Falling at a rate of twenty-two feet-per-second.

It'd been two weeks since I changed the sheets and today seemed as good a day as any. I ripped off the striped flannel number and threw it to the floor. As I tossed my copper-colored Egyptian cottons over the mattress with a flick of the wrists I couldn't help but notice what it looked like as it landed: an inflated parachute, held "air buoyant" by the elastic around the edges. Maybe the parachute association was a result of the fact that I'm reading a book about Delta Force, an elite airborne Special Forces unit that specializes in counter-terrorism. Whatever the case may be it instantly made me think of those rare and beloved days in elementary school gym class where the teacher (who was more of an attendance-taker with a whistle) would bring the massive red-and-white-striped parachute out from her mysterious closet where various types of balls, scooters, and other potentially dangerous sporting implements were kept. We'd form a large circle, take hold of the parachute with our two overly excited hands, and spread out until it was taut. Then the order was given to lift simultaneously and run underneath the inflated tent, quickly turning around and kneeling on the spots where our hands had once been. We were supposed to be impressed once inside this rose-tinted parallel universe. Truthfully, though I'm not sure why, we were. Was it the fact that we were hiding inside something we'd created? Perhaps, though I think it may have had more to do with that for those brief seconds we were out of sight from any authority figure, which is rare at that age for most children. But alas, the gym teacher would blow her obnoxious whistle to cease any giggling or general uproar before telling us to come back out from underneath the parachute. This always proved to be a free-for-all since once our knees stopped holding down the edge of the 'chute there was no way to keep it afloat. It collapsed on those who weren't able to make it out from under in time. Nine times out of ten it was the same kid who was still fumbling around beneath the haggard silk, and not because he was too stupid to find his way out. The class clown always went for that easy laugh since he didn't get the attention at home. The class clown was never an only child. The class clown wound up being the one who made lots of mascara run ten years later, one way or another. I, on the other hand, was the first one out of the 'chute, and also a late bloomer who blossomed at seventeen and quickly wilted. That mascara ran for me as well, though not for the same reasons. Sometimes it still runs. Some say I'm still running. True to character I digress. But what else is there? A parachute and an ironically overweight gym teacher who was obviously of a persuasion that we didn't know existed at that innocent age. The post-game assessment is simple: I should've taken my time crawling out.



Some of my actions
were mistakes.
Half of my mistakes
were learned.
Most of what I've learned
was stolen.
All of what I've stolen
was worthless.

You're the only thing I'd save
if my life caught fire.


"You ready for one?" he asked as a commercial broke the tension in the television set. We'd only met that weekend, but it felt as though we'd known each other forever. Maybe, through one regrettably thin degree of separation, we had.

"Sure. Let's go," and with that we made way for the sliding-glass door.

Rain dripped down between the cracks in the porch above us as we cupped our left hands over our cigarettes and flicked our Bics. My lack of shoes forced me to stand in the limited two-by-two square of dry deck underfoot. This newfound friend of mine was smarter than me in many ways. He'd brought his sneakers outside with him. The rest of the gang watched Steve McQueen out-drive, out-smart, and out-shoot all criminals in his path while the two of us sucked in our sweet carcinogens.

"Your name sounds familiar. Weren't you friends with Mary?" I asked pointlessly.

"Yeah. We went to school together," he responded. I had him cornered. There wasn't much else for him to say, or so I thought. He proved me wrong by adding a well-placed "She's a nice girl," before taking a deep drag on his cigarette. I noted his subtle smirk in the glow of the TV screen. McQueen wasn't the only one winning that night. We both knew what that last comment meant, though neither of us would acknowledge it. That'd be uncivilized.

"Didn't you use to...?"

"Yup. Long time ago," I cut him off. Any dates or places would've further complicated things. I liked my fresh acquaintance, in spite of our ironic common denominator, and wanted to keep it that way. He reminded me of myself when I was younger, but with a penchant for marijuana. Nothing was perfect, least of all the fiasco he'd tried to reference before I interjected. Against that pillar I was certain as Samson.

