Winter Weight Blues

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

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

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

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

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

is folding my clothes
and not.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No good?" I asked.

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

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

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

"But it took me..."

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Missed an Almost Perfect Sunset

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

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


The Hardest of Swallows

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


Hosanna from the Hip

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

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

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

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

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

White Noise in the Gray Area of Seeing Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Blessed Union in Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Blessed with a wicked backhand.

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

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

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


Not so funny anymore.

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

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

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


These Walking Wounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fill 'er up.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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