For Rocco, Who May Not Get My All Tomorrow As a Direct Result

By the third flight of steps
my feet are cinderblocks.
It's not the friendly load of laundry that's
making it hard to climb any farther.
I don't want to swing that door
open for the first time since
she's taken the rest of her things.
When I do it hits me like
aforementioned masonry.
A good wail in the corner
where her dresser used to be
warrants a call to mom
who in turn blames
my father and the abandonment
issues he's so Christianly left in my lap.
We all have our crosses.
Some drag them too far.

When the pep talk's over
I strip for comfort's sake
and see what looks different
around the apartment. She spared me
some silverware. Stole the rugs.
Left me her two plants; company
I guess. Took both the frying pans.
So much for eggs over-easy this week.
It all seemed so trivial and static before.
Now my new home's a pile of objects
a few of them missing, in need of
replacements. More items for the
Things To Do List.
Next up: a shower.

There too are voids.
There's an obvious spot where
that bottle of facewash
which neither of us liked due to its
bug repellant odor once sat.
Her razor remains; disposable, like time.
I crank the shower handle as far to the left
as my skin can take it-- not scalding
but damn near close: how she used
to like it once I got out to dry myself.
My body slowly adapts to the temperature
and feels purified by heat. If I can't control
what I'm feeling over the loss of
two-and-a-half, on-and-off years
then at least I can swing that lever
and determine how much steam
is pumped into the room, how hard
the nerves in my skin cells tingle.
What's that Hump said to Sam in
the Casa? "If she can take it, I can take it,"?
The lathering's left to the bare essentials
since it's late enough and Monday's
an early rise. I rinse and blow my nose
down the drain. Part of me's miffed
that my brain doesn't follow.

When I step out
and wipe the fog from the mirror
it's hard to avoid a red-faced laugh.
Beneath the permanent wool sweater
afflicting my awkward form
there hides a boiled lobster
too stubborn and desperate
to turn down the heat.

But really, I laughed.
I have to.
My plants need carbon dioxide.


Premature Hot Coke Hoe

They whine that the weather
has ruined their costumes--
so many minutes or dimes
while failing to face
that the three sixty-four
are spent with fraudulent fronts
just the same.

Don't get me wrong.
I'm not so above it.
If there was a slim chance
in Hell it's now gone.
The lights flicker briefly
and taunt with a sentence
but the worst of this deal
requires no juice.

Can't even drink
on these antibiotics.
Don't want to smoke
with this hack in my lungs.
Almost put pants on
to let in a stranger
but some saintly neighbor
beat me to the punch.

It's not that it's messy
or messed up my plans.
It's not that the holiday
bar scene is curbed.
A blizzard is meant
for rib-sticking meals
and lovemaking 'til
the lovelies are sore.

The Women Wore Pink Sweaters

One of my new fathers died
in my sleep last night.
When his wife answered the phone
there was silence, then a yelp.
They hadn't seen or heard from him
in days, assumed the worst.
I was somehow teleported
to his basement. Women mourned.
My eyes burned red, I felt betrayed--
a jealous God again.
Sometime in the tangent
the old man reappeared.
He was tired, hair all mustered
in his camo and his boots.
"I was hunting, lost my way,"
his explanation came ashamed.
I threw my arms around him
smelled the copper in his blood.

The top sheet's on the floor now
from my writhing, dreaming grief.
There'll be a time where waking
won't save the day again
if the hunter doesn't find
his way back to the hearth.
Every person's got a shelf life.
All that carbon's got to give.
They're a blessing, these new mentors
but they come with loss inherent.


