Go Vomit on Your Idol's Shoe

There's no such thing
as common sense
or fair foul-weather friends
when those you trust
waste precious time
studying the trends
in what you've done
and where you've been
and where their lives aren't going.
The fever broke.
The bubble burst.
There are so few worth knowing.
So pack a bag and clear the shelves
and burn what you can't carry.
You've got your health.
You've got your gun.
Only fools get married.
There's not a goal.
They've killed the dream.
There may not be a God.
Some hands you fold.
Some cards you keep
until the Dealer nods.
The difference, then
is knowing how
to play out this last hand.
Your Valley's dry.
Your mouth is, too.
Your friend's too drunk to stand
but that ain't you
and that ain't me
unless it's Friday night.
It's best to cut out cancer cells
with sharp and borrowed knives.
We'll steal a book
that used to be
a joke among the boys
and learn a lesson from a man
who knew to ditch his toys
even when it meant a move
so bold it looked like running.
What did Edna say of light?
The faintest can be stunning.


Karate Chops As Loud As Gunshots

His therapist said owning a television was a good idea, that it'd make my weekends at his place less boring, especially since there weren't many kids in the neighborhood to play with. My mother was right for leaving that one-horse town, and him, for that matter. His therapist was right, too, but may have crossed a line by suggesting appliance ownership. The good ones make you come out with what you need to hear, they don't leave the answer in your lap like a gift from someone better off and wiser. He bought a cheap set a few months after the divorce. His favorite slogan prevailed in its purchase: "Quality goods at discounted prices." By that I mean the remote control stopped working one day. We didn't have cable and the connection was frustratingly fuzzy, but there was something to look at if I sought distraction.

One such relief came in the form of a now-laughable modern cowboy cop show. A certain Texas Ranger, who shall go needlessly nameless, roundhoused his way to the triumphant end of every predictable episode. His black partner, the suggested token minority, was the downplayed brains of the operation, though he was always a step or two behind the great white martial artist's Old West instincts. Even back in the mid-Nineties when the program was first aired the hero was in his fifties. He seems an unlikely protagonist, at least for a show based on shootouts and terribly choreographed fight scenes, but the hand he had in producing and directing squashed any possible doubts or dissent. It must be nice to have money, even if it helps you shame yourself on national television.

The washed-up action hero also managed to convince his way into writing and singing the show's theme song in the form of a monotone, half-spoken cowboy's chorus. My father, long-time struggling do-gooder that he was, appreciated the lyrics as much as the song made most others cringe with secondhand embarrassment. "The eyes of the Ranger are upon you. Any wrong you do he's gonna see. When you're in Texas look behind you 'cause that's where the Ranger's gonna be." It was terribly trite, but undeniably effective; so much so, in fact, that my tight-wad dad bought me a reproduction Texas Ranger's badge, silver star inside a circle, at a junk store disguised as an antique shop across the River. It was his way of saying he supported my respect for justice, or what I thought justice was at that young, naive age. No therapist had to talk him into that purchase, though ten dollars isn't quite a bank-breaker. Those words contribute to the irony of our estrangement now. He's ignored my existence for years. His eyes haven't been on me or the wrong I've done, partially in my futile attempt to avoid making the same mistakes he did as a younger man. And I wish that last part of that simple song was correct, but clearly the Ranger's not behind me if I'm still trying to make sense of his refusal to be in my life anymore. I would've gone to the wedding. I'd like to know my new brother. I'm not the result of a test-run version of his life. I'm his son and always will be, whether we like that or not.

Does anyone ever get over the pain their family caused them? I'd like to believe so, but it doesn't seem to be in the cards just yet, at least not for a few more hands. Perhaps that's God's way of motivating us to be better people than those broken souls who raised us. In the meantime I'll try not to lose too much sleep over it. My nightmares are far more feminine these days. You know where my scars are. Don't use them against me. Now pull that red and yellow lever, Conan.


Red Hot Beef

I wake from an unneeded nap
under a loosely woven blanket
on the plush down of my couch
a chill from March's last laugh
sneaking through the fabric.
It's almost four in the afternoon.
My mouth has yet to meet
a glass, a fork, a toothbrush.
It's clearly time to add that fact
to the list of things to change.

My quadriceps ache as I rise
in the living room.
Have they atrophied from disuse?
Battery acid has replaced my blood.
I rub my goosebumped thighs to try
to get them back again.
Funny, my legs were her favorite.
Now, like the rest, they've gone.
I can almost taste the alcohol
that'll serve me once the sun's down.
A gentleman can wait for that.
Only fools rush in.

