The Worst Scar I've Ever Seen

You swore it was yours.
It wasn't.

It was a desperate
frown on a kid's face
after some prick
told him there is
no Santa Claus.
It was the instant loss
of innocence that can't
be undone by money.
It was the undying promise
of death given at reality's birth.
Once it's there
it's there for life.
You see it in their eyes.

(I've clearly injected
myself too much here.
How can one not
and have it be real?
Go with it for the sake
of the story.)

There are some things, ma'am
I'd rather not know
like if I'd enjoy Kentucky.
All the rumors you've heard
are frightfully true:
I'm a self-declared bastard
gallivanting down Main
as a martyr too eager
with a pen in his hand
and a gun at his hip.

There's no Easter Bunny either.


The Best Contraceptive

It's usually more
like babysitting than work.
The pipes are mostly silent
but my buddy's son is not.
He's nine and precocious.
He likes feeling useful.
If I can keep him busy I try to
though most times he's bored
and gets in my hair. My friend
brings him along on our
moonlighting jobs to get one
of three young sons out of
his wife's weary lap. It's no wonder
that he's going gray and balding
prematurely. I used to be envious.
That all has changed.

"My dad pays you way
more than me," he whines
in reference to his three bucks a day.
"There's an aggravation tax involved,"
I tell him, sending the joke
clean over his short-cropped hair.
"Did your dad pay you a lot
when you helped him as a kid?"
I think back to my first paying job
trimming tree limbs from the massive
pines on his property
in the Adirondacks. Five an hour
for back-breaking work. I was the same
age as the squirt kneeling next to me
but I had no one around to pester
and mistakes have no siblings.
With my meager earnings
I bought a fox pelt at a taxidermy shop
on the ride home from the mountains.
I've always made wise purchases.
I've always had sweet gigs.
"No," I tell him through
my teeth while wondering
what those trees look like now.
The pelt is long gone
if not in his basement.
The trees might be, too.
He's bad with his money.

My diminutive partner won't let it rest.
"What'd you guys do?"
"Not much. He wasn't very
good with his hands," I reply
with an understatement
as the wrench slips a bit
"or much else."
Junior takes a moment
to ponder the strange existence
of a mechanically useless father
unheard of in his neck of the woods.
I tighten the screws in the floor drain
wishing more than dirty water
could be washed down its void.

A staticky country tune I've begrudingly
come to love blares in the other room
where my friend's setting fixtures.
Aside from the God part the song's
got it right: booze is good, people
are crazy.

"You don't talk about him much,"
the boy says. Clearly we've never
tossed cocktails back together
and if we're lucky we never will.
I don't want to be the same man
when he's old enough to drink.
The next inevitable question comes
timed perfectly with the dripping
of sweat from my brow--
"Is he dead?"

My answer lands before
he can refill his lungs.
It's no lie. There's more
to being alive than breathing.
You've got to have a soul
and not only worry about
whether or not it's Saved.
The kid pulls out his pocketknife
and cleans dirt from under his nails.
If only adults could have the same
detached responses to answers
that made their questions regrettable.

I chisel out some tile to make room
for the drain. The floor guys never
remove enough. It's hard to willingly
destroy your own work, especially
when on your knees.
"Can I do that?" he asks, his knife
no longer relevant.
"No," I say in as kind a voice
as I can fake. "Go help your old man."

Fisherman's War Paint

Right hand on left flank
and the inverse correct--
This is what chromosomes
dealt were predestined.
Face in a pillow
almost forget.
Saint candles burning
straight down like a fuse.
Moans turn to whimpers
and back into moans.
Offer a towel, a cold glass of water.
They know not to call.
They know they've been used
led like white livestock
up three flights to slaughter.
It helps with the yearning
the passing of time.
She'll leave in the morning
with clothes from the floor.
It's hard to think twice
once giving the lines.
She came like a lady.
She'll leave a bit sore.
Fisherman's war paint
misanthrope's fuel
lush's reminder
that Christ drank the grape.
The love's on the mattress.
The heat's in the tools.
You may never find her
at this cyclic rate.