What Would the Lizard King Say Of Your Bass

If faces come out of the rain when you're strange then one can assume it gets worse with the snow. Maybe the bodies follow. The weather's as unpredictable as the events of these last several weeks. What overpaid, televised guestimators refer to as a "wintry mix" falls tonight a few calendar days before Halloween. The Doors play on my stomach-perched laptop as I lay in bed lazily since the internet connection's down and my CDs are in the truck I can barely afford. Maybe the precipitation will wash the birdshit from its otherwise clean exterior. It took me a week, but the dishes have been conquered and vanquished from the sink. I used to be a stickler for timely, efficient housekeeping. Now that I'm the only witness to my sinful filth it's hard to motivate myself to stay on top of anything other than my bed. Even that's not truly mine; she made me leave my mattress at the old place when we moved here a few months ago. Women seem wicked when you're unwanted; beds are taken for granted until they're repossessed. Now I'm wondering if she'll take this one, hers, when she comes with her mother on Sunday to get the rest of her things. The boxspring and frame are mine. Perhaps some pine boughs will cap them nicely; a bit of a rustic touch to contradict the industrial look of the brick and exposed pipes. How ironic, and therefore hip. That's the name of the game in this trendy town crawling with trust-fund kids. Faces look ugly whether you're alone or in groups. Angsty children piss in the streets of the nation's major cities for the sake of having a cause, ignoring the cue from uninvolved local citizens and small business owners that their welcome's been worn out and it may be time for a different tactic, and the Man's to blame again for speaking up in part for another portion of that already redundant percentage which I won't cite here. Streets may be uneven when you're down, but it's hard to notice through the teargas. The home movies don't lie; neither does the internet. We're headed for revolution with no leaders in sight other than the funnier talking heads who impart their biased knowledge to the Text Message Generation via sarcastic satire. All of this, like snowfall in October, we're expected to accept. Jim Morrison's right: Strange days have found us and no one remembers your name.

Currently reading:
"Rabbit Remembered" by John Updike.


Censored Ex Hell

They can't help it.
It's in the beast's nature.
It's the part of the fissure
that others don't see.

Some of them take a book or two
but I only read them once anyway
maybe go back and skim where
I've highlighted a few years later
rekindling love for a man long gone.
A titled spine staring at me
from one of my sixteen shelves
won't break me; not as of now.
They're lost in the mix.

Most of them ruin a few bands
for awhile. The songs that once
promised one thing suddenly
renege on the arrangement.
You give them time, you call
a good friend or drinking body
and blast those tunes
over cocktails to reclaim them
when you're ready.
It's a surefire way that's
always proved faithful.

But this one got me good.
She took an act of hygiene.
Whenever I shave now
that one tough time when
I'm forced to look in a mirror
for more than twenty seconds
I think of how she'd always want
to do it for me, would scold me
jokingly if I pruned without her aid.
There was trust there once
with a blade to my neck.
How does one get that back?
How do I pick up that razor again?
The same as anything else, I guess:

I'm finally getting down
to my fighting weight now
but there's no one in the ring
left to notice. And a truth
that comes in this late-night
confession is I nick with
my Bic just the same.


The Laziest Faker East of the Hudson

I lay against an ill-advised Sunday
half-glow nap. Woke at noon, lounged around
beat by almost four. Dishes are piled--
a week's worth at least. There's an unopened
package screaming for a knife that
I can't muster the muscle to stab.
I know what it is: a suitcase for a trip
I won't be taking. It can wait.
It can all wait
with the sleeping bag in storage.
There are times I miss the strangest things
like the hot fermenting garbage smell
of the subway in July. This is one of them.

Sleep has no mercy, it won't come so soon.
The leaves on the trees like lightbulbs
to smash. People enjoy what could be
the last weekend where T-shirts aren't such
a rebellious decision. Strangers savor their lives
or pretend to. I roll onto my stomach
closing my eyes harder like a child scared
to death, though this kid's reconsidered.

A football announcer yells through the floor.
I can almost make out the words, it's disturbing.
What have the neighbors heard through
their ceiling and how have I not heard their TV before?
The sound's somewhat soothing, reminds me of
weekends when I'd fall asleep on my father's stiff couch.
It's probably there, blessed and annointed, praying
for an overdue trip to the dump.