It was starting to come back to me slowly as if in a dream. I could hear her ignorantly "white" mispronunciation of his Latin last name. There was an initially unnoticed fondness in her voice that suddenly gave it all away. She had. They had. He had. I was standing in the rain next to someone who knew, or thought he did. If I'd been a better man I would've corrected his first wrong assumption. I decided to let it go in favor of letting him draw his own conclusion since he would anyway. We all find out eventually. The self-flagellation that follows is more debilitating than any lashing someone else could dole out. The cycle rarely breaks in Smalltown, USA. Everyone's broken. Some of us just play it better.

"You almost done with that?" he asked as he doused his butt in the quarter-of-the-way-full beer cup we'd designated earlier.

"I've been done for awhile now," I told the poor kid. He glanced at my hands to check for a Marlboro that wasn't there. Like I said, I'd been done for awhile.

We went back inside as the credits started rolling. Brock Davenport played the part of Bad Guy #2. The rest of them did what the rest of them do and no one dreamt a thing that night.


Mind if I cut in?

Back when I was wise enough
to drink my weight in bottles monthly
I'd wake up with strange bruises
along the back of my shoulders.
I know now where they came from.
It was all about repentance.

I've landed my share of beautiful women.
I've bedded some gorgeous whores.
But none of them were ever
as comforting as vacuum lines
across a bedroom carpet.
None of them but her.

The truth is that I like the smell
of skunk and can admit it--
like a summer night drive
with windows down at fifty.
I'm probably alone
in seeing every set of lights
as a silent enemy until
they turn their brights back on
to fade in my rearview mirror.
I still flick them on and off
to warn of hidden speed traps
around the bend or down the hill.
I hope I'm not the last
but the air tastes like the stench
of documentarians swarming.

Do you know what human flesh
smells like when it burns?
Pork. It smells like pork.


Oedipus catharsis and a lifetime supply of summer pants.

He'd eat half a carton of ice cream in one sitting.
A whole sleeve of cookies would disappear
in twenty minutes; thirty if he took the time
to dunk them in his tea.
He rarely had milk in the house
and when he did it was usually
from a previous visit weeks ago
when I'd asked him to buy some.
I'd wind up dumping the chunky contents
of the jug down the toilet
trying not to gag in the process.
That sad little box of baking soda
in the condiment rack of the refrigerator door
fought the good fight
but ultimately lost the battle against foul odors.
We washed down every meal with orange juice--
even steak, even hotdogs--
because he claimed it was good for the immune system.
Even at the age of eight I never failed to notice
that OJ only had that critical property
when it happened to be on sale.
The rest of the time we drank flat soda
that'd been in the fridge for as long as the milk.
His tap water, like his stance, was hard.
It's a wonder the man survived
after I grew too old and autonomous
to subject myself to his gruesome bachelor pad
every other weekend and for half the miserable summer.

But what gets my Goddamn goat to this day
is how he'd sit at the cheap diner we went to
every week for my entire fourth-grade career
and butcher his gums with one of the toothpicks
that came with the check
until they bled.
His teeth would be stained
with a light crimson
and his dead shark's eyes
would stare blankly above my head
at what I can only assume to be
a vision of his precious Heavenly Father
guiding his faithful hand
in whatever blundering move came next.
We'd sit in that awkward silence
until I'd try to use my homework as an excuse to go home--
home being the safety of my mother's condo.
She'd ran away from him already.
I hadn't had that option yet.
To this day she regrets not saving me sooner.
Maybe I shouldn't have revealed that.
Guilt is a useless emotion
like homework was a useless excuse.
He took me to the library.
I tried to find a quiet table
but all I could think of was how badly
I wanted to finish my assignments quickly
and get the hell out of there, get the hell away from him.
And that fucking toothpick
or the shards of what was left of it
would still be dangling from the corner of his mouth
several shades darker than it had been
when still in the plastic wrapper back at that greasy spoon.

