Outlawed Pleasures of the Nuclear Age

I want to live
in a stick-built house
where I can hear
an old man
(That kind of comfort
can't be bought
much less traded
by Brookes Bros. boys.)
Instead I settle
for volleys of lead
aimed at the coalmine canary
and if they so happen
to pierce precious lungs,
so be it;
I'll crank out the obit.

Enough of the wailing.
The proof's in the posture:
What kind of angel
leaves the seat up?
If it comes down
to the break or the bend
confer with your local

And when that fails
to calm your seas
flip a coin, catch it
invest it in gold.
Like inside jokes
with high school friends
some warnings, if heeded
never get old.


Frequent Flyer

Teeth an uncommon white
with no one here to see them.
The Power of Club compelled me
'til the whiskey closed my eyes.
That's alright. I begged it to.
There are nights that bleed
like virgins. If we only knew
how fucked we were
we'd've saved ourselves in vain.

Your patients aren't the only ones
actively dying these days:
your patients, my patience
our belief in some intangible.

And like a hamster with no wheel
I lay in my own excrement
bored, adrift, and pointless
while the world laughs through my cage.
It's hard to watch the parallels
with the loathsome list of "Ch"-men:
Charlie, Chris, and when arrogant
the man that they called Christ.

The rent's paid up, I've got my tomb.
I drag my cross on hardwood floors.
Your order's tall, I'm under six.
You've got your wings.
Now use them.

Currently reading:
"The Bureau and the Mole" by David Vise.


He found God in a frat house, waiting in line for the bathroom.

Christ, if I were any
younger and less apologetic
it would've been a drag
to lie and say I liked myself
but I still did
and did and did
and did them right
and wrong at the same time
and tried to out of town.
I'd gone to see a buddy
at school in central New York
where the rolling hills of Route 88
can almost cure a hangover.
We drank canned beer right
through the night
and well into the morning
giving up somewhere along the way
on doing and doing and doing
since the only likely takers
could eat their weight in pasta.
Besides, those nights of feigned
brotherhood meant more somehow.
All was fair and just in our world again
until it came time to claim couches and pass out.
When I came to in the morning
or rather, I should say
when the sun so rudely pierced my lids
there was a desert in my insides
past the dustbowl of my mouth.
I went to the kitchen in search of hydration
but the fridge was void of beverages.
I'd never been one for the Hair of the Dog
morning drink cure, but I would've tried it then.
The next bet was the tap water. Taped to the wall
right above the faucet was a sign written in marker
that warned not to drink the water. In those days
six years ago I was not yet a plumber with a thick skull
a knowledge of what can and can't hurt you
and the immune system of a soccer mom of three.
Needless to say I heeded the warning; back to the
fridge it was. And there, somehow shinier than upon
the door's first opening, was my salvation:
a half-gone jar of apple sauce, expiration date still good.
I pulled it from its place on the shelf, twisted off the cap
and sucked down its sweet, thick liquid without taking time
to close the refrigerator door. It was manna from heaven
in the hungover hell I'd created. It was the most satisfying
swallow I'd taken, or have since then, and it saddens me
to think that I'll never be so sated again, literally
or otherwise. The empty vessel posed a problem: put it back
or throw it out? But the beauty of not being the home team
is the ability to sneak out the back door and turn over your
engine-- which I did, and headed back to face a Monday
of warehouse shipping blues. That may have been
the last time for me. Since then it's been a read-through
in a language I've forgotten. Are there any tutors left?


Lest We Forget the Sins of Basic Cable

A commercial on the Military Channel
advertises the next installment of a show
called "World War II in Color" while I
lay back digesting a far-from-kosher meal
in the fake warmth of the woodstove
appreciated only due to sacrifices made
by wrinkled men with liver spots
who trade change for little red flowers
made of cloth and wire
outside of the grocery store.

"It's a funny selling point," I tell the chef.
"I'm pretty sure that's how it happened."