The volume gets louder, perks up my ears. There's
no way to drift off with this kind of ruckus. I throw off
the top sheet, consider my options, succumb to
the urge, choke up on the bat.

The romance is clipped by a new sound
I notice, a generous portion of fresh humble pie.
There through the First Downs and Holdings
below me come whimpers and moans
from the cute pigtailed neighbor. The milquetoast
she lives with is telling her twice.
I hear, but can't listen.
I know, but don't care.
I pull up my shorts and go take a leak.
If you prick me, my friend, I promise to bleed.

The Hudson was once my personal moat
though now I feel like a shunned hot potato.
There are times, there are places
for starches like me.
A call from the union could change my
demeanor. It's not looking hopeful.
It's Third Down and Twelve.
The bottle of Sauvignon Blanc
being chilled now should go to the couple
who earned it downstairs.

It's ripe and it's raw and it's rife with
transgressions. It could always be worse.
There's still some shaft left.


No Way To Waste a Friday Night

The whirlwind swings by
to pick up some things
once her train's dropped
her off after work.
"Are you home?"
comes through crackling.
"Yeah," I reply
not sure if it's a lie or not.
"I'll be up in a minute."
Great. I'll still be down.

She keeps her shoes on
which is fine
since I haven't swept
since she's been gone;
asks to use the toilet.
I apologize in my mind
'cause my friends had bad aim
the other night
and I've found it hard
to get out of bed to eat
let alone clean
unless somebody's paying me.
Through the bathroom door
I can almost see her
searching for hairs
too long and light
to be mine.
She won't find them.

The sound of the flush
comes and the door
unveils light upon
my dark kitchen, a stage
perfectly set for the show.
Rotting fruit and vegetables
scream for mercy in the form
of a trash can from
the hanging baskets
that took so long for us to find.
She frowns. She doesn't fight it
as well as I do.
"Take some food with you,"
I plead, not wanting it to spoil.
Her hand pulls the fridge door open
and she inspects with minor distrust.
Sees the beer, probably wonders
who's been over since I'm in
a whiskey mood these days.
"You know there's a whole loaf of bread
down here," she says, rifling through
the misused crisper.
"Most of my grain's been distilled
as of late," I beam through crooked teeth.
She still can't find the humor.
That's the rub; the difference.
I'll joke all the way to the gallows.
She'll scowl all the way to the morgue.

Whatever she needed
seems inconsequential.
A few arbitrary items are tossed
into her big soccer mom bag
that'll probably never be true anymore
since that was my dream, not hers.
I used to help her put on her coat
after the check had been paid.
She taught me how to do that
without fumbling so much.
The urge is gone now
as she slinks into her peacoat.
This farewell will be as awkward
as a catcall at a funeral.
I'm right at a time
when I'd rather be wrong again.

By the time I reach the door
she's already at the stairs.
I stand there, three-quarters naked
and tell her. I have to.
It stops her in her tracks
although I'm no Bogart
and there ain't a plane to catch.
She turns and looks, bewildered
like that famous blurry photo
of Bigfoot stumbling through the creekbed.
"Don't," she spits, her bag seeming heavy.
But I do, and I will
because it's the truth.
If it wasn't I wouldn't be letting her go.
Sometimes that's what's needed
when the shuffle's been rigged.
We were doomed from the start, Kid.
Here's lookin' at you
from a distance
safe enough to wonder
what they would've looked like.


Cheating Salmonella

The morning rain had drawn them out--
Betrayed by Mother Nature.
A few flattened shells lay scattered
on the two-lane highway which
cuts through Orange Lake
while I sped from one task to the next.
There towards the end of the gauntlet
I saw an intact one in the shoulder.
It's a rule of mine to stop and move them.
If not, the guilt and wondering
tail me through the day.
Did it make it?

