunter never caught
his prey
but the driver
who took them both out
captured what many well-fed
trite morons never do:

a moment.


Before the Bucket.

Stomping through the supermarket
last night
on a mission for frozen peas
I saw an old man
singing standards
as he bagged groceries
doing both equally poorly
not caring about
the outcome
or whether he'd
live to see it.

God, I know I claim
to not ask for much
but let that be me

Up and to the Left.

There is no more glorious moment
in all of your pointless existence
than right before bringing
your lover to climax.
In those brief seconds
when you both know
what those tightening muscles mean
you're the only one
who matters to them--
they'd have you believe
you're the only one
who ever has, in fact.
You can do no wrong
as long as you don't stop
whatever magical feat
you're performing.
That precious endorphin high
you're about to send
through their body is enough
to justify your presence, to buy
you some time...
And time, after all
is the one thing
we'll all be begging for at the end
one way or another.


If You've Got to Lose, Lose to the Best

I was on my way home from a brothel in Maybrook with a stubborn wad of cash in my pocket. The building hadn't been used as such for almost a century and a half, but as far as my plumbing partner and myself were concerned the same went for cathouses as for bullshitters: once is always. Some forty-year-old slumlord couple had subdivided it and was renting it out as four separate apartments. If only those low-income tenants could hear the stories that those walls could tell...

A man I used to work with was standing in his driveway as I drove by pondering the possibilities. I hadn't seen him in almost two years. The obligatory honk didn't seem like enough so I turned around and pulled into his driveway.

"Hey, Shakespeare," Johnny said with the suds from his lager clinging to the corners of his mouth. My early apprental nickname had stuck with this one; I'd shaken it from the tongues of most of the others, at least when I was around. People who call you by your alternate moniker in your presence are probably to be trusted more than those who wait until you leave. Johnny was somehow allowed to let that name fly, though. He was the one who gave it to me four years ago when a few of my fellow pipefitters caught me reading in my car on lunch break.

"What's new, John?" I asked through my rolled-down window after putting my truck in park and killing the ignition.

Right off the bat he was digging through the toolbox in the bed of my truck. "Hey, is this thing mine?" the notorious tool-thief asked of me, a shiny pair of tin snips in his hand.

"Nope, but these are," I replied, tossing a rusty pair of pliers I'd pulled from my backseat in his general direction. He caught it one-handed without spilling his beer. Practice, for some, does indeed made perfect. "Check out the handles."

John looked down at the blue rubber grips where he'd once written his intials. Since being in his possession the inscription had been modified-- the word "sucks" was scrawled in magic marker after his two letters.

"No one steals from me, kid," John snarled in his best attempt at intimidation. I was almost twice his size, physically and otherwise. We laughed at his charade and he handed the pliers back to me. "At least you learned from the best," and he was right-- though that applied to his craft more than his trade.

Not much had changed around the man's house. The grass was still the same sickly green hue. The driveway still needed some patching. His three daughters had grown quite a bit since I'd seen them, however. They chased each other through the yard in their bathing suits, screaming and dripping over-chlorinated water in their wakes. A jealous Johnny Jr. peered out from the living room window. He'd literally doubled in size since I'd seen him last. I could hear him speaking actual words from the English language through the screen. The squawking toddler I remembered was limited to monosyllabic Neanderthal-speak in my recollection. A chill went down my spine as I realized how quickly years pass. He too will be a plumber in no time.

"Here, have a beer," John blurted as he shoved an oh-so-familiar green bottle into my hand. "Come on in. I'll show you my new pellet stove."

Not his wife, Maria, whose wonderful Italian cuisine I'd savored several times at their dining room table after work. Not their oldest daughter whom I taught a few chords on the guitar. Not little Jon-Jon who could now amaze me with his early stages of the lifelong mastery of speech. A pellet stove. He wanted to show me a pellet stove. The mighty plumber had succumbed to a form of heat that required no boiler or pipes full of water. Worse yet, he'd forgotten the main thing I admired and envied: his family.

As we walked through the kitchen the smells of his house came back to my mind right after my senses. It's odd how much trivial olfactory information we file in the recesses of that spongy pink matter. The living room looked mostly the same, aside from its hardwood floors being slightly duller and the presence of two dozen more movies stored on the shelves of the entertainment center. "Here it is," John said with an unfittingly sinister grin. Had he gotten such a good deal on the contraption that it felt like a crime? If so, was I supposed to care? I pretended for the sake of his manhood.

"Wow. She's a beauty, alright." It was easier to lie without his wife and kids around. This man alone was no saint to be feared.