--- roughly where it should've ended ---

You didn't know when to stop, did you, dad?
Another thing I've inherited
though none of that will ever be tangible
since you've spawned a second son clandestinely
in the fifty-ninth year of your wasted life.
I hope you fade away before you can do to him
what you did to me.
Joshua is a strong name, a soldier's name--
I know that's why you picked it from your Good Book.
Let's hope he plays his cards right
and has an ounce of faith in fate
by seeing through your ruse sooner than I did.
You've dodged my attempts at contact
for almost four years now, but that's nothing
new to you: you've been a coward
since your second breath.
Your father should've shot you into his mistress
and done the world a favor.

If it's you who's after me
then let me spare you this confusion.
If given the chance again
I'd slap that splinter out of your lips.
You don't scare me anymore
because I know I won't become you.

You've had ample time
to make right of your fissure.
"For God so loved the world
that He gave His only son..."
What did you give yours up for?


How To Be a Good Reader

Read when you're hungry.
Read when you're full.
Read when your stomach's growling
and your mouth is sour
but you've been eating
the same leftovers
for three days running
and you can't bring yourself
to nuke that shit again.

Read when you're single.
Read when you're in love.
Read when you're in love
but you're single
and refuse to use the word
Read when two of your cousins
both younger
are getting married
somewhere greener
and expect you to show.
Read when your girlfriend's
lost her mind again.

Read when you miss your biological father.
Read when you miss the men
who have replaced him.
Read when it's Father's Day
and you don't give a damn
because you're saving money this way
and you've already made
your one required phone call.
Read when you hear only "Goodbye"
after saying "I love you."

Read when you're sure of one true thing.
Read when you doubt your very existence.
Read when you've heard the voice of God
but were surprised to discover it only
governs traffic exiting the Lincoln Tunnel.
Read when you have to go crazy to be sane.

Read when in a shimmering moment of weakness
so typical of your sign
you mistakenly think
that writing would be a good idea.

Don't write.
Don't ever try to write.


Thank you. Come again.

It made my soul shudder to see that neighborhood again last week in the same way that the smell of the cologne my mother bought me for my twentieth Christmas does. The debauchery that went on every Friday and Saturday night in that first apartment; the bags and bags of empty cans and bottles; the beautiful young sacks of skin and bone, sans heart and dignity, leaving in the piercing morning light: it's not a time that makes any of us present proud. That doesn't mean it didn't happen. That doesn't let it escape this dreaded keyboard. You live, you learn, and you try to stop hurting-- yourself and others-- or you don't and the cycle continues. It's a conscious choice, much like the one I made to stop at the gas station at the light where I used to refuel and buy smokes.

This creature of habit parked in the same spot where he did six years ago, only this time in a nicer vehicle. I walked into the store in search of a refreshing drink to quench the thirst of a nine-hour day of working on a ladder in itchy, fibrous insulation. The Indian woman who owns the convenience store instantly recognized me after all that time. Her eyes lit up making her coffee-colored skin look darker. The smile that followed was the only greeting I needed to spark a conversation.

"You remember me after all these years?" I asked, my hoarse voice unabashedly surprised.

"Of course I do. My husband and I always wondered what ever happened to you." I refrained from telling her that I wondered the same.

An image of the man shot into my head. He was the same diminutive height as his wife with a similar complexion and jet black hair. A thin moustache perched above his lip as if to counteract his soft features and define his masculinity. His voice was pleasantly melodic, even when he was speaking on the telephone with some relative or friend in his native tongue while scooping my change from the register. Part of me was sad that he wasn't there alongside his wife whom I answered with a brief "I moved across town." I didn't go into detail. I didn't say how or why. She looked at me and nodded, telling me that my reply had sufficed. I turned and walked back towards the wall of refrigerated glass doors.

