"I before E except after C."

For fourteen long months
I spelled a name wrong
over and over
beyond what was due

my ignorance thanks to an adage, a rule.

The worst part
is that I was never

Not until now
the jawline, the jawbone.


Two birds dancing in the dust.

Back when I was
young, strong, and stupid
I used to haul
two bags of concrete at once
over my shoulder
during hungover Saturday side-jobs.

That's how I knew
I could lift you
this morning

though now
at twenty-six
I'm no spring chicken
and no wiser
for the scars.

Two wrongs don't make a right
but three lefts do.

I'm sorry about tomorrow.


Safe than Sorry

in your fingernails
you're not
getting enough of
zinc, I think.

It's alright.
grow out.



It was one of those moments
where you know that whatever god
you happen to believe in at the time
is testing you. There was a definite choice
to make and whether or not I responded
correctly would determine the outcome
of the rest of the afternoon for both myself
and a stranger.

I'd just finished up a moving gig in Manhattan
and was cashing the check my employer had
given me. Tired, sweaty, and in need of both
alcohol and water I waited in line at the branch
I'd never been to and to which I'd never return.
The teller smiled without comment when she saw
my license, but I knew why.

"The DMV charges forty bucks for a new one
and I move a lot so I just put a label over
the address to change it when I need to."

A pearly grin spread across her tired
mocha-colored face expressing appreciation
for a change of pace at the end of her day.

"May I have large bills?" I asked. "The money seems
to last longer if I don't have a wad of twenties."

She smiled again, though this time it was
as though she'd heard a joke already
and was offering her condolences for my mediocrity.

The bills came through the small portal
beneath the shield of bulletproof glass--
three hundreds and a fifty. I thanked her
and turned to walk away while thumbing
the cash into my wallet when I discovered
her mistake: she'd given me an extra hundred.

I'd been laid off for seven months and was
lucky to have any side-work whatsoever, hence
the moving job. That extra C-note would
help get me back on track financially, maybe even
help justify some luxurious poor decisions. The only
thing between me, the sidewalk, and a much-needed break
was a glass door beckoning from a mere five feet away.
That's when I did an about-face.

I'm not a religious man by any means.
I believe that when you die it goes back
to how it was before you were born, the only
difference being that you either learned lessons
in the process or taught some things to those around you
or you didn't. You improved the world or you detracted from it
though, more likely than not, you did both to some degree.
The worms will be your only final judges as they
devour your corpse as far as I'm concerned.
That being said, I do believe in karma; or, to keep it
on a more tangible level, Every action has an equal
and opposite reaction. I see it every day, though maybe
that's by choice. Regardless, I knew I had to return
that unearned money. If I didn't a stray air-conditioner
would probably wind up falling on me from an apartment
window during my walk back to my truck.

"How much was that check for?" I asked
after returning to the teller.

"Two fifty...Oh Jesus, I gave you three fifty!"

"Yeah. You did."

I slid the culprit back under the divider
hoping the woman's manager didn't notice
and walked out of the bank
knowing I'd sleep better
and there wouldn't be another person
joining me on the unemployment list.

You'd be fair in contesting my track record
but none of my wins were stolen.
I sleep best at night
with nothing to fear but my shadow.


past lives and ex-wives

"Prison food was so much better," I quip
as the three of us exit the hospital elevator.

The stranger in front of us laughs
as she hustles through the lobby alongside us.

"It was a joke," I say in my defense
hoping that the vivid tattoos on my arms don't
resemble jailhouse artwork done with pens and razors.

"It wouldn't bother me," the forty-something-year-old
woman replies, barely taking the time
to look over the padded shoulder of her business suit.
"I've seen a lot in my life."

She speeds off down some corridor
heading deeper into the heart of the hospital
as my girlfriend and I make way for the automatic doors.

There are still some people worth talking to in the world.
You've just got to try harder.


To the tune of your dentist's office music.

It seemed unseasonably early
to be sleeping with the windows open
and our precious silence paid the price--
all night long, or so it seemed
the two local firehouses
called for reinforcements
waking us up
with their wailing sirens.

