A Traveler's Fleece, An Anchor's Eyes

After three hours straight
in the car with my father
even the scenic route
became boring.
Winding two-lane highways
through the back hills of New England
all blended into the same monotonous route.
The old man would sense my
sudden disillusionment with our trek
and try to muster up whatever
bit of excitement that he could
sometimes in the false form
of a gentlemen's competition.

"You see that car way up ahead?"
he asked a tired, ten-year-old me.
"Can you read the license plate?"

"No way, Dad," I mumbled
my head against the passenger side window.
"It's too far to see."

Taking his cue
he squinted overzealously
making sure to emphasize the fact
that he was tapping into some superhuman ability
in order to decipher the characters printed
on the back of the license plate
that was at least an eighth-of-a-mile ahead of us.

"CK...P...," and he'd pause, squeezing his eyes
even tighter to further the illusion.
For a self-proclaimed Christian he sure was
keen on getting the best of an innocent child.
"...638. That's it. Let's go take a look."

He managed to find the accelerator
for long enough to catch up to the car
and verify the plate number.
He was correct. I was impressed
and slightly in awe of my father.

It took me the rest of the trip to figure it out
but I did: he read the plate and memorized it
then dropped back a good distance and waited
for me to zone out for long enough to be duped
into believing that he could see that far.

He failed to see farther
as the fate of our future now tells
and it wasn't the worst of his fibs.
Still, there are times
when I'm grateful for the fact
that he ever lowered himself
down to the level of us sinners
for long enough to seem remotely human.

And somehow I know
that he learned that trick
from the same man he swore
he'd never become.


For Todd

I hadn't ordered yet. Sweat was already running down my face as it had been all morning. The agony involved made me instantly pity the poor slob who had to slave in front of that sweltering pizza oven all summer long. There were suddenly worse fates than construction, though it was hard to fathom.

"You next?" the dripping young Italian man asked me.

"No. He was here first," I said, nodding towards a kid who looked far too young to drive. I was on the clock and had to be back to work by half-passed, but fair is fair regardless of age. Junior stepped forward to the counter, reached up to lay a few singles in front of the register, and looked Guido in the eyes as if he were about to say something profound.

"Corner slice of Sicilian, please," the boy said sincerely, more telling than asking.

"Sorry. We're all out of corners. I have a middle piece, though."

"No thank you," replied the youngster in a tone just as humble as if he'd received a positive response. The about-face came before the dough-slinger or the plumber in front of him had time to fully comprehend what'd happened. The two of us watched as he mounted his ten-speed and pushed off with his right foot.

"Can you believe that kid?" my confused cohort asked. "Rode his bike all the way here in this heat for nothing."

"Yeah, I can," I answered after considering the question for three brief seconds. "He's not one for settling. Let me have that middle piece."

A drop of sweat fell from the tip of the pizza man's nose as he looked at me unconvinced. He'd never understand so I didn't bother trying.

The crust was burnt. I never went back.


Thigh-High Modus Operandi

"Sorry, Honey," I say under my breath
after slashing her sunburnt face.
"I swear I didn't mean it," but it doesn't matter now.
There are no witnesses this time.
It's the perfect violent crime: unreported.

When I can't bear to watch her bleed any longer
the pipes call my name for the umpteenth time.
I lift the wrench and resume tightening
with an oath to be more cautious of the jagged
steel in the joists left dangling by the demolition.

Though the tattoos don't mean as much these days
it's still my skin underneath them.


Sunday School finally pays off.

It was only nine o'clock and already up to ninety-five degrees. The six of us sat in the shade of the school's brown bricks on milk crates borrowed from the adjacent cafeteria. There was no air-conditioning in the building, though even if there was we'd vote to sit outside. The smokers would demand to be in open air so they could effectively ruin their lungs. Majority ruled and coffee break was to be shared together. It was one union tradition not fading faster than the likelihood of steady work in an unstable economy. No one dared challenge it, from general foreman all the way down to apprentice. It felt good not to be the latter anymore.

"Get a load of this," Bill said as he turned his newspaper towards us. "They caught a seven-hundred-pound grouper off the coast of Brazil."

"You sure you didn't add a zero by mistake?" I asked after freeing a chip of bacon that'd lodged itself between two teeth.

"No, man. It says it took ten men to reel that monster in."

It was high time for another chiding voice to chime in with disbelief. As the greenest mechanic on the job there was only so much chop-busting I could get away with without having rank pulled on me unofficially. That voice came shining through without hesitation, without missing a beat.

"I know you can't read a tape measure, Bill," came Matt with a vengeance, "but whole numbers can't possibly baffle you as much as fractions."

"Read the article yourself then," Bill replied in the same tone that his eight-year-old probably used on him when it was begrudgingly bedtime. Things were getting thick in the humid summer air. Scott, a gray-haired old timer, took his cue to jump to the aid of his challenged union brother.

"He's not making it up, boys. Haven't you slobs read the Bible? Remember Jonah and the whale who swallowed him? That wasn't actually a whale; there are none in that part of the Mediterranean. They say that a giant grouper like the one Bill's talking about was probably the culprit." And with that Scott leaned back against the wall, his milk crate up on edge. He was proud of himself for sounding so superior. Someone had to stand up for us lay pipelayers. Why should it not've been me?