A bottle of red grapefruit juice called my name from the beverage cooler. I plucked it from the rack and returned to the counter where my Indian woman was waiting to ring me up. The phone was tucked between her neck and her ear this time, though. We wouldn't be continuing our discussion. I wanted to ask how her daughter was. She must be big by now, I thought. The pony-tailed pre-schooler used to follow her parents around the store every day and mimick their movements. Training for the next generation. Eastern cultures have us beat when it comes to keeping a business in the family. I admire that.

The door swung open and a middle-aged woman hurried in carrying her purse as if there was a small animal inside of it that had to come out for air. I swung my hand forward in a gesture that beckoned her to go before me. "Chivalry isn't dead," never left her lips as she urgently handed the shopkeeper a bill from her wallet, but it didn't bother me any. I was trying to stall to see if the Indian woman would end her telephone conversation so we could chat some more. I wanted to ask about her daughter, her husband, if they'd had any more kids. I wanted to tell her I'd switched to light cigarettes and then cut back to the "only when I drink" routine. I'm not sure why, but I wanted to tell her a lot of things. She knew me back then and she knew me now, but she didn't know that I'd changed in some ways. I don't wear that cologne anymore. I don't have to change the sheets quite as often. The bottles have slowed down, the cans disappeared altogether. And I'm learning what it is to sift the wheat from the chaff.

That confessional never came to be, however. She dropped a few coins into my cupped hand and winked at me as she squawked something mysteriously foreign into the mouthpiece of the telephone. That's life, I thought. No memory's perfect-- not even when typed in size-ten Arial to reflect upon in the comfort of an air-conditioned room.

Currently reading:
"Inside Delta Force" by Eric L. Haney.


Danny's not here, Mrs. Torrence.

Left now with a gambler's share
to wonder what that means--
the division of zero unattempted
through the haze of calculus
and the tested skin of teeth.

Rain checks can't fend off the debts
that are left here in the wake
hoping the answer's in the mountains
again, one year later
with a few more and a few less
and a pocket full of the crisp yellow pages
of a fifty-year-old German Existentialist novel.

It'll be red rum, brown whiskey
and enough cigarettes
to fill a cancer ward:
the only way to make it right.
No work and all play's made
Jack a dull boy.

"La sangre llama," mother said.
And the blood does call
though it sounds so much prettier
in that language gone forgotten.

La sangre llama, mis amigos.


More wretched flashbacks from the pages of the Boy Scout Handbook.

"Red next to black
is a friend of Jack,"
they say of the harmless milksnake.
"Red next to yellow
will kill a fellow,"
and the coral snake laughs
all your way to the grave.

But what does Jack know
of my taste in company?
Who's to rate
his judge of character?
And what venom out there
can hurt me better
than the poison I've come to love?

It's sloshing through the myths
to dispel what's left of reality.
It's coming for you
and for me
or the remnants of
these parodies of ourselves.
It won't be judging colors.
"Skin next to skin
will do you in,"
and there's little for Jack
or Jill
to say about it.

Good luck.


Why eat with splinters?

We were sitting in a Thai joint
right down the block from some signs
and storefronts that I recognized
on the Upper West Side.
Even in a city that big
it's possible for the mind
to crystallize specific images
certain names of places
and bright neon lights
though if asked by a stranger
looking for directions
one shrugs for lack of
cognizant knowledge
of the intersection.

"...but I'm OK, really," I said
in response. Luckily my experience
with chopsticks had been mostly
limited to sushi, and even then
only within the past eight months.
The rice on my plate was posing
a bigger problem than I'd anticipated
but that made it easier to focus my attention
on something else and sound more
convincing with my previous statement.

"Are you sure?" she asked with
her empty plate sitting in front of her
as it had been for five minutes already
due to her proficiency with the
dreaded wooden utensils.

"Yes." I looked her in the eye that time.
A snap pea crunched between my tense jaws.