In the morning I put her on the train
to join the other tired commuters
hoping she'd fall asleep
for most of the buck-fifteen ride
into the city. When the text messages stopped
I knew that she had. I did the same.

When I woke I did a load of laundry
washed, dried, and put away
taking mental note of the fact that I folded
her clothes better than my own.

My pleasures are simple and my stars awfully low.
It's the best way I've found to live.

Nothing's perfect, but it's nice getting close


Flied Wice

The faint black hairs above his upper lip
left me with only one question:
was he old enough to finally have gotten laid?
Although he was surrounded by women
in the Chinese restaurant where we'd been reunited
they were surely family, and working the register
every evening may have taken up too much of his time
to leave him with much of a social life.
I gave him my phone number and asked
if my pick-up order was ready. He scanned
the receipts stapled at the tops of the
brown paper bags and responded with a confident "No."

His voice, like the spot between his mouth and nose
had matured. Ten years ago when he'd come through
the Burger King drive-thru he used to deafen us
with his high-pitched squeal. Beth, one of my elderly
coworkers, would pull her headset away from her ear
and cringe whenever the seven-year-old
leaned out of the back seat of his mother's sedan and
said "Can I have a double-cheeseburger, no pickles?"
We'd suffer through his aural assault once a week
and wished that his off-the-boat mother spoke English
so she could order instead, but to no avail.
It's funny what pointless things one remembers.

"That'll be thirty-seven eighty," he said, reaching out
to accept my crumpled bills in one of life's splendidly
ironic role reversals. When he handed me my change
I let the coins slide into the tip jar on the counter
well aware that he'd need far more than that to help him
if my assumption about his recent manhood was correct.

"Good luck," I said as he handed me my bags, still not
recognizing me. He looked confused. I let it stay that way.
He'd figure it out in a few years if he ever made it out of there.


My union's lousy health insurance doesn't cover therapy.

My father grew up in a bar and died in a church; it's the opposite of what most would suspect, but I must get these quirks from somewhere. There, I've said it. Now let me explain.

Port Chester, New York was in many ways the armpit of Westchester County. Nestled on Long Island Sound with a train station and high bar-to-church ratio, it was no wonder that locals referred to it as Sin City. My grandfather, who died of cancer before I was born, owned one of said beverage-serving establishments. As could be expected from an overly proud German the pub, like any other child, took the family name. It gained popularity points for my father in high school when attendance was being taken and his surname was recognized, but it did more harm than good in the long run. People who come from restaurant-owning families can attest to the toll it can take on the quality of home life. Those raised in the tavern industry have them beat in the war story department, however. My father, wherever he may be, still has the scars to prove it-- physical and otherwise.

I remember stumbling upon a crate of pewter tankards in the attic at his house one day. "Hey, what are these?" I asked him.

He pulled one of the gray metal beer mugs from the box and stared at it. Our last name was stamped above both an eagle with spread wings and the name of the town in Germany where our ancestors had lived and died. "Just some antiques," he replied softly. "You can have one if you want."

I wanted. Twelve years later at my first apartment I wound up handcuffing that stein to my wrist and drinking cheap beer from it all night alongside the amateurs. There's a picture of it somewhere, my visibly drunk face framed by a mane of curly brown hair. It was one of many wild nights when war was waged against the weaker sex with alcohol as the catalyst and God-knows-what as the motive. There are those who have to make their own mistakes despite parental examples. Some call it fate, but it's more a lack of sensibility. We didn't learn, my father and I; not in time, at least. The mug sits on my dresser now collecting dust with the pens and highlighters it contains. I sit here as well, though not as serenely. My old man and I pay our penance in our own private hells without any chatter between our two cells. It's been that way for years now and can't see it changing. But back to that bar of his.