The kitchen greets me quietly
as I rummage through the refrigerator.
No leftovers left, no one-shot deals.
I open the freezer and pull a burrito
begrudgingly from the door.
I lived on these six years ago.
I thought I'd sworn them off.
The microwave does its thing
to my frozen Meximeat while
something squirrely draws me back
to the fridge to check one more time
as if the contents have changed
as if things shuffle around
when the light goes out, other
than in a bedroom.
All present and accounted for, though this time
I notice a package of chopped meat
that looks how my leg muscles feel.
The sticker on it reads 80% Lean.
At least I'm not the only one
making poor decisions here.

Summoned by a bell
I grab my sad brunch from the nuke
and stand on the faux hardwood
to dine in pseudo style.
An elderly neighbor speed-walks by
hoping to suck one more spring from life.
The smile makes it obvious: Cancer, two more years.
The tortilla burns my tongue since I could never
heat those things right, even with years of practice.
My left hand gets bored, finds a new distraction
in a comfortable place it's rested before.
It's OK. The neighbors can't see me scratching.
Character is what you do
when no one else is looking.

When the last bite's taken
I wash both hands in the kitchen sink
and make way for the couch
where indigestion will begin.
The sun's angled afternoon rays
pour in through drafty windows
as my eyes try to find green
in the yard, notice more in the neighbor's.

"Maybe he can't handle it,"
I say aloud when wondering why
the response never came.
Maybe the word "friend" crossed a line.
Should've kept a safe distance.
Should've kept the plan the same.
Should've brushed my teeth
right after the burrito.

The clock chimes, the needles prick
another day is spent
ripping nails from toes and fingers.
It's not the lack of money anymore.
It's that every day's the same.

Currently reading:
"Rabbit Redux" by John Updike.


The Cavalry Only Comes When the Mortarmen Are Sleeping

I was asked to write this so I did. Jeff Buckley's arpeggiated Fender Telecaster cried reverb-soaked notes as he sang his rendition of "Hallelujah" in my ears through ancient headphones at least eight times in the process. Make of it what you will or won't. No holds barred, no punches pulled. I hope it's good enough, Babe.

"The Cavalry Only Comes When the Mortarmen Are Sleeping"

The American Dream is perhaps the biggest lie of the previous century. Americans, as citizens of a rising and ruling superpower, needed something to cling onto to justify their goal of global Manifest Destinty; something wholesome, something sweet, something different from the imperialistic continent from which they came-- so they centralized their goal and made it succinct: two-and-a-half kids, a dog, and a white picket fence. What honest person wouldn't aspire to that dream? It's humble, it's pure, it's seemingly obtainable with enough diligence and a democratic government to protect its existence. I, on the other hand, have far more honest reasons for wanting it: I missed it on the first time around, as did my parents, and I want to better the world that I call home.

Is it so wrong that I'm trying to break a cycle started generations before my life began? Stubborn, maybe; a small fish in a big pond trying to make a difference with a meager flick of the tail. But haven't you heard of the tidal wave on one coast starting due to a butterfly's flapping wings on the opposite shore? It takes some action, no matter how small, to start a revolution. It takes a family getting it right to make up for years of wasted effort, wasted youth, wasted potential, wasted space. Frankly, I've spent enough time being wasted. There were many things I never had as a child, one of them being a home. My mother didn't literally; she moved thirteen times within the same three neighboring towns during her childhood due to the tough economic circumstances faced by a single widow of three who couldn't speak the native tongue. My father, wherever he is, had a house on a hill in the nice part of town where his family owned a profitable tavern and restaurant. Regardless, it was no home. My grandfather, a drunk I never met and hope to never meet in any possible Afterlife, would come home from his establishment drunk on Puerto Rican rum, ironically, and beat the innocence out of the boy who would someday sprout me. Even the family dog would hide under the nearest bed. My dad, then a gangly wuss at a prominent Catholic private school in Westchester County, took it like a man-- more of a man than his father would ever be, World War II veteran or not. I never knew about my dad's struggle until six years ago, and even then it wasn't because he told me. My aunt and mother filled me in on those quiet years of which he never spoke. It broke my heart to hear how he ached, and it hurt even more to learn that he'd hidden it for so long. A true martyr doesn't show his stripes. I suppose my hobby denies me that status, but so be it; I'd rather use my talent. My father tried not to expose his anguish, but in the end his lack of a proper home cost him. He wasn't able to build the domestic eutopia he'd longed for as a young man; in fact, he did quite the opposite. His dream was like a feather floating on the water: the harder he tried to get closer to it, the further away it slipped. And for most of the first twenty-seven years of my life it's been quite the same. I haven't seen him for more than four years, but I know now why my mother left him when I was seven. It took years to understand her motives. Even though I know she did what was best for both of us, the lover of the underdog in me still weeps for that broken man who gave me the last name by which I've come to be known-- that is, to say, if anyone really knows me. I've walked in your tired steps, old man. I've made the same mistakes and curse myself for it.