I woke to bastard sunbeams
and the smell of 10 a.m.
There'd been a nightmare
of some nigger who tried
to steal my girl once.
The drool stains on my pillows
proved I'd told him how I felt.
Through the floor I heard
a man carve his day-old bird
to make a sandwich.
I'd spent the holiday alone.
My leftovers were internal.

There was a message on my phone
received at four in the morning--
when the good ones tend to come;
when the coming's all the same.
The area code was as baffling
as the words and punctuation.
An inquiry of the prefix
revealed a western New York number.
My past career of heartache
never spread into that region.
Another unknown psycho
closing in to make the kill.

I rubbed one out, did the dishes
went about my half-dressed business
until the missive piqued my interest
as the song remained the same.
"Who is this?" I asked
knowing there would be no answer.
These vague, clandestine messengers
never cough up their credentials.

I poured a second mug of jet fuel
though the grounds were in the mix.
Had to nuke it for a minute
since it cooled down fairly quickly
with the heat just barely running
to help save on the bills.
There's only one sucker
paying them now. It's equal parts
blood and money.

That's when it came again--
the same encrypted sentence.
This time I noticed a number
at the bottom, presumably a date:
I thought back to where I was then
and whom I was inside.
It held no relevance.
Didn't make much sense
as usual, though the message
as the good ones are
was tragically universal:
CAPS and symbols unembellished.

I dumped that cup of coffee
down the sink into the sewer.
The world had no mercy left
to divvy out today.
The sun's angle promised us that.
It was good to be inspired.
I'd have to lower the shades
creating my own fate
in the darkness
between bricks.


Prom Baby Rain Cheque

My rooms are right
on Main Street.
They can come

maybe twice
if we're lucky
and I'm randy
but they can't stay
the night
they better swallow

the fact that
I've built walls
of copper tubing
lashed with hair
of buried queens
around the parts
that I was smart
to never give her
though my silence
was consent.

Chase, you lucky gambler
all your strikes paid off in rings.
I will wear your tux, and tucked.
I will spring for whiter teeth.
I will spare your friends and family
what would've been my gin-soaked speech.

Yours wants to share
her dark slice
of heaven.
Mine took the rugs
and corkscrew
when she left.

What's three times a day
to the east
compared to begging
clouds for mercy?
There's not a better way
to squander three months'
worth of wages.
Is it after tax, or gross?
If it's real then it won't matter.
Your words were sound and poignant
though you know it's me to try.


Chaz and a Son's .38

An old friend
a true one
the kind you may
not see for years
but still remembers
what you look like
when you're laughing
from the gut
or when you struggled
with algebra and your first
case of the 'ache
plucked me from
my vault today:
a conjugal visit with life.
His brief tour of my apartment
ended down the stairwell.
"Still haven't kicked
the habit?" he asked
as I lit up, not quite sure
which one he meant.
"Only when I'm working
drinking, or single," I replied
not realizing all bases
were covered.

As we came upon his
jalopy he keyed his way
into the passenger door
for me, which I found odd
for many reasons
one of them being
that there was ever
a time without a clicker--
another throwback
to the era when we first met
thus making the illusion
of time travel stronger.
I rolled into the seat
noticing how clean
the light brown
carpets and upholstery
were for such an early model.
The interior was almost spotless
though rust had claimed the bumper

I fumbled for the driver's side lock
but it was already too late.
He'd turned the key
a sad grin fighting its way
to the surface in the face
of our nostalgia.
"Oh no. You failed the test,"
he jokingly accused
fairly assuming that I'd catch
the movie reference.
"I know, I know," I apologized
relieved to be a part
of an inside sort of something
instead of the outcast of late.
He slid into the pilot's chair
and turned over the engine
still the same, but different
in such rare and craved proportions.

I refrained from using his nickname
too much. A man has a right
to his preference
of hat. A spade is a spade
is a friend who remembers
before reputation took over.