The guardrails left no room to park
so I pulled over at the cross-street.
A fifty-yard hike against the grain
of traffic and I was upon the painted
reptile. Its head hung low against
asphalt, its tail turned to one eternal side
all of its claws descended into road dust.
I stood and stared at the crack
running down the back of its shell--
a near miss, but barely enough
to end its stubborn road-crossing life.
I was always too late to save them.

The walk back to my truck
was consoled by a Marlboro.
If there was a time to curse
the odds that day
it was then
it was there in that moment.
All too often What's Right
plays second fiddle
to What Shall Be.
We suck it up
or we don't;
we stop or we keep driving;
but those turtles there on 52
are coming either way.

Lefty Bats Righty (and Still Gets On Base)

There's this wreck
I've slept with
a handful of times
over the weaving course
of the last eight years.
The sleeping was never
as good as the part
that came
before it
partially because
I turned and tossed
with one foot out the door
since sticking around
would make too much sense.

This last bout with the starving
lasso artist was almost
too hard to watch
like a naked rodeo clown.
She asked if she should move
or not, if I'd take her in
like a puppy.
A bit of an out-of-body
experience it was--
Is this what it looks like
when someone's hard up
for a godsend to leave their sheets
smelling differently?
Pathetic little pissants we are
made in His image or not.

I know where she is tonight
and I know where she'll be tomorrow
and more importantly I know
that my distant knowledge will be
the extent of it. That's not to say
she isn't a catch; to most
men she would be, but I've been
blessed between the temples
with discernment as harsh as my tongue
and it tells me I'd be asking
for trouble yet again
redeeming qualities be damned.

She's one of those girls
who's just barely pretty.
One minor change
would leave her bereft
I'd venture to say
irreversibly flawed.
Maybe then I could love her.
Until then she's a number.
Somewhere along the way
I lost count, and somehow
became a plumber.


With a Little Help From My Friends

The sequins caught my half-drunk eye, pulling my head ninety degrees just in time to see her slip into the hallway. She'd beaten me to the punch in getting to the bathroom. It wasn't the first time I'd been bested by that woman; regrettably so, it wouldn't be the last. There was another lavatory in the apartment, surprisingly, but it had a door on two walls, neither of which locked. One could not be too careful in such matters, especially at a party with heavy-handed Irish folks pouring up the cocktails. I decided to wait for the safer option in the rear of the apartment. She couldn't be that long in there, or so I thought.

When she finally returned to the festive chaos high above Eighty-Second Street I placed my vodka tonic on the nearest coaster I could find and made my way for the coveted powder room. She must've reapplied her fragrance while in there. The scent hit me before I even turned the knob. It was winter, I remember, because I'm wearing my only sweater in the photos from that night. It was winter, but the small window in that restroom was open when I entered, a crisp Big Apple breeze running down the brick and in above the toilet. I was about to close it when I realized why it'd been opened. That faintly familiar skunk smell crept up my nostrils through the mask of fresh perfume like an out of place dealer at a grade school talent show. Was it really that necessary to indulge at this event? My mind's eye shot to my tumbler in the living room and I wished I hadn't left it so I could take a swig. Perhaps I was premature in judging her need to party to that extent. We all have our vices; some are simply more legal than others. I reached up, closed the window, and drained what my liver didn't soak up to escape.

There was a tinge of recognition when our eyes met over hors d'oeuvres. She saw the latent shame in my face, but her wrinkles caked with make-up lended no apology. Instead she gave a wink as she sipped her pinot grigio, whether or not she'd meant to, whether or not it really happened or my vodka was playing its game again. We carried on with pleasantries and feigned a pure existence. When the night came crashing down we went our separate ways: she, a waiting train; me, a stroll down Amsterdam. In a city where nothing's free we'd both paid our price and then some. I slept next to a lousy poem and woke to my sweater folded neatly on the back of the recliner. There's a reason why some things are saved for once or twice a year. Any more than that and we'd go bursting at the seams.