Currently reading:
"Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe.


Cold Cashmere

We knew a kid in the cover band, but it didn't change the price of the drinks or the fact that women like dancers, and I use both terms loosely. He looked about ready to fall asleep with an elbow between his chin and the oak. I caught his eyes closing a few times.

"Do you not want to be here?" I asked like a fool for the second time in as many weeks.

"I mean...I'm bored," he replied, the froth of his dark beer dissipating at the top.

What was he expecting? The third bar of the night to be any more spectacular? Ours was a one-horse town with no good news on the cart. At least I hadn't encouraged his pursuit of the two uninterested college girls at the last gin-joint we haunted that evening. Unlike some of my less fortunate compatriots I'd developed a sense for failure. Sure, most times I ignored it; but in the most extreme cases, like this recent one with the co-eds' backs to my blindly blundering buddy as he tried so desperately to engage them in conversation, I let its wisdom reign. Besides: What kind of shameless twenty-seven-year-old would sentence some promising young sophomore to a fate such as his dirty sheets?

It was about this time that this may have set in with him. Perhaps that was contributing to his inability to sing along to the few tunes that we knew.

It seemed logical to bore him further if only to save him from himself.

"Sometimes I hate the fact that I never run into any exes at the bar," I confessed, the Captain strong on my breath as it reflected off the side of his head and back into my nostrils. "It's like they hate me so much that they won't risk seeing me in public. And God forbid I try to make amends."

He nodded in something slightly short of agreement; empathy, at best. Maybe it was because he only really had one ex, at least one from his adult life. Eight years was a long time, and now that time was over. I hoped my foolish comment hadn't sent him down that trainwreck of thought. There are times when I over-analzye and I hoped that this was one of them.

I took a sip and gave up trying to make the best of a wasted night. We were all defeated; some of us just knew it already.

The cover band didn't play any more songs that we knew.


17 Fulton, All Present and Accounted For.

"Nice kicks," he tells me as soon as I sit down. The new pair of leather shoes he's referring to have yet to be scuffed by drunken fumblings or weathered by slush puddles. They're nice, but not that nice. A gift, and much appreciated, but not worth such honorable mention. He was obviously trying to use a modern term on a person half his age and see if he could get away with it. I decide to let him since our session's just begun.

"Thanks," I say succinctly and let him lead the way. As usual he wastes no time, shoots from the hip like Doc Holiday.

"You've said some interesting things since we've started talking every week," he says from within his white cardigan as I shuffle my feet. "There's one image in particular that stays with me."

My curiosity is piqued. He knows when to appeal to my vanity. What could I have said that's remained in his mind for so long? He sees fifteen, twenty people each week, all with their own baggage to unload in his direction. There's a wealth of trite imagery to ponder. Was something I said so poignant that it escaped the yellow legal pad?-- the eternal resting place for most of his sob stories?

"Yeah?" I ask immodestly, clearly anticipating his reply.

I've yet to catch him lying. There'd be no reason. The letters after his surname don't require it. He's not in this for the money like some of the others, at least not entirely. He clears his throat and continues.

"That image of you driving by your father's house once in awhile to check up on him; specifically, the fact that you see the two rocking chairs on his porch and are happy for him even though he never told you he got remarried."

"Or had a son," I cut in, my feet now firmly planted to the thin, commercial grade carpet.

"Yes. Or that. But still you love him and want him to be happy. Even though he fell short you watch over him like a sad, defeated angel."

"Take it easy, doc," I say, a quick jab at his lack of a doctorate's to even the score for those last few adjectives he chose to apply to his description of my state. "The Old Man hasn't won just yet."

Through the door I hear his partner slam a file cabinet shut. The white noise machine in the hall is only so forgiving. I can't blame the man for his blunders, though-- not in those cheap, oversized suits he wears. He looks like a weasel swimming in polyester. I'm glad that my guy wears jeans, plaid, and loafers. The cardigan is his worst sin. I can live with that.