Wasabi For the Dater's Soul

Maybe I should've taken
my own advice
and not shat where I ate
by eating where I live.
Maybe I shouldn't've walked there.
Maybe she smelled
the smoke on my breath.
Maybe I shouldn't've been myself.

Maybe she didn't like
that I wasn't shy
and ate all of the sushi
when she put her chopsticks
down for good.
Maybe it was that I loved the ginger
but didn't speak up
when the geisha came
and took it all away.
Maybe it was that her psych major
finally came in handy
though I didn't mention
my dad this time.
Maybe it was my one glass of wine.
Maybe the green tea ice cream
froze her perfect teeth
or the twelve-dollar tip
wasn't good enough.

Maybe it was that
I was full, it was late
and with work the next day
a ride home would've been nice--
so I asked, and was looked at
as crazy.
Maybe I am for thinking
that everyone believes to their
own detriment
and that people are generally
good in this world.
Maybe my peacoat
made me look like a rapist.
Maybe I am in a way
that is latent.
Maybe I'm better off knowing
that two hours of flowing
conversation does not equate
to a shred of trust.
Maybe I'll stick to coffee next time.
It's cheaper, and about what
these hooers deserve.

Maybe I'll go crawling back
to the place I know
that I don't belong.
Maybe it's instant karma.

Currently (re-)reading:
"Love Is a Dog From Hell" by Charles Bukowski.



When I woke
still shaken
by Jeremy's dream
drool marks on the pillow
to prove that it'd been
a real barn-burner

a bird chirped
in the otherwise silent
air conditioner
perched inside
my window.
There was
a faint sound
of scratching
like some twigs
upon some tin.

That friend had
sold me out
put me right back
into debt. Even in my
dreams my back's
a magnet for their knives.
I stood, dizzy from
last night's medicine
and told the world
what I thought of friends.

When I turned the
fan off later on
no song came from
the grill.
Thinking of this
brought on a rare hunger.

Without milk for coffee
or orange juice
to quench the salt
an ironic egg breakfast
was out of the question.

Sausage sans peppers
it was
and delicious.


She Was Fourteen Going On Forty in 1968

Somewhere in the Simon
a theme lost in the mix
a quatrain calls out
from between bookends
and my mother's quiet
croonings while she cooked
or cleaned or asked
if I had homework.

"Time it was, and what
a time it was
a time of innocence..."

where she'd longingly trail off
a son too young
to grasp her woes
lulled to peace
despite the split.

He gets it today, twenty
years later
and loves her
now and long ago
memories and photographs
thankfully not
all that's left
of her yet.
If he's as lucky
as he is blessed
the genes will pull through
'til at least ninety-six.

It's not Joe DiMaggio
for whom his lonely eyes
are looking.



I used to have this nightmare
only it'd happen during the day
while walking on the wrong side
of the road or ordering an
Extra Value Meal
from some kid with fry-grease
acne. A non-descript assailant
would slice through the soft skin
of my forearms and rip out my veins
with a pair of pliers. It looked like
when you're pulling weeds from a garden
and the roots pop out of the dirt
in an intricate system that almost
demands your respect while destroying it
only this was no green thumb convenience:
this was real.

It played on a deep-rooted fear of mine
involving the circulatory system. Ever since
childhood the thought of things pumping
through tubes inside of me has turned
my stomach. Getting vaccinated never
bothered me, but once they tried
to take something out
to draw blood from those hoses I hated
to acknowledge
I'd turn a shade of green
uncommon to the living. The chapter
on arteries in ninth-grade biology
made my wrists go numb to the point where
I couldn't take notes from the overhead
projector. I still passed with flying colors.
I still learned to cope back then.

I used to have this nightmare
about the plumbing of my blood
being stripped of me in the most
gruesome manner, but now I'm
more afraid of never giving it away.

