Protege, Years Later

He lifts his cocktail
to his lips
with both hands
like an old vagabond
sipping free Catholic soup

knows to roll his eyes
when I try to get away
with verbal murder

and when he's gone
I find my toilet seat up
like clockwork

since we've seen all sides
yet still we strive
to keep alive
like flies stuck in a shithouse
not so much complaining.

All the worst heroes die
due to voids
dealt in cards.
The worthiest
suck down shards
of cork in wine
without so much
as an eyebrow.

I'm lucky to have
such a place to hang my hats.


Rhythm Method Semaphore

While you battened down the hatches
you lost your cloak and dagger.
Half your acts are Hell-sending.
You bed down with cadavers.

Burn out the clutch.
Stay off the sauce.
Pump and sweat
to your heart's content
Machiavelli and his Prince
were wrong on ends and means.
They only whip a horse that pulls.
Dont be gun-shy wearing war paint.

And there, seething in the myst
is the earned truism
that the sun doesn't only
set in the west.
It sets on you and me.


Snippet from a Stumble

His work boot's
steel toe
catches a high-lipped
sidewalk seam.
Part of it's the ache of Friday
when he shat blood for the shop all week;
the vodka's guilty, too
but at least he tipped her well;
and more than either
aforementioned reason
it's ignorance on the block

"They love one another
he completes her,"
a wispy blonde
whose circulatory system
shows through the skin
not covered by her
earth-toned summer dress
explains from her nose
in a British tourist's accent
that easily whites knuckles
of any blue-blooded Joe.

She and her companion
also of the fairer sex
stride by a blind cartographer
taking with them what's been promised
by a fairytale that started
down between some woman's legs.
Trying not to burst out laughing
like a maniac on Main
he decides to ask
a looker out
as soon as he finds home.

If one squints hard enough
they almost all look sane.

He never met a horse
that he could bet on
but he finished every race.


He Floats Through the Air With the Greatest of Ease

An intruder was the last thing I expected to see when I arrived home last night. Most times I have to plead with potential company, rambling of the alcohol and offering consolation prizes. Fortunately I was sober since none of my real friends are single and the thick summer love hanging like dark velvet had claimed victory over revelry again. I noticed as soon as I tossed my keys onto the table. Someone had infiltrated the dragon's lair in the hopes that he was fresh out of fire. Little did they know he could barely push steam, even when paid to do it.

"Don't shoot!" came an earnestly terrified voice from the darkest corner of my bedroom. He must've seen the gun cabinet and figured I was packing. I wouldn't have thought to draw anyway. They say it comes down to training and muscle memory, but there are stronger clumps of flesh than what's in my trigger finger. I decided to defuse things the best way I knew how.

"I was going to ask the same of you, but I guess you didn't find anything useful."

There's silence for a moment while my unexpected guest considers. Then he throws a curve ball. The lamp on my nightstand's flicked on, revealing the image of a desperate young man in a tight black T-shirt and skinny jeans screaming for release. He looks vaguely familiar, but most criminals do. His features fade to statistical data composed by female historians. Something strikes me from the blur. Strung around the portions of his arms composed of bi- and triceps are tattoos in bold, dark colors. He can't be more than twenty. He can't be dangerous. Yet.

I step into my quarters and offer him a seat on the bed. He denies the invitation without making eye contact. Those big, brown globes could suck the soul from a virgin, but perhaps he's met his match. He knows the risk that a true gaze takes.  Windows, the ignorant call them; "projectors" is more accurate. One can tell too much by what the eyeballs offer; more, most times, than what their reluctant owners choose to confess.

"Can I make you a drink?" I ask in an amiable tone. It seems a pointless gesture. This kid's got bigger issues than punishing his liver. Still, the willing host in me feels an obligation.

"Anything but Jack Daniel's," he mutters, a reminiscent smirk pasted to the lower half of his face. He looks like the cat who got away with raiding the cage, though this time he's been caught. A faint odor of industrial-grade cleaning solution used to disinfect the hallways of a state-funded college dormitory permeates my nostrils at the end of his request.

I comply and pour up two Bacardis. The ice cracks audibly due to the temperature difference. "My grandfather's favorite," he says after a swig. Another strange coincidence. They tend to come in threes.

Not willing to be unsettled on my own ball field, I down the tumbler and retort with a declarative. "Listen, kid, you seem pretty swell, but you can't go busting into people's apartments. How'd you get in, anyway? Was it the fire escape? I have those alarms on the windows, I'm surprised nobody in the building..."