"Do you say that every day?" he asks, his fingers woven together, except for the indices resting on his chin.

"First thing in the morning, before my feet hit the floor," I answer. He's won this round, I'll finish making his point. Maybe his worst sin isn't wearing the woven yarn. Maybe it's being a wiseguy like the crumpled folks who sign the checks, though we wouldn't have it any other way. Some people only take to tough love and kidney shots. Defeat: It's the only way we learn.

But if this ugly mug's the face of an angel, what does that make him?


Navajo nightmare

So we killed off the cab sav
started in on the shiraz
until the dozing Beast
succumbed to the curse
of narcoleptic statistics--
sent his purple-lipped cohort
a-stumbling down the street.

But before that secret sojourn
being careful not to slam doors
and wake the sleeping T-shirt
a multitude of myths were discussed
and left for dead--
the most pertinent being the existence
of a dashing young damsel still owning all her wits
and moreover plausibility
of her interest in a lush

while the words read wrong
or the wine did no justice
though it never does, never does
and I couldn't spell
Nez Perce.

(Not to disappoint
but he's not
fall-down drunk yet
and stopped the sieve
an hour ago
not intending to return.)


Arterial Masonry

And it never fails
to salt the slice
the calumny of time unraveled
for another loss, another leak
another gun behind you

like the rule that comes to mind
about a lost (when borrowed) lighter:
the one you get to take its place
is never half as full.



"Shut up," she said in a caustic Verizon font. "The truth
doesn't hurt."

"It sure don't set you free, either,"
I responded, comma for good measure.
From the relative safety of my couch
I chewed gum like a cow
loudly like my father
in between the swigs.

But no amount of sips or shots could do it.
General Pompadour tried and failed to reach the drunk
to end all drunks, the face to end all names.
Oh yeah, motherlover. What's that they say
about the definition of insanity? Repeating
the same actions and expecting different outcomes?

It ended in belligerent fried chicken
and a confiscated pistol locked up in my safe
for the duration of the dance-off.
Sometimes we mere mortals
should feel lucky that the night ended at all.

And in all due fairness
who doesn't love
the sound
of their own voice?

Fame would ruin you, Prophet.

Five people chipped in
to buy me a new laptop for Christmas.
It's the most expensive gift I've ever received.
I'm still getting used to the flat keyboard
and trying to avoid grazing the mouse rectangle
with my thumbs while typing, sending the cursor
to previous paragraphs.
It sure is fancy and a hell of a lot faster
than the eight-year-old desktop dinosaur
("Dude, I got a Dell forever ago!")
that my mom gave me when I went away
to college.

But I, the lonely creature of habit that I am
still haven't turned that humming beast off yet.
The loud whir of the tower's dust-filled fan
helps sing me to sleep on nights such as this.
It'll take some time to wean myself off of the
comfort that the familiar drone's given me
for what feels like ages, and rightfully so.
It's hard to say goodbye, even when it's best.

I lay here in bed pecking away at this
contraption on my hairy belly, scroll back down
to where the words should be forming
and continue on my miser-merry way
(short i sound there, of course)
as I have a thousand times before.
This one's almost over; I can feel it.
One develops a sense for such things.

After I'm done here, done rambling for the day
like I'm promising myself to do more religiously
if for nothing but the sake of my lukewarm passion
I will shut this thing down and reach for the book
that a rare, true friend gave me as a belated Christmas
gift this evening. It's a book on famous writers
and their cocktails of choice. It's a book on two
of my favorite pasatiempos. It's a book with a sincere
inscription that I don't know you well enough to share.
And though the price is clearly printed on the dust jacket
it's the best damn gift I've received in as long
as this tired, jumbled mind can remember.

Thanks, Boss.
Don't let 'em get you down.


The Brutal Truth on Telling Lies

Take it from
the schoolyard charismatics:
The brutal truth on telling lies.
But whatever you do
don't bury me in a cardigan.