The lineman of his Catholic high school football team worked there as bouncers. Eighteen-year-olds from nearby Connecticut used to cross the state border to party since the drinking age in New York had not yet been changed to twenty-one like many of its neighboring states. As a result my father was hip to the emigrant Greenwich crowd as well. Just what he needed: even more girls to choose from. The dark-eyed ladykiller in two ties: a plaid parochial uniform version by day and its thin black cousin by night. There's a black-and-white photo of him standing behind the oak in a crisp white shirt and that classic black tie. One hand is a buffer between his hand and the bar. The other is holding a clandestine pint that servers sip during lulls. The healthy sweat of a busy barkeep glistens on his olive-hued face. His mouth is half open as if he were caught between smiling and begging for the camera to be put away, but it's a good thing his request was ignored. It's one of the best photographs of my father ever taken. Even my mother who divorced him nineteen years ago will admit to this day how handsome he looks in that picture. In fitting form it's probably tucked away somewhere far from the appreciative eyes of any of his fans, past or present. We're notorious for selling ourselves short.

Maybe in this case his modesty's intentional. Not all of his memories of that place are such gems. In another one of my foolish forays of yore into the attic I found an old newspaper. Again, like a novice still rubbing his ears dry, I made the mistake of asking.

"Here. Read this article." His voice was strangely somber as I began scanning the lines. "No. Read it aloud." I didn't like where it was going. The ancient yellowed newspaper felt like a cursed parchment in my pre-adolescent hands.

According to the article a young man had been gunned down outside my grandfather's tavern. The name of the deceased sounded like that of an African American male, Gerome Jackson or Larry Williams or something of that nature, and the inlaid picture corroborated it. "He was my best friend growing up. I was there that night but left early." His voice began to shake, his eyes welled with tears. "Keep reading," he pleaded, but I couldn't. Why was he making me take him back to such a horrid event? Had his only son been reduced to a master of masochistic ceremonies? Big salty drops rolled down my cheeks, though not for the unfortunate stranger I'd been reading about. I saw my dad hurting and wanted it to end. He wasn't immortal anymore. He'd been dethroned, robbed of his omnipotent grace and glory that all children naively see in their parents. Ask most people if they recall the first time they witnessed either of their parents shed their godlike skin and become regrettably human. They'll tell you. I don't remember how that particular scene ended. Perhaps, in a lot of ways, it didn't.

And as any cowboy movie will demonstrate there's always the classic bar brawl. Mine involved a beer bottle sucker-punch to the bridge of my nose, eight stitches, and a story that I can't tell in all circles. My father's was more noble. A rowdy drunk had wandered into the tavern, or more believably had been overserved there, and started to quarrel with my grandfather. The situation seemed to have been diffused and my grandfather turned to talk to one of his regulars. A few moments later he was attacked from behind by the belligerent fellow, taking a punch to the back of the head that sent him reeling to the floor of his own business. My dad, then still a teenager, witnessed it from across the room and hopped over the bar to aid his wounded father. Apparently the offending party had an unknown accomplice present; a chair came crashing down over my father from behind and splintered into a hundred pieces like a stage prop as it split his head open. The two of them, father and son, fumbled around on the beer-soaked floorboards like derelict sea mammals stranded on the shore. It's an image that would repeat itself metaphorically decades later in a moderately different scenario. Whenever my dad told me that tale he said it with an inflated chest. The fact that he'd been assaulted in the act of defending his aging father. Here I am tearing mine down with a similar sort of arrogance. It wouldn't be that way if he hadn't replaced his penchant for booze with an addiction to religion during my formative years, sacrificing his family at the altar of his new Father. He chose to be a prophet in his own land and judge his own blood. I took the weekly sermons at the diner for as long as I could, but there came a time when my father had to shed his skin for the second time in my life. Whether I like it or not I see him for what he is now-- the saddest example of what not to become: an unbroken cycle of abuse and addiction, a hurt person only capable of hurting those he claims to love, a self-fulfilling prophecy staggering through the remnants of his wasted life on two unwieldy legs.

His photos will rot in my basement someday, but right now I still need to grieve him.


...then the five of us cleaned the carcass.

My mother had given me
the free turkey she'd won
at the supermarket
since there was no room
for it in her freezer.

"Better to complain of having
too much food than too little,"
the youngest daughter of a young widowed
immigrant told me as she handed
me the twelve-pound bag.