But I'm cut off by a nod he makes in the direction of my spare room; the one where books and other dead men rest. An eerie myst rolls from under the whitewashed door. As much as I don't want to admit it I'm well aware of the scenario, the score, the truth being stranger than fiction, and this wayward man-child being no stranger. It all adds up to one of two things: I've finally lost my mind completely, or Einstein was right about more than what he's credited for by the reasonable world.

"I'm not here to harm you, though I'm not sure you'll exist if what I'm trying to accomplish comes to be," this suddenly assertive doppelganger states. "There's something I need to do back home, but that lousy warehouse job you've blocked from your memory ain't going to fund it anytime soon."

What's left of the ice cubes melts in our glasses. Whoever said honesty can only be a virtue clearly hasn't meddled with Time. My jaw relocates itself high enough to speak again. The words that come out are impromptu and instinctive at the same time. Part of me has always wished this could happen, even if the repercussions are drastic.

"I don't keep any money here. My card won't do much good, either. The rent was due this week."

I watch his fists tighten and hear his knuckles crack like those ice cubes. Escalation may occur after all. Everyone has his breaking point. Disappointment is a natural culprit. If junior's going to make it as far as I have he better get used to that old dog. He paces around my bedroom looking for something of value, but we're both aware it'll be to no avail. No one can lie to you quite like yourself. A twinge of pity rises up to my Adam's apple. It doesn't take any Oscar-worthy performance to act upon it. Compassion's in our blood.

"I may be able to help you. Here. Give her this," I command him, transferring my father's ring from my favorite bookshelf to his hand. "If she's worth her weight in salt she'll get it. You haven't received it from the old man yet, and who knows if you will now at all? I'm not so familiar with this type of physics."

He examines the circle of gold in his palm, doesn't ask what the inscription means. When there are less pressing issues at stake his inquisitive nature will lead him to the answer: our name in a language we can't read or speak; typical of our father, of course. Like one of the loose marbles inside my skull he rolls it around in his hand, sees it's flat on one side, feels responsible. "Thrown against a wall?" he asks, knowing how his temper can get. Half of my mouth curls heavenward. "It must've been a bad one," he whispers apologetically.

"They were varying shades of awful in her wake," I assure him, taking the liberty of altering the context of his remark. "Don't blow it. She's the One. Now get out of here before I feel less gracious."

Without a wasted second he heads for the door where his portal awaits. The fog begins receding as soon as he passes out of sight. It takes a mustered strength to refrain from running into it behind him. Those old sci-fi movies suggest it'd cause a fatal collision anyway. My feet stand firm to the crooked hardwood floor of my suddenly surreal bedroom. I reach for the pack of cigarettes in my pocket, light up inside my place for the first time, and wait to see if I suddenly cease to be. Part of me hopes he succeeds.

What makes a good winner is knowing when you've lost.

What makes good fiction is the truth.

I'm waiting.


A Blurb In the Obituaries, a Tab That He Can't Pay

It was middle-aged catharsis night
next door on my oak altar.
Arms like swinging hams
chased my cocktail up the straw.
I fled to my apartment
for an old and botched routine:
a few more gin and tonics
for what could've, should've been.

Left like toxic garnish
from three time zones away
was a message the next morning
that would break the donkey's back.
It was deleted from a distance.
It's a song that doesn't change.
Whoever lands in those hands
should increase their life insurance.

Tonight on my stroll home
from a married inspiration
with three beers swimming inside me
and alarm clocks on my mind
I saw something that stirred me
from my fear of spraying skunks.
The phone lines were intact
though the dent was undeniable.
I wondered if it was the pole
that made the barfly cry
when after shots of Irish whiskey
he told me of his wife
who had wrapped her car around it
twenty years ago at least.

I walked him home that night
since he spoke of sad solutions.
When I see him now I wonder
if he fears I'll pull the favor
but he doesn't know I've gained my share
in knowledge from his plight.
Some folks have worse reminders
than a voicemail in the morning.
(I swore I saw some hatchet marks
below the impact splinters.)

The Romans paid poor Judas
thirty pieces of pure silver
for his infamous betrayal
that wrapped around his neck.
My last kiss was different
as was the gift they gave me
though the curse of observation
keeps the pensive wide awake.

It's time to ride the calm
and forget there was a storm.