We perpetuate stereotypes
and fall in love
with people thrilled
with a B+ on a Final.
Can you blame us
for our love of complacency?

I consider scratching myself
'cause it would feel good
and don't.
It's too easy and doesn't match the rest.

But then again
nothing does
quite nicely.

Long walks on the beach?
The sand burns my feet.
I'll wait right here for awhile.


My current tormentor in the form of red tail lights slams on his brakes in an overzealous attempt to stop for the yellow light. Anyone with half a set would've gunned it. Such is not my luck tonight. It's been feeling like the middle third of a romantic comedy without the laugh track playing in the background to establish that it's all in fun and the ending will be a happy one. It's hard to imagine how any good can come sometimes, especially without the haunting laughs of that audience recorded in the fifties. They're long dead, but their cheer carries on to falsely console the masses. The circumstance I’ve gotten myself into is quite the opposite.

My right hand shoots over to the passenger seat in a motion so swift that it's strange to admit I'm not used to having precious cargo. There's a new laptop there tonight, though; a gift from five people which I can't risk having damaged. The cardboard box doesn’t slide an inch, never hits my palm-- a false alarm again. “Bitch,” I mutter at the driver ahead of me. “Coward,” I add, my knuckles whitening on the wheel. But it’s not the senile blue-hair in front of me to whom I’m referring anymore; it’s the man who gave me the Emergency Hand Auxiliary Seatbelt Brake-Slam Habit.

It happened frequently, often because he was distracted by a tangent about God. The brown-eyed boy beside him heard elevator music during most of these soapbox sermons, or tried to. His driving wasn’t the best to begin with. We were practically run off the road on numerous occasions. Angry motorists habitually passed us on the right while shaking fists in our direction. I sank into my seat and prayed to whatever God would listen to my pleas to disappear. The embarrassment and road rage were two more crosses I bore as a child in the name of the father and the Father. It got to be too much by age fifteen so I told them so; neither of them taking to it very well, both of them still punishing me for it.

But when the hand flew out across my unformed chest I knew I was cherished, if nothing else-- or maybe it was guilt that drove him. Regardless, it’s clear now decades later that despite all his efforts he couldn’t save me from the biggest threat to my safety: himself.



Actors have it.
Why not the rest of us?

As the scientists say:
"There's always been something,"

though they meant Matter
created nor destroyed

not a mental source
to conjure tears
crocodilian or otherwise.

First it was
my grandma dying--
not the one who's truly deceased;
the one who's just a shell of herself.
Then it dawned on me
that she's been gone from us
for years now
and the body's only trembling
the aftershocks of death
the way that hair and nails
keep growing in the coffin.

For awhile I'd think of an Ex.
(For awhile An was The.)
There was one specific image
one twinkle of the eye, one braided hairstyle
an orange backpack for the weekend
and more often than not
a tight red tanktop.
That always made 'em roll.
It took a lot of sex and whiskey
to dig myself so low--
low enough to see
that it was never meant to be
and sure not what I thought it was.

But now it's a kid on Riverside Drive in Manhattan.
The sun's shining, it's early Halloween 2010.
His mother's too busy on her cell phone
to pay him much attention
even though he's dressed for the occasion
in a masochistic bird costume
with a phallic protrusion sticking straight up
from his head. The beak's swallowing his face
and his smile's slightly forced.
He flaps his little brown wings
at my girlfriend and me as we walk by
en route to my truck
parked safely in accordance
with Street Cleaning Regulations.
We try not to laugh for his sake
until we're out of earshot.
He's dressed so ridiculously yet has no idea.
His family will use photos as blackmail
later on in life. That pointless cone
at the top of his head will haunt him forever
like the thought that I won't someday
get to play the same joke on my offspring.

"But he was so happy."

"I know. That's why it's sad."

That's what I think of if I need to now.
God, if that kid only knew.

Currently reading:
"The Valley of Light" by Terry Kay.