"You want to deep-fry it this week?" I asked my roommate
upon arriving home, already knowing his answer.

When the night came we worked together--
he manned the bird submerged in hot oil outside;
I prepared the side dishes over the stove.
Out of combined courtesy and admitted ignorance
I let him carve the turkey while our dinner guests
sipped their cocktails on the porch in the dying sunlight.

"Here," he said, using the knife to point at a small hunk
of dark meat he'd set aside on the cutting board.
"Eat that. There're only two of them."

I complied, figuring he'd already sampled the first
of the pair.

"That's that little knob on the edge of the thigh
isn't it?" I asked.

"Yeah," he replied. His cold blue eyes
were like a shark's: they never changed
regardless of what his mouth was doing.

"When I was a kid I tried to explain that
part of a chicken to someone
and said that if I were ever rich
I'd have plates of them served to me for dinner."
I silently pondered the fact that even from
an early age that's what I'd been doing:
trying to get people to understand me.

The shark's mouth widened to show teeth
though they weren't menacing.
The eyes remained the same.

The juicy morsel melted
leaving me only to savor the swallow.
I finished setting the table and
went to the door to tell our company
that it was time to eat.

In years to come when I remember him
I hope I picture the two of us
standing in the kitchen
over that bountiful cutting board
having just shamelessly shared the best poultry parts
and as close to a moment in time
as we'd get.


One Can Still Lose With Science On His Side

Roy Hexull tried his hardest to breathe slowly and deeply to give the illusion of sleep but his wife was no fool, at least not when it came to the habits of her husband. In all of their twenty-eight years together she'd never known him to fall asleep in the position in which he was awkwardly sprawled. It seemed too loose, too comfortable. Ever since finding his first love, science, Roy had slept rigidly like a man who needed numbers, laws, and predictable outcomes to trust the world around him enough to make himself vulnerable through the supposedly restful act of sleep. Anne knew that something was wrong when he laid there like a ragdoll. She was also well aware that her groom would not come forth with his tormentor without any provocation. In a rare act of marital defiance she reached for the switch on the bedside lamp and brought the quantifiable world that Roy loved and needed so desperately back into their vision.

"Honey, what's wrong? We've been in bed for almost an hour and you still haven't fallen asleep."

"Nothing," Roy lied. "It's just something that happened at work today."

Anne pulled the comforter down to her waist and sat up against the headboard.

"Oh dear. Have they been talking about downsizing further?"


"Did Dr. Thurston start in on you again about your book not being published? That mean old toad's always been a thorn in your side. It's only gotten worse since Molly died. I hate to say it, but he was such an impossible man to deal with that I think she's better..."

"No, Anne. My colleagues aren't getting the best of me." Roy's tone was even and calm. In the dim orange glow of their bedroom he was somehow more in control than when the lights were off. His wife, on the other hand, was growing frantic with her inability to guess his dilemma. The passionate one had sparked the conversation but was quickly losing her composure. The man of science was cool as an executioner and equally as shrouded.

"Have they taken the coffee machine out of the break room?" came the last vain attempt to solve the mystery. Roy had had enough of the charade.

"No, Anne. Everything is fine in the break room. My coworkers are the same boring middle-aged men they've always been. There wasn't talk of another round of lay-offs, and the sandwich you made for me this morning was delicious." A faint and rare smile shot across Roy's lips at the addition of that last one he'd added for good measure. He was confident that it went unnoticed. Sometimes, when Anne wasn't paying attention, her husband was quite the comedian in spite of himself.

"Well then what is it? Why have you been pretending to be asleep for the past hour in the hopes that I'd drift off without you? What are you trying to spare me from with your silence? I'm your wife, Roy. Your partner."

It was suddenly obvious that Anne had been watching her empowering television programs again. He could tell when she'd been inspired by some overweight talk show hostess by the way that her words failed to sound like her own. Cable television was one invention that Roy wished had never been created. Not all scientists were on the same team.