"I beg to differ with you there, Scottie," I said with a smirk only convincing on a man who knows which cup the pea is hidden under. "I've read that parable, too, and like much of the Bible it seems to be more of a metaphor than a text to be taken literally." A few of the guys turned their heads at that point. Their styrofoam cups stopped being so interesting. So this was why they heard his nickname was Shakespeare...

"What do you mean?" Scott asked, clearly flustered. His milk crate had lowered itself to the pavement again. A death-blow would still have to be delivered, however. The first harpoon was only to draw blood.

"Well, the 'whale' was probably meant to represent any big, lousy situation that could easily 'swallow' a man..." I replied.

Scott's left eye twitched. The others were listening intently. I'd managed to bring all eyes on myself, whether or not that was a good thing. It was sink or swim for the new kid. I swung hard.

"...this stupid four-week plumbing job, for instance," I concluded with a smile, thus shattering the suspended silence. All six of us laughed heartily at the discomforting fact that summer renovation work was only a temporary fix, that we'd all be back on the bench waiting for a phone call to go to work or our weekly unemployment checks. There were worse things to fear, though. There were bigger, whiter whales.


A healthy scorn for copper, mirrors, and size-twelve font.

So we're stuck back in the plumbing trap
my union brethren and myself
for our six weeks of work a year
when the schools are closed
for the summer
and renovations are in order
though the little runts won't notice.
We walk the marble hallways
scratching sweaty heads
and kicking ourselves
for winding up back here
smoking in the boys' room
though for me it's extra poignant:
I should've stuck around
and made something of myself
made someone of myself
made it into a nice desk job
doing what I love and getting paid for it
but most importantly
the showers would come before work
instead of afterwards.
And there's a sign in the tech room
where my crew has set up shop
in an ironic twist that only I notice.
It reads "There's no such thing
as a dumb question
except the one you don't ask."
My uncle Ray who did fifteen years
used to tell me that
as a kid and now I'm left to wonder
which vital query my mind omitted
though I know that whatever it was
would've been directed at myself--
What do I want? How badly?
Whom will I not become someday?
"Get over here, Kid," a fellow journeyman
yells at the senseless apprentice.
At first my neck jerks in the direction
of the order, old habits dying hard
but that's not my role anymore.
I'm a mechanic now, a genuine union pipefitter
overpaid and underappreciated simultaneously
a resentful shell of a man who should've been more...
but I can fix your pipes, pal
just as well as I can proofread
my letter of resignation.
Signed. Sealed. No plans to deliver.


The Lining on the Miles

It's the tail end of a shower
after ten hours of rough construction
on a ninety-five-degree day.
I glance down at the dirt
under my fingernails
but refrain from reaching
for the brush I keep
for just such a purpose:
there's no one around
who matters
to see it

Currently reading:
"The Garden of Eden" by Ernest Hemingway.


For a jaded friend, on his birthday, who'll never see these words.

Life is not a Magic Eye puzzle
waiting to be solved through savvy staring.
The Big Picture won't pop out at you
simply because it isn't there.
Find the patterns, learn to appreciate them
if they can't be loved entirely
and be sure that at midnight next year
someone will still be calling you.

I hope it isn't me next time.


It's no wonder that God lives under water.

In a fitting twist the book was soft and the sand was hard, the beach blanket fairly indifferent. We were in what she considered shade, but sweat still ran down my forehead above my mirrored sunglasses. "That seagull's got it out for us," I told her between pages. "It knows we have no food. Remember the one in Maine?" I watched the angry white bird scowl in our direction while it paced hard in the sand as if its visceral stomping would conjure a meal in its midst.

"No, not there. The one that kept raiding picnics at..." but I stopped listening when I realized I wasn't the one who'd joined her that time. The Korean War became interesting again. I lowered my eyes to the non-fiction in my lap. It beat the hell out of the current truth. More beach-goers showed up as the lazy Sunday morning progressed. The mighty Hudson rolled its discontent against the shoreline. I kept mine to myself.

A young father, tanned and toned with a tattoo high enough on his shoulder for any shirt to hide, stood above his toddler as she balanced in the tide. To splash the brackish water was divine and she was making herself a god. Great-- another female deity to rule and ruin ones life. Still, she was a cutie. Dark brown curls fell over her eyes. I caught my companion watching the same show and knew what she was thinking. "I wonder if he put sunscreen on her." Yup, I knew what she'd been thinking.

Back to the book: an M14 strapped around the neck of the only unscathed survivor of Truman's top-secret mission fighting his way to the Thirty-Eighth parallel, Gooks and Chinks yelling their dirty pig latin all around him in the night, the hovering threat of Commie pinko Russkies dropping their nukes from afar. But he made it; our hero made it, and World War III never happened, or if it did we never knew about it and we basked in our ignorant bliss. Not all sacred ceremonies happen in a temple. I stroked her hair until she couldn't take it to confirm my old assumption.

"Come on, let's go home and have lunch." There's no need to specify. Who could argue with food? We walked back to my truck, mostly hand-in-hand aside from one brief spat when I foolishly corrected her Spanish, without running into my father on the path. If you find more to be grateful for you'll lead a longer life.