When the charade finally showed
its inevitable demise I abandoned my feeble attempt
to come off as more cultured, more talented
more stubborn than I truly am
by placing the chopsticks down on my napkin
and picking up my fork. It had been
there waiting all along, whether or not
I wanted to admit it. The rice had foiled me
enough for one sitting. Besides, how else
was I supposed to cut the tails off the shrimp
without using the unprovided knife? Believe me
when I say that the food tasted better when
it didn't have to be hunted with two shards of wood.

The rest of the meal went down smoothly
not a drop of the chili-garlic sauce going to waste
not a grain of rice escaping my aim.
Another brief chapter had been concluded.
I'd miss parts of it; even the undercooked vegetables.

Satisfied, I placed my utensils-- all of them--
on my bare plate in a triumphant show
of completion that the waiter noticed
and responded to without missing a beat.
He carried our dishes away and
yelled something in his native tongue
at the waitress passing by him. For once
I didn't bother wondering if it was about me.

"Come on. Let's get out of here."

Those familiar signs were still out on the avenue
but they looked more out of place somehow
as though part of a dream that
may never recur. It's easy
to get lost on the grid of Manhattan.
It's much harder to find yourself again.
Start with what you know.
For me it was a fork.


The Blasphemous Balladeer

Noah had his flood.
Abel had his fall.
Jonah had his whale.
Peter died like Paul.

Jacob had his Angel.
We all begrudge him that.
Job, the sorry martyr
lost more than we will have.

Samson lost his strength.
Lazarus his life.
One of them regained it.
The other blamed his wife.

The point of sacred fables
and their warnings of the plagues:
Drink the poison willingly
since Eve obeyed the Snake.


Pro Bono

Michael Stipe whined about pain
through the shoddy speakers of the convenience store
as I made my way towards the counter
with a soda and a candy bar in hand.
What did he know about hurting?
How could he speak for everybody?
It bothered me that his unconvincing assumptions
raked in millions for him and his pals.
Talk about cashing in on another's misfortune.
At least my dirges are non-profit.

"Sorry, this is all I have," I told the middle-aged
Hindu as I formed stacks of quarters on his spotless counter.

"It's OK. I can use them," he replied in that comically
sing-song voice standard of the stereotype.
He popped open the register and made room for the
oncoming influx of change in the appropriate receptacle.

No one was in line behind me so I took my time
enjoying the cranked AC of the store as Michael finished
belting his bald blues to an uncaring audience of two.
I slid the stacks of four his way and grabbed the goods
I'd come for after stretching out a cupped hand for my change.
As I left, the chime on the door rang with a single solemn note
unobtainable for any pop singer still among the living.

My buddy was waiting in my truck
with a familiarly impatient irreverence
that snapped me out of my pensive half-slumber.

"What the hell took so long?" he demanded, taking the soda
I handed him as he flicked a butt at the curb
and missed.

"Some schmuck was emptying his kid's piggy-bank,"
I said. There were no other cars in the parking lot.
Still, the excuse was accepted without resistance.
It's amazing how far a free soft drink will get you.

It happened over a month ago and I'm not sure
why I chose to remember it. It may have something to do
with the clerk's heavy-handed cologne application
and how it amused me to imagine that it'd be enough to make
my aural marauder go off-key if he were there
singing his lousy arpeggiated hit in person.

The day is long, alright, Michael.
Some of us just handle it better.


A Rarity

Prior experience warned me
not to try to take the Brookside shortcut
at that time of day
for fear of not being able to make
the required left turn at the end
against the mid-afternoon traffic
but my stubborn side prevailed.
When I got to said intersection
it was a gridlocked parking lot
waiting for the light to change.
One kindred soul perpendicular from me
in a ten-year-old red pick-up
gave me the omniscient look:
He wanted to let me cut ahead of him.
The carload of Mexicans
in front of his truck was in the way, however
and when the light finally turned
there was a slew of cars coming my way
that'd prevent me from making that left.
His arm was dangling through the open window
and the sweat was stinging the corners of his
squinting eyes. I knew and understood the
wrath of the awkward in-between phase of growth
his buzzed hair was in and I sympathized
with his lack of air conditioning
having been there once myself.
The cars were getting closer
and the Mexicans moved up
but it was too late to pull out
without getting T-boned.
I waved him on thankfully
with an accompanying nod of the head
and he let his foot off the break
and spread his fingers in response.
We were two young men who knew
each other for a few brief seconds
and tried to make the best of it.