"It's nothing that'd concern you, dear. It's a minor crisis that only another lab rat would cringe at. I can assure you that it won't affect our time-share at the shore this summer or my pension plan. After tomorrow it won't ever cross my mind again until I review my notes sometime down the road. It was an odd quirk in a simple procedure, something that couldn't even be considered an experiment. A culture I'd been growing in a petri dish reacted in a way I'd never seen before in all my years of research. I added a solution that was supposed to turn red upon contact with the control substance, but instead it turned blue. Bright blue. It's a process that we do multiple times a week in the lab and it shouldn't have happened that way. I tested the compounds present. I charted and diagrammed the chemical equations. I asked Dr. Thurston if he'd switched vials on me as a practical joke and he almost threatened to file a grievance. None of it got me any closer to the answer. For the first time in my life I'm completely stumped with no further means of pursuing the truth and I'm having a hard time chalking it up to one of the world's unexplainable phenomena. There. Are you satisfied?" After giving his speech the corners of Roy's lips were thick with white spittle. That faint smile was long gone.

"No. No, I'm not," Anne said, wiping the crud from the mouth of her beloved. "I knew I should've married that nice young carpenter like my mother told me to thirty years ago. Have some water. You're dehydrated and probably losing what's left of that overworked mind of yours."

She picked up the glass of water that they'd always kept on their nightstand and never used, thrusting it towards Roy's dumbfounded face. He sipped obediently from the glass staring wide-eyed at his bride, stiff and tense and put in his place. The tides had turned again. Anne had managed to get her husband back. After turning the light back off Roy was snoring within minutes. Anne listened lovingly for awhile before following suit. Part of her wanted to wake him and put him out of his misery, but she refrained. Perhaps it'd do Roy some good to fall asleep thinking his formulas had finally let him down. Maybe he'd dream in color, like that bright blue. She'd wait until morning to remind him of the date. That Thurston was sure a riot. If only her May flowers would come a little sooner for once...


Arc-Welding for Dummies

When our welding instructors down at the hall told us not to hit the booths right away on that first T-shirt worthy spring evening we thought we'd been spared. Maybe by some rare ounce of God-given luck the two middle-aged pipefitters delegated to lead us simple apprental nothings into plumbing oblivion had decided that it was too nice a night to not be drinking beer on a porch somewhere. As is usually the case with over-confident apprentices almost out of their time, however, we were wrong.

"Alright, boys. Before we go down and weld tonight I want you to drag all of those fallen limbs on the lawn out to the street. The town's supposed to be coming to get them this week."

As if we hadn't had enough fun cleaning our own yards after the brutal storm; now we had to do it all over again--us, the fifth-year guys who'd be graduating shortly. It seemed a menial task for some first-year bums who could barely sweat pipe. The presence of a thirty-pack would've made it more palatable. Again, though: wishful thinking.

I already had a dozen inch-thick branches in my arms by the time the others had gone to their vehicles for work gloves. Union guys. Hate to say it, but some of them take the Working Like Gentlemen philosophy to the extreme. A little bark never killed anybody.

"Shouldn't the people who mow the damn lawn have to clean this shit up?" one of my brethren asked me.

"You must not know who's got that contract."

I waited stubbornly for it to sink in, but the response never came. Only the same blank stare.

"I'll give you a hint: it's the same guy who's having us clear the lawn for the sake of the guy who's going to mow it."

"Holy Christ, this hall's corrupt," my buddy said. "It's like we're slave labor."

"And in a few months' time we'll be promoted to overpaid hired guns."

It was pleasant to think about. A real sense of completion. Journeymen. Mechanics. Whatever you want to call them. It was the title in store for us eight men who toughed out the five-year program. It wasn't a college degree, but it was something. A trade. A livelihood. A second chance.

"Alright, fellas. That's good enough," our ringleader hollered from the entrance of the union hall. "Let's get going with the second half of the night. The sooner we get done welding, the sooner we'll get out of here." It was like a stubborn general on foreign soil trying to console his men with the news that the town was out of whores, but the prophylactic shipment hadn't been delayed by the bombardment. We could already taste the alcohol by the last load of sticks we'd piled high. That bubble had burst with a couple brief sentences. We groaned and descended to the depths of our union hall.