"Do you have a lighter on you?" he asked, pointing to his unopened beer.

"Yeah. Hold on." I set my bottle down on the pellet stove and rummaged through my left hip pocket for the lighter I always keep there. It comes in handy in dark crawlspaces or while lighting a torch at work. More often than that, though, it's used to open bottles. The trick is to hold the neck just under the cap and use the index finger as a fulcrum point to pry the cap free with the lighter. A simple matter of leverage is practically rocket science to amateurs at parties who witness the feat, whether or not the credit is warranted. Another thing that Johnny had taught me. The list was slowly growing. It wouldn't take too much longer to finalize.

"Thanks," he said after popping the top. I picked up my brew and joined him in a swig worthy of the frustrating day I'd had.

For the next twenty minutes I planned my escape. When the perfect segue presented itself I took advantage of the opportunity. John and I shook hands in his driveway and made each other false promises of getting together again soon. That's how it goes with that type of friend. It wasn't until later on that evening that I discovered the extent of it.

I was emptying my pockets onto my dresser and noticed something missing: my lighter. He'd pocketed it after cracking his beer with a hand as sly as a street hustler's. I smiled into the mirror on my bedroom wall, the day's dust and failure still glued to my face. My loss was minimal compared to the gain. Some things never change, thank God.


Slowly Going the Way of the Pipe

I closely resembled a South American druglord.
The brown aviators, slicked-to-the-side hair
neatly trimmed beard, and rolled-cuff white buttown-down
worn recklessly four days prior to Memorial Day
made the comparison undeniable. The top few buttons
had been left undone, revealing a black T-shirt underneath.
My fellow graduating apprentices would chime right in
with the predictable Spic jokes which I more than welcomed.
It had become my identity within the group, it was better
to have one than not. Besides, I was on a mission to
change the stereotype through positive representation.
It was a role I embraced with open, olive-skinned arms.

I'd called my mother before leaving for the graduation dinner
asking where my old assortment of ties were hidden. It'd been
eight years since I'd worn some of them as a weekly requirement
for a criminal justice class I took in high school. I knew
that my stepfather had hijacked them, one hostage
at a time, whenever he needed to spiff up for an event.
On more than one occasion I'd had to tie the damn thing for him
the crude, thick-fingered construction worker that he is.
I didn't mind. It gave a kid an edge over a man three times his age.

My mom's house was only a mile from where the dinner ceremony
was being held. I could easily swing by and complete the get-up
with one of my old ties, loosely done of course. The effect would
be worth the process of rummaging through a bedroom closet.
Suddenly, however, it dawned on me: it'd been so long
that I'd forgotten how to tie the customary half windsor knot.
I could've looked it up on the internet as I had originally
due to the lack of a real father figure, but that would be a farce.
In my years away from the realm of formal attire I'd lost
the bit of knowledge that separated men from boys.
That was it-- I'd officially become blue collar.

"Congratulations," I told myself in the rear-view mirror.
A Latino cartel leader regrettably content
with his place in life smiled back
the points of his white collar flapping in the breeze.


The Fettered Workings of Democracy in the Hands of a Gun-toting Novice

Today I wrote my senator
urging him against
the passing of a Bill
clearly aimed at discouraging
the sale of semiautomatic handguns
in the fine State of New York.

In masterfully ignorant form
from behind the safety
of my NRA card
I concluded the letter
with a shamefully neophytic display
in the form of a cliche:

"Outlaw guns
and only outlaws will have guns."
I was too weak to resist.

Mea culpa, Mr. Heston.
I hope I've not let down
your cold dead hands again.

Currently reading:
"Breakfast of Champions" by Kurt Vonnegut.

A Pocket Full of Posies

The random facts and slightly frightening anecdotes were running rampant from his lips now and I only had myself to thank. I'd been the one making the drinks, asking if he wanted another whenever I saw that his mug was empty. Sometimes in playing host we tend to forget the difference in tolerances. My heavy-handed Canadian Club portions weren't cut enough by the ginger ale. I'd made a blubbering spectacle of a brilliant friend and was forced to face the consequences. In true runner-up form I tried to make the best of it.

"Do you know how many people I've dumped into the Hudson?" he said with devilish grin, not bothering to wait long for an answer that wasn't coming from his stunned audience. "Five."

"Jesus." The others and I looked at each other across my kitchen table in shock and awe. Those of us who had a drink in hand took a sip. The topic of cremation had come up and our pal had the perfect story ready. Anyone who doubted his skills as a conversationalist would've been silenced quite thoroughly after a few rounds in the ring with our buddy.