Inspired By a Bumper Sticker and Another Refugee

So it seems that every second
slut that runs away
these days
male or female
or whore on a stage
who happens to be
packing for the City
sings of Astoria
like it'll save
their sorry souls.
What's there
so great to soothe them
but the warm-eyed
Greeks of Queens?
So close, in terms of time
to those curried Jackson Heights
where the dot-heads run around
adding arms and tusks to God
while us cowboys strip more
of His power every day.

I think it's more the sound
as it rolls off fattened tongues--
the syllables of promise
like parents in the pews
lying to young ears
meek enough to fear
an eternity sans water
like a week with no TV.

It's there in the road
in front of you, children.
It's every time that you obey
the daily curse of your alarm.
Astoria will get on
without your dreams
to crowd it.
You don't pronounce the 'gyro'
like the locals anyway.
And I, for one, am not
for rollicking fake times.

Yes, I have a truck.
No, won't help you move.


Confessions of a Modern Day Ahab

I have a too-nice apartment
on Main Street in a hip town
that I can barely afford
now that I've fired her.

I have a trade that'd make me
a hell of a buck if only
the economy was better
and there was enough work
to go around.

I have friends
whom I can throw
farther than I can trust.
I have a lot of nights in bed.

I have a father twelve miles away
who denies my existence
despite my desperate letters
and thirst to break the curse.

I have an addictive personality
that gets me in just enough trouble
to make me feel alive
with its consequences.

I have a penchant for drinking
alone at home or in crowds
and swear the bottle off
at least thrice per week.

I have a smoker's cough
that'll undeniably turn
to cancer one day or another.

I walk around with a gun
and act like it'll save me.

I'm a grower, not a shower.

I have an ex who finally realizes
that despite my faults
I was right.
I have a lot of exes
in various boats
and mental albums.
Most of it upstairs is skewed
so I can paint it over.

I fall in love with random
strangers in public
multiple times a week
with the excuse
that I have a sixth sense
for beauty.

I'm terrible at sleeping alone.

I can drink you under the table
and out of the closet.
I'll probably ask to try
or try to ask.

My eventual triumph
will be far more
than anything
your degree promised you
as I laugh all the way
to the unemployment line.

I'm twenty-seven
finally living
and wouldn't trade it
for the world.
Hallelujah, motherfucker.


The Surgeon General Wastes Breath With His Warning

The shit-show takes
a much needed break
as half of our posse
vacates the bar.
My newest and best
wanders off to an alley
relieving himself
between the brick walls.
I reach for my pack
and conjure a lighter.
A third party notes
that it's white, there-
fore smart.
"No one will steal it,"
he states
too damn sure
that old pothead lore
of jinxes applies.
I smile through smoke
and nod like he's got me
but really I know
that's it's not
what he thinks:
A person hard up
is a person hard up
and an addict in need
will steal from a leper
regardless of what
the mystics believe.
Their greatest fear
is that we smell it on them.
The sweat?
No, the fear
and a Bic's worth of butane.
I never quite get
why they wager that bet
but over and over
the numbers don't lie.

My friend saunters back
a stain on his jeans
where the joke is on him
like the tip that he'll leave.
"Gimme a light," he demands
through his teeth
and he pockets my fire
when he's done sparking up.
The sad humbled genius
swallows his words
and straightens his specs
without superstition.
"Matches next time,"
I think to myself
as I leave them to ponder
their new Fifth Dimension.


For Fear of More Than Backwash

Main Street was a ghost town lit up for seemingly nothing. The night was young enough to make believable promises though the sidewalks were mostly deserted. Perhaps the recent drop in temperature was discouraging the locals from venturing out into the fray. I was running a few minutes late, but knew I'd still beat her to the restaurant. Late in my mind is only two minutes early.

A traffic light changed and halted my forward progress. Neon glow from the convenience store on the corner bounced off a three-day-old puddle too stubborn to disappear. I pulled hard on my cigarette as the autumn air crept up the loosely rolled sleeves of my red cowboy shirt. Part of me felt like the essence; part of me felt like a fraud.