Our other instructor, the one who doesn't talk as much, snuck into my booth as I was finishing the final pass of my weld. My face shield and the loud sizzle of the arc rays prevented me from knowing he was observing my work. I felt a spark land on my arm but wanted to get those last two inches of steel stitched up. Something about my demeanor that night had been different; for once I cared about the trivial task at hand. There'd be no test, there'd be no failing, and in June I'd be graduating regardless, but that night it felt good to be focused on something other than what had been on my mind all week.

"You could've stopped to brush the spark off your jacket," he said in his gruff voice when I'd finished. "I smelled cotton burning, then hair, then skin." The crack-lipped grin he followed his sentence up with would be the only form of credit I'd get, but it was good enough for me. "You could be a good welder if you kept trying. Too bad you got such a late start."

"My joints look more like staggered nickels than a stack of dimes," I said, taking off my mask. And he was right: if any of us cared enough to try we probably would produce far prettier practice runs in that dark basement two nights-a-week. But the truth is that with most of us out of work and no real merit to our efforts it all seems such a farce. The same eight-inch piece of pipe over and over. The same blue sparks. The same smell of burning swordfish. The same steel cut, welded, and thrown out every week. They say that anyone can master a skill after five thousand hours of experience. I'm not so sure that's true without a bit of desire to kick it in the ass. "I'm taking a break," I told my instructor as he inspected the inside of my pipe with his flashlight.

Out back it was all the same routine: most guys were smoking, waving their dirty hands over sports games and woman troubles. I went through my barrage of text messages while craving one of their coffin nails. What did my cell phone have in store in the way of news? A good night to see grandma; what was for dinner at the bachelor ranch; this week's flavor of major malfunction. Maybe it's the predictability that I like.

When I returned to my station my teacher was still there. Something on his face told me it was for a reason. That dry smile was gone.

"Hey, I forgot to ever ask you. How'd you make out with that crisis?"

"She'd already left by the time I got there."

"Jeez. They're all crazy. I'd rather drink beer and go fishing with the boys. They understand me, nothing's ever an issue. If it wasn't for the sodomy part I'd gladly be gay." It seemed a bold statement for a rough-and-tough old construction worker to be making to a kid half his age and a quarter as wise. I appreciated his honesty and almost feel bad for mentioning his confession here. It is, after all, the nature of my beast, though-- myself not unincluded.

One of my classmates kicked my shin as he walked by, sending me into a crouching wince. "Oh, come on. I didn't get you that hard."

"It's a little sore from something else," I replied, grabbing the spot where the scab had formed. Already receiving my fair share of unsolicited advice for the evening I let the wound and its origin remain a mystery, despite the quizzical look on my buddy's face that was waiting for some work-related injury sob story.

The lights flashed off and on three times. That was the signal to clean up and get out of that dungeon. Deliverance at last.

On my way home I was given a rare opportunity to intervene on behalf of another lost soul. There on the side of the road was a white sign with red lettering, one like politicians' henchmen overzealously litter every intersection with during election times. The message on this one, however, was quite out of the ordinary. "Mary, will you come back?" It was hard to believe that someone had been that desperate. It was harder to admit that I hadn't thought of it during my own years of pining. Images of rock bottom flashed in my head: the solitary drinking; the reclusive nature; the weeks between shaving. I pulled over into the shoulder, put my truck in reverse, and did the sorry bastard a favor. Mary would never see the sign, her ex would be spared the torment of dealing with her again, and I would be sure to dispose of it properly as soon as I got home.

A few hundred yards down the road two dead ducks laid in the road, a male and a female. At least they both got it at the same time-- the driver was merciful. I doubt he drove a Mercedes with a Jesus fish on the back. Add that one to your scavenger hunt list. Cross "man blessed with another chance" off of it.

They say that insanity is repeating an action and expecting a different outcome. I say that's faith.



With the onset of warm weather
my daysleeping's been assailed
by bad dreams. The sun turns
my room into a midday oven
and I writhe in sticky sheets
senselessly battling the subconscious.