"So many people who sell the estates of the deceased to antique dealers include ancient urns. They're usually dustier on the outside than they are on the inside. 'We don't want Uncle Frank,' they'll tell me casually. So when I acquire the remains with the rest of the junk I walk out to the middle of the bridge and dump the ashes."

There was little left to say to such a shocking revelation. The image was complete: a humble, struggling man put in an awkward situation walking half the span of the river's width in order to do what seemed right, or best. Was pouring Uncle Frank into the center of the mighty Hudson any more sacred and respectful than bleeding his ashes into its rocky edge? I didn't think so, the water being the same. But then again I understood his reasoning. It wasn't the location that mattered; it was the effort made to put him somewhere else that his relatives wouldn't have put forth. The last act of honor in Uncle Frank's name was performed by a stranger too courteous to say No. In my contemplation of the circumstance I found its latent beauty. Still, the mood had to be lightened if possible.

"Remember in 'The Big Lebowski' when the ashes blow back into the Dude's face?" my roommate asked.

"Yeah, that's my favorite part." We'd played it well, or so I thought.

"That happened to me once!" our over-served guest interjected with zeal as if he'd been waiting for his cue all along. That was it, the final brush stroke to complete the picture: a puff of gray ashes that had once been the remains of a human being raining on his face and outstretched arms, stinging his eyes in spite of his glasses. "The nozzle of knowledge had been opened," as someone else present pointed out. People often fail to imagine the size of the other man's shoes. More often than not the discovery is appalling. We don't know. We really don't know. The shame in it is that most of us would rather keep it that way; but just like in the case of his walk to the center of the bridge, I can understand.

There was no turning back for any of us. I could only make the cocktails stronger. If my morbidly burdened friend could shoulder the weight of his load then I would do the same. Know your roles. Embrace them.


You can't take it with you, but you should sure try.

There it is in perfect form:
a man's pride and joy
left to rust in his widow's driveway.
The metallic brown landship
of the larger-than-life Sixties variety
complete with fins and contours
lit up with bells and whistles
lays in wait for a turn of the ignition
that isn't ever coming.
A multitude of twigs and leaves
cover its hood and trunk.
The left rear tire is slowly going flat.
It's a slow death that's hard to watch
from the window of my ivory tower.

My neighbor's been dead for a good
four months. His wife's sold or given
away most of his belongings
though I feel it's been more to get rid of him
and the memory of their loveless marriage
than for any other reason. But this--
this travesty, a final slap in the face
to a buried corpse unable to defend himself--
this is more disrespect than the deceased
should ever bear. I wish she'd sell the thing already.

Something tells me that car
was the only thing he loved
at the end.
She must know that.


Asking permission.

"It's been a long time
since we've done it this way."

"Yes. Wait. Have we ever?"

"Oh we used to. Believe me.
We used to."

I crack a fresh bottle of tonic
and dump it into a half-glass of ice
fighting to swim in the gin.
A few weeks ago I drank
at a bar in Midtown
where the Bloody Mary originated
only there they called it a Red Snapper.
The cocktails were a stiff twenty
which was fine since I wasn't paying.
A bowtied bartender complete with engraved nameplate
opened a new ten-ounce bottle of soda
for each drink in an act that made me feel
further out of place in my tight green T-shirt. No type
of syrup-to-bubbles-to water ratio error could be tolerated
for a cup of overpriced rotgut in such a fancy joint.
The factory's bottled contents were
the only thing to be trusted in that whole damn place.
That whole damned place.

"Yeah, this is how it used to get done

There's no one around to disagree this time.
The accompanying smirk is guiltlessly savored.

A sip better than any I've tasted all week
passes my bored Friday lips, sinks somewhere into the fat
perched above my hairy thighs. I've gained and lost
and gained again in a fashion typical of life.
The current phase isn't so appetizing
I must admit. The beach beckons not this summer.
A stranded brown sea mammal trying desperately
to squint hard enough to be able to read
the glowing pages of a sun-drenched book.
Children will run screaming from the abortion.

There's an image for you, Adam.
Swallow it whole.
And Adam responds accordingly:
"Hey Lush, have fun. It's the weekend.
I don't think that you know what you've been missing."
We never do; or we do, and we embrace the cross
in the hopes of a posthumous sainthood.
God, I wish I could save them all--
or maybe myself in stride.

But I answer Adam back with a Click.