But not now. Not anymore. Hopefully, God-willing, never again. I want to right those wrongs. I know the dangers of both traps: the physical and the emotional. I've seen both parents fail, but I've also seen them triumph. These eyes have witnessed a lot in their brief time on Earth. In some light they look like my mother's. I'm proud of that, the warm chocolate comfort that hers have always exuded reflected in my own; but more often than not they look like my dad's, those foreign dark globes which mine haven't met for over four years. They're searching, they're hurting, they're his. Maybe it's time to change both views. Maybe it's time to make them mine. Maybe I need to set my sight, my sites, on something bigger: painting that white picket fence that both parents failed to obtain. It's only a heap of wood driven into the ground, but I've yet to buy one. In fact, last week I ripped a few haggard sections of it out of the yard where I live temporarily since they were a peeling-paint disgrace to the neighborhood. But deep inside this cynical walking wound of a plumber I know that there will be a time, there will be a reckoning; and when that time comes I'll revel in its holy glory. Even the greatest sinner has his moment next to Christ. Ask the redeemed thief hanging by his hands on Golgotha. No; in ten years ask me.


An Accusatory Essay on Anachronistic Acrobatics

Our existence is a constant trade. Those who are honest admit to being guilty of the sad cycle-- exchanging one thing for the next like a reckless Wall Street amateur (you, yes you, you know who you are). This seems fair for That, and That is bettered by Over Yonder, and Over Yonder's hills are eventually no longer as green as those Rolling Meadows on the horizon just shy of that blinding sun. You can plug in whatever specifics you like: a career path; a home; a bottle blonde in too-tight business attire. We've traded, we've bartered, we've hurt and been hurt in the process, and as a result we've walked away unfairly unscathed (I stole that line from a high school sweetheart kind enough to refuse the taking of my innocence who later rescinded her stance on the matter) like a drunk driver from an accident that killed three innocent people (I borrowed that scenario from what usually happens since the drunk's body's been loosened by the alcohol and flops around like a ragdoll upon impact); but more often than not we've been disappointed, and by the most dangerous people possible: ourselves. Somewhere along the way we fouled up. One of those deals was not as kosher as we thought. The one that followed was even less copacetic. Finally, too far down the spiral to swim our ways back up, we realized all was lost. We were lost. We were headed for the plumbing trap, sometimes quite literally. That hopeful kid in the yearbook photograph became a painful joke. We weren't destined for Great Things like those blank stares and airbrushed complexions suggested. Hell, we'd be lucky to survive, and Hell itself became very real; as real as Death and taxes. So now towards the end of this soapbox manifesto I implore you: chase that passion you'd like to be paid to pursue; find that place good enough to hang up your holsters; seek out that poor girl you wasted and say Hello for the Hell of it; and then, if you're a fool like me, you'll find that broken link in the chain and try to undo the hapless years of missteps. Don't worry. They're only laughing because they know you're right and can't deal with another abortion. Who can? I can't. We can't. Amen.


Swearing Off Jameson

The station sign blurs by
through a window, southbound train
and he wonders if the others
seated near him know
what Spuyten Duyvil means.
It's Dutch for Spite the Devil.
It's not a place, it's a promise
like the short life expectancy
of currency on a New York City street.

His stop comes up, he stands
and shoulders his heavy burden.
The nylon strap digs in, draws blood
from tender neck-flesh.
It's the price to pay to travel
where he'll never call his home.
Another price, another promise
another good excuse
for threadbare socks and dirty heels.
He's glad none of his lovelies
will see him act the fool
or lose his lucky boxers
in the worst of human ways.

Metal jaws close behind him.
He's committed to the night
and thankful that it's young.
There are worse fates than the Bronx.
There are worse friends than he's got.
He lights a long-awaited smoke
and sets his course for Broadway.


Wet Work of an Era and a Cure for Swimmer's Ear

It's been a long travail
with this yearly lung infection
and the color that I cough
is not the color that I sneeze.
Sunday's gin and Monday's menthols
didn't help the cure, but what is life
without some living? Only bores
avoid the vice.

I've been eating lots of oranges
and maintaining fluid intake.
Chicken soup, garlic, and the word
will fix the rest.

But in the middle of my mucus
there's a small dab of salvation.
I'd been tossing snotty tissues
across the ballfield of my room
missing the can every time like a lush.
It dawned on me, the fourth day in
to move the basket to the bedside
since no one claims that half
of the floorboards anymore.

See, you doubting Tommies:
I told you there was room.
When the organist starts sweating
it's not always a bad sign.