Today's line-up was worth
the price paid for ringside seats.
First my girlfriend ate something unpleasant
halfway through her salad and lost her composure.
She asked for a Diet Coke to wash down
whatever food was left in her throat.
When I brought one to her she said she couldn't
drink it, it didn't taste right. I asked her
what it was that she'd eaten but she
wouldn't tell me. I figured it must've been
a bug hiding in the lettuce. It didn't change anything
but for some reason I shoved a handful of
onions in my mouth as some poor penance
and moved on to the next dreamscape.

The waiting room was full of hunchbacked
widows in pastel sundresses with curly white hair.
My father and I were standing in line
seeking aid for the same malady
though I can't recall what it was.
As usual he made a fool of himself
embarrassing me with his boisterous antics
and making the old biddies blush.
Whatever had been ailing me was suddenly
not worth the wait so I bolted for the door
leaving the old man to seek his fate alone.
It's only in dreams that I take my own advice.

When I awoke it took me a few good breaths
to decide which nightmare had been worse.
The clock read twelve-eighteen, the sun stabbed
through the slits between the blinds
and I knew that the worst was yet to come.

On days like this it's hard to fathom
the point of putting pants on
but it'll do me well to leave the cave
and venture out into the madness.
The devil you know...it's the rest
you've got to worry about.

Currently reading:
"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery.



so at three
in the morning here
i am
after leaving empty glass
and borrowed butt
to wonder what my man
would do
the one who called to me
about Being So Alone It Made Sense
in less and better words

and in all honesty
the pages i flipped to
on my smoky porch
made no goddamned difference
just as he knew
they wouldn't:
"The agony, always the agony,"
or some jive
as he misquoted Lorca
who i claim to understand
since i read of the
gay poet's death
in that book on the Spanish
Civil War. The truth is
nothing. It doesn't exist.

But as i skimmed those
age-old pages
that i bought when a buck meant more
i found what he was talking about
Mr. Bukowski:
a mouse to my left
shook dead leaves among the ivy
looking for a bite to eat
and in between drags
and ignored phone calls
i spat in its general direction.
that's life, friend.
that's agony.
consider this my humble


Blue on Beige

Hurting yourself to hurt someone else.
The cutting of noses to spite faces.
At what age do we learn such hideous tactics?

I remember times growing up
when I'd sleep on my floor
if my mother had angered me.
The charity of the bed she'd provided
was no longer welcomed.
I'd tough it out for as long as I could
but usually wound up missing
the comforting springs of my mattress.
One time, though, I managed to sleep through
the night on the thin tan carpet.
When my mom walked in my room
to wake me for school that morning
I noticed that she couldn't look me in the eyes.
There's no delusion there that it meant
she'd been defeated, admitted being wrong
or any other such victory on my part.
It was more the fact that she recognized
my will to do my best to show her
the extent of my discontent with whatever
trivial thing we'd been bickering about.
Thankfully for my back it was a pre-pubescent phase
that I grew out of, though its replacements
proved to be more detrimental to other aspects
of my health and general well-being. I learned
instead to kiss the bottle, find a new female
strike up a match, and far worse in the worst cases--
anything it took to distract myself for long enough
with my own self-destructive tendencies to
forget whatever it was that upset me in the first place.
It reminds me of the old slapstick bit where a man
would complain of an injury to his friend and wind up
getting smacked in the face as a diversion. It's not
quite as funny when you do it to yourself.

So now before my foot enters my gaping mouth
I try to think back to those many sore hours spent
festering alone on the floor at my mother's condo.
It's no way to live, even for an unfairly labeled misanthrope.
Believe what you may; I'd rather be happy.


...and on the other hand:

When you wake up alone at four in the morning
your hair wet with sweat, your sheets and guts knotted
and it's noontime now and you've still only heard
"Hello, you've reached So-and-so..." without any ring
so you know that her phone's off and hope that she's sleeping
the three time zones between you tearing you apart
but you keep calling anyway in the hopes that it'll change.
It'll change.

If that's how you've got it then you're fighting the good fight.

It's April, He is risen.