Tip No. 451:

Ball up the blanket
next to you at night
since it's humid enough
to get by with just the sheet
and fall asleep clinging
to a temporary space-holder.
It's less conspicuous
than adopting a full-time
body pillow
and you've spent enough
The bed's all yours again.
You can roll about
as you please
and lie until you love it.

Those who claim
they're scared of change
fail to praise
their ability to adapt.

Fishers of Men

The late-May sun was setting over rooflines down the street. Dormant chimneys served as grim reminders that they'd be needed again someday when the months grew cold again. We were tossing his tools into the back of his work truck when he remembered to confront me about his recent discovery.

"You wrote 'Jesus Saves' on the back of my truck, didn't you?" Dave asked with a smirk that tried its hardest to seem angry. There were two cross-shaped cuts in the rusted steel bumper of the beat-up box truck he'd recently purchased. It seemed only fitting to take the chalk I used to mark pipe with and scribble some religious slogan underneath.

"Yeah, it was me. The old lady found it?" In a subtle attempt at humility I laid the power drill I had in my hands down more gently than the last thing I'd loaded. It was bad enough I busted my employer's chops all day; there was no reason to break his tools as well.

"No, it was a potential customer. I went to look at a job yesterday and he asked if I was a brother in faith while we stood near the back of the truck talking business. I had to agree even though I didn't know where he got that idea from. Then I noticed your handiwork on my bumper, you bastard."

I couldn't deny either of the accusations in his last sentence.

Dave's tone never changed while addressing me, even if he had reason to be miffed. His constant demeanor was something I admired about him. It made the man a pleasure to work for, as well as an easy target. In typical mischievous apprentice fashion I prodded a little further.

"I was considering putting one of those Jesus fish on the back of your truck, too. Consider yourself lucky." I turned to look for a reaction that wasn't coming. Dave's face lit up with the same excitement a child gets when he's about to tell a story.

"When I was a kid I used to pry those off of people's cars. Half the Bible thumpers in our trailer park had the gray outline of a fish where the glue from the thing had stayed on the paint of their cars. The stubborn ones had two fish scars," he said, taking a moment to bask in the glory of the amusing term he'd coined. "I used to stick them on the wall of my bedroom. I even took some blue paint from my father's shed and painted a pond around them. I had no idea what they meant at the time. I just wanted some pets."

He gave me the simple, country-boy grin that his darling wife must've fallen in love with fifteen years ago. I couldn't help but feel the same. Dave was one of a dying breed. The innocence in his slate blue eyes couldn't be faked. I smacked him on the back of the shoulder, called him a thieving heathen, and let loose a wide-mouthed laugh. It wasn't just the money that made me crave those side-jobs.

We finished packing up the tools in sweaty, tired silence. It had been a long day of gritty pipe replacement and both of us were ready to go home. After he paid me for the day's labor we plodded towards our respective vehicles and pulled away from the curb. Dave was hoping he'd get that next big job that the Holy Roller was dangling in front of his face on the previous day. I was hoping I wouldn't be alive when his species finally goes extinct. Hoping is half of a plumber's life, one way or another. Hoping and fishing.


A Case of Mistaken Identity.

A red-breasted robin
floundered on the double-yellow
with no excuse
for its meeting with the grill
of a fading Chevy.
Contrary to the charlatans
I've got no use for wounded birds
mending wings and water into wine.

Take it hip to hip.
Take it any way you want to.
Roam around the world
since this valley's not enough.

It's no coincidence
that mating season
and the witching hour
always overlap.