En Otra Vida

I could hide five
inside my chest cavity.
I could cram two
in the valves of my heart.
I'm no more me than you.
I'm no more green than blue.
We should hide behind our pen names
since the master's gone for good.

Walking wounded to the rear
of this medicated nation.
Catholic girls in pleated plaid
can grind the guilt away.
Don't look at me in that tone of voice
turning lesbians straight
and the opposite, too
pissing out fires and backpedaled mantras
while the welterweight champion
draws blood in her room.

Currently reading:
"Rabbit, Run" by John Updike.


Pluto's Not a Planet (Anymore)

The townie counters, posts a rebuttal.
"Who are you to dream of Artemis?"
An artificial offering to a god too high to care
in the form of time and street soot
wiped from white-topped appliances
fails to sate the blood's shameful call.
"Your form has less splendor by the syllable."
There's little left to argue.
There's no one left who cares.

The townie counters, rolls over in bed.
There will be other chances to knock
down doors begging to be skipped.
For now it's a nap, a brief wrestle with
a salty subconscious too laden with loss
to be the sleep of the just. There is rhyme
and there is reason, but they're both
so out of reach.

The townie cowers, masks his queer pain.
There will be a reckoning.
No one gets away forever.
In the meantime if you miss her
read the book of Revelations.
She's in it a lot
along with her horses;
a nightcap; a footnote; a brief taste
of cyanide.

Smoker's Cough Soliloquy

A rattlesnake's a gentleman.
He warns before he strikes.
The shaking tail, the tell-tale noise;
you've earned it if he bites.

There are rainstorms in the desert.
There are dust clouds over seas.
There are lots of things I'll never grasp
like why such Beauties fell for me.

It's a dry spell if it happens
intentional or not.
Who wants to be a rebound?
I'd trade my key in for a lock.

It's a date if David's paying.
It's a shame if David does.
At the rate that David's going
the drunk will fade to buzzed.

He likes to speak in riddles.
He likes to talk in maths.
He likes to like to like to like.
He tends to like too fast.

The rattlesnake's a gentleman.
He tries to play by rules.
He's well aware they don't exist.
The rattlesnake's no fool.


Dinner Party Flatulence and Other Minor Offenses

The wind's whipping, howling
through the high-rise apartments
of the Upper West Side
and I feel like a fake:
Here I am in an aunt's guestroom
like a thief amongst the righteous.
(They crucified them both
on the same holy hill.)
I'd kill for arms across my chest.
I'd kill for frighteningly less.

A recent conversation comes
recklessly to mind.
He tells me he gave her a lift
from the bar, she and another girl.
They wound up at someone's house, maybe his.
He got distracted, forgot she was downstairs.
When he went to fetch a glass of water
from the kitchen she asked for a ride home
from a corner of the pitch black living room.
"Scared me half to death," he laughs
as my heart sinks with the familiar image.
An invisible hook tugs at the spot
where my large and small intestines meet.
I shake it off, keep rolling. It was getting
back at me, and failed. Pity is a wonderdrug.

My plumbing's better than my painting.
My whining trumps them both.
And the next person to make a Charlie Sheen joke
will be plucking their teeth from my knuckles.


The Conjugal and the Damned

I pace the porch
cigarette in hand
like a caged tiger
itching to get out
and taste the flesh of the world
or what it's supposed to be.
Even now at midnight
there are some expectations.

"I can't do it yet,"
I shadow-box to the overhead bulb
between drags on my menthol.
"Then it's really over."
It's not so much that absence;
it's that I'm forced to shop alone
but I've been saving cardboard boxes
because I know it's time.
My room's spewing enough
books and thrift-store T-shirts.
Perhaps someone will help me--
the clothes and the pictures, at least.
"No, that's no good either,"
my wiser side counters
like a sweeping left hook
to the clock that stopped last year.
"I'd beg them to stay
for ice cream and a movie."
You clingy, predictable
bastard, you.

Though it's by choice
that I'm still chaste
at least for twenty-seven;
a self-induced dryspell
thinly veiled
as making change.

The old lady next door
sees me chatting with myself
and Mr. Marlboro.
She rubs her curlers, lowers the blinds
frowns at the fate of her progeny.
I can't see the latter
but I feel it just the same.
I smash out my smoke
in the tin ashtray
and go inside to take
what's left:
a good, foamy piss.
Aim to hit the bubbles, kid.

You've said it.
Now get up, put pants on
and go outside
to make what you've written real.
The imagery was decent.
You've almost got yourself

If only local women
were impressed
by hearts on sleeves.
Chat Roulette, I hate you
and may move to Indiana.

Currently reading:
"Secret Diary of a Call Girl" by Anonymous.