I pull the gold foil down
and proceed to bite the ears off
in one giant chomp.
Now you can't tell
what kind of animal it is.
I feel less guilty about it that way.
The rich chocolate
melts on my tongue.
Dark chocolate. My favorite.
My mom knows me well.
Will anyone know me the same way
ever again? I wrap the wounded head
in the remnants of the foil
and place this year's Easter bunny
on my bookshelf, its caved-in hollow head
safely out of sight.

I'm 26 now.
How many more years will I get them?
As many as she's alive.
A good mother, arguably.
A penitent son at best.
I won't find out until it's my turn
to do the bunny-buying
but I hope that I've inherited
more than her lazy left eye.
One parent had to do the work of two.
She succeeded. Even on my darkest days
I can't deny her that.

A moment to live for when you can't think of one:

When she's lying on her back in bed
and rolls her weight onto her shoulders
lifting her ass in the air
so you can slide that thin layer of cotton down
around her thighs, freeing the elastic from her ankles
as she points her toes towards the ceiling.

If that's not enough then you may as well end it.


The Fruit, the Tree, and Gravity

They'd only been divorced
for a few years and I still
spent most weekends at his place--
the house where our family had lived
and died. My mother had taken her things
to her apartment across town
but the house remained basically the same
since her possessions didn't amount to much.
That probably made it harder for me to be there
though for my father it seemed like a never-changing haven:
the six-two, two-thirty male version of Dickens'
Miss Havisham who tasted love, lost it, and holed up
in its tomb-- the main difference being that he'd
had the unfortunate chance to consummate and bear child.
That lie they spread about having and losing being better
is for those who waste time trying to make life a greeting card
that it's not and never will be.

My father had reverted to his bachelor habits
in the single status that he'd so expertly earned himself.
For years he didn't buy new towels. The same faded brown
rags, threadbare in places and constantly moist, hung from the
rack in the bathroom for days on end until the task
of doing laundry couldn't be avoided any longer.
Due to their constant presence in the dampness
of his bathroom they took on an overbearingly musty
smell caused by the mildew that had tainted the fabric.
No amount of washing ever cleansed them of their stench.
It clung to your body afterwards, it hung in the air like
a noose. I was too young to realize the degree of ignorance
on his part. That's just how dad's towels smelled. I dealt with it.

Tonight when I pulled the vivid blue towel that she bought for me
from the rack and dried my hair I could smell the sour odor
of that bathroom I haven't been in for years and won't ever again.
It'd been a few days since I'd rotated. After drying myself off
I tossed the towel into the laundry hamper, an old persistent fear
poking its ugly head out from the darkest corners of my mind.

I won't.
I can't.
I'm trying.


One Waldenite I Like

Even his untraditional choice
whether subconscious or not
to ride in the shoulder
on the left side of the road
facing the oncoming traffic
is a badge of his rebellious courage
or unfettered ignorance
depending on how one looks at it.
His bicycle's front end is a bit too wobbly
to be wholly trusted; maybe he'd rather
see the truck coming then guess
if and when it's upon him.
There's a pack of Marlboro Reds
or Winstons peering from his chest pocket
making it clear that his ride is not
intended for exercise purposes. This is a man
whose body won't give up on him
even when he tries-- the doughy
alcoholic with an underlying strength
that comes out when called upon
to lift the heavy axle of a friend's project vehicle
or two thirty-packs of a cheap cream ale
when the shade-tree mechanic decides to
call it a day and succumb to what the night
holds in store. He knows that his vice
will only send him further down the spiral--
losing his license for awhile for driving under the influence
is why he's forced to ride a bike around town--
but a forty-something redneck ain't 'bout to change now.
I admire his stubbornness as only a peer can appreciate
and make sure to give him enough room on our
shared roadway by blatantly crossing the double yellow.
Ride on, brother. It's only six months.


Taillights of the hostage.

There's a black mascara stain
on the pillowcase
and in another case I'd turn it over
but today I rest my face
on it. If I inhale
deep enough she's still there.
I wonder if Hank or Hem
or any of the old boys ever did it
like this, then stop that thought entirely.
It doesn't matter.
It's how I'm doing it.
Far from slaked, but breathing.