Serial Monogamy

Eggs over-hard and a .44 magnum
bathe in what's left of the Sun's
borrowed light. There are some things
Saint Peter will have to forgive
at the gates for the sake of His
cloud-fucking choir: overcooked
breakfast and overdue bills
and those blowjobs that came
when they needed them most.
There's no use for fathers
for an arrogant son
who's followed around
by some unholy ghosts.

Keep an ear to the ground.
Save a drink for the road.
There's nothing that's promised
except death and taxes.
Whatever you're gunning
you're gutting alone.
Here's twenty bucks.
Go bet on a horse.

And even the gambler
let us all down.
When I first heard his lisp
I felt I'd been duped.
No man with a soft voice like that
had been suckered or hit in the face
with a bottle, a stool.

No one's immune to the ringing
of churchbells. No one forgets
what it's like to miss home.
He's talking in tongues
without any whiskey
in need of a crowd
but prone to go rogue.

How does one die of exposure
exactly? What does it take
to break a man down?
Perhaps it's not literal--
a daily castration
performed by the kid
who can't wipe his nose.

Currently reading:
"More Notes of a Dirty Old Man: The Uncollected Columns" by Charles Bukowski.


What Happens in the Mekong Delta Doesn't Necessarily Stay There

We finish each other's
sentences to the point
of questionable genetics.
It's odd to have such
a familiar relationship
with a man double my age
whom I've only known
for five months.
Drive around in a van
with someone for long enough
and you start to think the
same things, like that
you'd rather have the headache
of the guy who wakes up to
that hot mess in the car
in the passing lane
any day of the week
and twice on Sundays
than play the hands
we've been dealt.
We joke about our fortune
in finding one another
somewhere along the trainwreck.
That latter part, the state of the union
makes me think I'm right
when I tell him we're both
being punished for past lives.

He was in the Seventies service, jokes
about commando operations
in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Classified, of course.
I toss out a flippant remark about
the likelihood that I was once in
his squad, the one that must've
burned a Gook village a la "Platoon".
My mind wanders as I lay in sour sheets.
I picture myself manning the 60
hanging from the side door of the Huey
hot brass shell casings and ammo belt links
raining down onto the rice paddy below.
The Stones' "Gimme Shelter" plays in
the background as a soundtrack requirement.
Little black-pajama'ed ants in pointy straw hats
scramble for their lives, praying to their rotund
cross-legged god that the napalm airstrike
doesn't come and torch their crops.
He, of course, only smiles wider
that glutton for pointless suffering.

My partner in crime taps my shoulder
enthusiastically and asks to swap spots.
I finish my run of 7.62, get up
from the gunner's seat, and pass him
my flak jacket to sit on in case an AK-47 round
pierces the fuselage and catches him
in the keister. Just as he rips back the bolt handle
and starts to give some yellowfolk lead poisoning
a bullet tears through the belly of the chopper
and severs my femoral artery. The blood sprays
the cabin in regular spurts through the spaces
between my fingers as I make a futile attempt
to stop the bleeding. That younger version
of my buddy lets the machinegun pivot forward
on its mount, its barrel smoking and smelling of sulphur
in order to reach over and light my last Marlboro
procured from the pack strapped to my helmet.
"See ya on the next tour, Shakespeah,"
he croons in that soupy Bronx inflection
which I've carried back upstate. We both know
it's a lie, but it's one that is expected.
The hum of the rotors lulls me into
unconsciousness as I bleed out onto
the diamond-plate floor of the helicopter
and pass into the dark.

Fast-forward forty years and I'm next to
that same wingman. He's older now, has some
more scars, but the eyes remain the same
as they always do in the Great Ones.
"Get a loada dis numba," he says
as he pilots his van to my left, our new
unsuspecting victims not so physically harmed.
The whir of the battered highway
rumbles underfoot to the tune
of ten-thousand regrets
none of them being
that I've met this denim-collared savior.
"Too rich for my blood," I honestly confess
before downing what's left of my coffee.
War, like plumbing, is a hell of a humbler
and they're both about the guy
next to you in the trench.