On Jealous Skies and Wedlock

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

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

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

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

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

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


When the Movement Loses Sight

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

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

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

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

"Yes, dear. I'm coming."


Duality of a Strange Custom

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

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

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

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

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


non-quitter, non-spitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ask a hooker how lonely Tuesday night can get.

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

to the humbling realization

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

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


How It Almost Happened.

"You sound down," she told him.

"No lower than usual," he lied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"So do you want to meet for coffee?"


"Me neither."

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one who stood in need.


Lights from a Fort Lee Love-Seat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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