To me that sound is more than it is for most.
Only one of my nine firearms has a hammer
that can be physically cocked with the thumb.
There's something lovely in that noise
that all of us lose every day. Call it Choice for now.
I lower the steel heel, make it go away.
A wise decision.
Again with the tonic
still fighting the gin.

My father used to order it when we'd go to dinner.

"You mean a gin-and-tonic?" the confused waitress
would ask.

"No," he'd sigh from his hesitant booth. "Just a tonic water
with lime." That crooked jaw of ours
would grin at no one afterwards.

I've topped him, improved upon his wheel.
And still I will become him.


A Merry Old Soul Was He.

The only feature more distracting
than the gray tufts of hair
protruding from George's massive ears
were the wiry caterpillars above
his dark, sunken eyes.
With every coming year he shrunk
another inch and his cigarette-weakened voice
became more and more faint.
I'd have to step closer and closer
to the quietly rotting Italian man who lived
alone in a trailer in the neighbor's back yard
in order to hear whatever trivial question
the seventy-something-year-old man
had for a kid trying to play by himself
in his father's lonely yard.
Sometimes my parents, when they still
lived together and made decisions that way
would send me to his tin-sheathed time capsule of an abode
on a Saturday morning to watch television
on his tobacco-stained couch. Had they needed
a babysitter they would've called one of the cute
little ponytailed teenagers in the neighborhood;
even at that naive age I knew that my presence
at George's place was more for his benefit
than my own, though it didn't bother me
enough to protest the directive and risk being
banned from playing Nintendo for a week.
There was always some form of candy in a bowl
on his coffee table and he let me pick which programs
we watched. When he'd had his fill of company
I'd be dismissed graciously like a wife departing
from an inmate's conjugal visit. The favor was repaid
one time when my elementary school was hosting
some function for its students and their grandfathers in a
blessed pre-politically correct era that conveniently denied
the fact that this may've caused problems for those
with deceased or AWOL patriarchs. Good ol' George
was happy to fill in for the occasion. He wore a bowtie
that probably hadn't seen the light of day since
his wife was still alive and wouldn't do so again.
I'm not sure what ever happened to the man
though I assume he's happily underground with his beloved.
If by some chance I met him again in that driveway
between my father's home and his I wouldn't know
how to answer any of the questions that by now
would be inaudible to the human ear
and equally irrelevant.
George, you should've quit sooner--
the cigarettes, I mean.

Currently reading:
"Demian" by Hermann Hesse.

Brain Bait to Our Dismay

According to Stephen Hawking
the world's current authority
when it comes to aging, crippled geniuses
Time Travel is possible
if one can orbit a Black Hole.
It's got something to do with its general relativity
and the fact that Time is slowed down
there to somewhere near the equivalent
of one second for every one hundred Earth years.
Here is raised the obvious limitation
that even the masters of physics have yet to
and probably won't solve:
We can only move forward in Time
even with the help of a renowned
self-proclaimed scientific heretic.
There's no unspilling that milk, my friends.

And now, for effect, the conclusionary quote
in which you may or may not find solace:

"The universe is governed by the laws of science.
The laws may have been decreed by God
but God does not intervene to break them."

Lacing up for the let-down.

Killing them didn't warrant this final outcome.
I was a kid. How could I've known better?

The nature camp I went to over
in Putnam County was having
its Native American week
and all of us elementary-aged campers
were excited as ever
running around through the woods
with our "Indian" names. My parents
had urged me against White Cloud
since it was the name of a popular
brand of toilet paper at the time.
I settled on something else
that to this day is forgettably sub par.

Our main project for the week
was to construct a miniature
Native American home
that our local indigenous people
may have lived in long ago:
a wigwam, a longhouse, some sort
of branch-and-bark shelter.
Setting to work on the shoebox-sized
house was easy. Never had my focus
been so keen. The twigs and birch bark
I'd so carefully gathered practically
fastened themselves together.
No one else was done by the time I'd finished
so I continued the fun by searching
for things to decorate my pint-sized
Injun family's yard. Tiny pine cones
became shrubbery. Some chunks of gravel
from the camp's parking lot were glued
to the cardboard "ground" in a circle
to signify a campfire. That afternoon
when I arrived home from my productive
day at camp I found something else
to use in my project.

The flowers on my father's rhododendron bushes
hadn't bloomed yet. Their buds looked
exactly like small ears of corn that'd look great
stacked up alongside my Native American home.
I walked up and down the driveway
picking the green buds from the bushes
and shoving them into my pockets
excited to bring them to camp the next day.
Sure enough, they looked exactly like corn
when I set them in place. My masterpiece
was complete. Had there been a prize for
creativity I would've won-- at least that's what
one of the counsellors told me in confidence
later on that day during a hike.