A rattling sound approached from behind while unaffected cars sped by. I turned and saw a shopping cart full of empty bottles and cans being pushed by one of Beacon's resident homeless. A gray sweatshirt broke the wind from his back and a pair of navy slacks somehow matched. The standard ancient running sneakers propelled him along, this time in my direction. His salt-and-pepper hair sat above a sun-wrinkled face accented by shining blue eyes that were deep in forming a question.

"Smrgls grb," he said with unflinching conviction.

"Excuse me?" I asked the undecipherable pilgrim.

"Arltm fwp, brg," was his puzzling response.

This'd get nowhere and there was somewhere I had to be. Couldn't keep an old friend waiting; ten years was long enough. It was one of two things he probably wanted and my pockets weren't jingling with change. I pulled my pack from my breast pocket and handed him a smoke. He thanked me with a nod and slipped the menthol behind his ear, clearly not ready to indulge in its sick pleasures. His eyes were still glued to my face like there was something more he wanted. My left hand rummaged through the pocket of my Levi's. Nothing but a lighter, a pen, and my bulky set of keys. I was prepared for the awkward denial of currency that always made me feel like less of a decent human.

"Are you new around here?" he asked in a suddenly recognizable idiom.

"Yeah. Why?" Was I an obvious outsider? Was my plaid shirt not up to snuff with the downtown hipster regime? Were my cigarettes not trendy, maybe even disgraceful? Was I a dead give-away for a new Beacon denizen because I stopped to chat? The endless paranoid possibilities raced through my mind in the brief time it took for him to respond.

"I haven't seen you around. Want some beer?"

He lifted a brown-bagged tallboy from his cart and extended it my way.

"No, thanks," I told him as politely as possible. "I'm heading to dinner," unsure what that fact had to do with taking a swig of brew. The truth was that I could've used a drink. The last several weeks had been brutal. They were nothing compared to this man's problems, of course, but difficult in their own right relative to my own trivial life.

"It's my last one," came the humbling reply from my one-man welcoming committee. His tone wasn't sad, it was sincere.

A tingle ran down my spine at the thought of what had happened. Bukowski reincarnate. Another man in the trenches. The snowflake tattoo made sense again: we're really all the same, as different as we are. A man who's lived so hard that there's not much left, like a piston never oiled and worn away by friction, took the time of day to trade some beer for a smoke and make an honest man out of a kid in needless haste. He wasn't aware that the busier of the two bars in town had a limit of two Long Island Iced Teas per customer. He didn't know, and I didn't care. A friend could order those last couple anyway-- a friend like the one who was waiting to meet for dinner. I was lucky to be where I could start over whether or not I deserved it. Beacon was a blessing, even without the intended roommate.

"Take it easy," I said as the light turned green, not stopping to think that it was the only way he could take it.

"Rflp dwt," was barely audible amidst the rumble and clang of a shopping cart starting up again.

I was only one minute late.


What Used To Get Me Sex Now Just Gets Me Sleep.

The shower tastes like sulphur
like the flavor I'll be damned to
when the crowd decides to wane
when the weak ones fall away.
The beer spit comes up thick
in this bloody shotgun throat.
Tonsils swim in the saliva
where she could always smell infection
and the burning of tobacco
that I reserved for secret weekends.
You fooled no one but yourself, kid.
You're not so Double Agent.
Rocco, you father, I've duped you yet again.

Johnny Unstoppable left pill bottles burning
in the parking lot where
I keep my junk, let me save the photos
of me thirty pounds lighter
eight years happier
in the arms of a German Angel
too right to wrong with words.
(Those awkward jawbones, those crisp eyebrows
that longing Spanish tongue, a virgin
before me.)

A gentle giant notes
the recent rise in chloroform
and the evening bleeds out normal
while the Firethorns down their swill.
You could've been a lot of things
but instead you chose to fold.
You could've had some teachers
though you'd rather just become one.
You could've, would've, should've
but you'd rather shut your eyes.