He didn't notice that anything was wrong
right away. Who looks at the plants in their
lawn that often? When the neighbor's rhododendron
bloomed beautifully a few weeks later, however
my father was puzzled and inspected his own specimens.
It was only a matter of time before the interrogation
commenced. Then, as now, I was a terrible liar
and didn't bother trying. I don't recall
if I was punished for my ignorantly overzealous
addition to my summer camp project
but I do know that I wished my dad had seen
how hard I'd worked at it and how proud of it I was.

Approval's been harder to come by since then.
I wish I'd never plucked those flowers.


On Killing a Lover of Life's Finer Things

There are parts of my room
that'd never been inspected
let alone cleaned--
the spatial version
of the backs of a ten-year-old's ears.
Last week by chance
which I won't try to pawn off as maintenance
I moved one of the computer speakers
on my desk aside while opening a window.
To my surprise there was a small pile of
dried corn kernels and seeds
which must've been gathered, gnawed on
and then forgotten by one of the mice
that took up occupancy in our house
over the winter. This small collection of food
was all that remained of the rodent's existence
the nightly Snap! of the trap my roommate set
in the bathroom being evidence of the pests' demise.
I brushed the food, which the mouse had obviously
stolen from my rabbit, into my hand and peered
through the window at the budding tree and other signs
of spring in full bloom. I was never the one to set
or empty that trap, and for good reason that
my discovery only proved:
Mice, like people, enjoy a good view.
We're bound to have more in common.


Razorback Flashback

I had the strangest dream this morning:
two of the three daughters from "Full House"
were living with my future Broadway starlet cousin
in New England. A State Record-worthy boar [though
wild hogs are not native to the region, -Ed.] was
rampaging through the birch trees behind the house
so the Great Brown Hunter set out with his scoped shotgun
to eliminate the threat. I fired numerous slugs at the beast
reloading at least twice. The neighbors must've been scared
because before I could thrash into another dreamscape
the authorities were on the scene investigating the source of the
gunshots. I tried to explain the danger DJ and Stephanie Tanner
as well as Miss West Side Story were in, but the troopers
weren't having any of it-- not until they trekked into the woods
and finished off my quarry with their rarely unholstered pistols.
I was exonerated, using that exact word in my dream, and all
was well in the land until that little problem hit me hard:


Broad enough Strokes

My box spring and mattress sat on the floor of my bedroom for so long that the thought of putting them back on a bed frame seemed absurdly foreign. A recent moving job I completed in the city left me in possession of a like-new plastic bed frame that snaps together and sits much more sturdily than the cheap metal affair I had before which I always feared would give way at a most inopportune time. As a result my bed is now a good two feet higher. If it had four posts around it and some form of flowing fabric veil it'd closely resemble something from the chamber of a pre-pubescent princess; but here, in this dimly lit room lined with bookshelves and firearms, it's just another awkwardly high mattress.

Its new altitude has taken some getting used to, and not all of us have adjusted. Tonight, in the thousandth vain attempt to receive affection from my rabbit, I learned this the hard way. She'd been fascinated by the recent addition of the pseudo-subterranean realm created by the bed's sudden elevation. I chased her out of her favorite new hiding spot, captured her in the laundry hamper, and dumped her onto the bed in hopes of being able to pet her for a minute. In utter defiance typical of the ironically antisocial bunny she leapt from the edge of the bed and landed hard on the hardwood floor. She looked like a painfully compressed accordion upon impact. A jump that used to be so easy for her had changed its nature entirely with the introduction of that pesky frame. In sheer shock she turned around, slightly bow-legged in the hind quarters, and jerked her head backwards as her tongue licked the whiskers on her right cheek. A sporadic twitch attacked her neck that brought my hands to my mouth in horror. This is it, I thought. She's broken her spine. Her ears flicked to the side a few times and she chewed at the air in a punch-drunk stupor. Finally, to my relief, she hopped back under the bed to recover her senses and lick her invisible wounds. Animals too make stupid faces and odd gestures when slightly injured and severely dazed. The chuckle came late, but definitively. I was saved from a manslaughter rap.

And in the end, as always, I'm grateful for the fable: rabbits, like people, should look before they leap.


'One Shot, One Kill' in a Perfect World.

What they teach
in sniper schools
around the world
is quite correct
though I think
they've forgotten
one part of the mantra:

Your first shot's important
but never miss your last.