Ode From a Morbid Whore

Jesus Christ
that little jump they do
when squeezing jeans on...
I'd give my
I lost it in my ankles.
To think
not once
but thousands
of bygone better times
I've witnessed such communion
and lived to humbly miss it.
These catatonic rods and cones
may never see again
so hold the line
and keep the faith
for sins of omission
prove equally mortal.

All points east are out of bounds
for a noose-burnt harrier on the prowl
though it's just as well
he has his limits
that his tether snapped.
The denizens of sea-faring towns
and those who build the world
are skilled in the realm of tying knots.
But me?
I've lashed my hands.

In the words of a better man:
"There'll be water if God wills it."

This is the strangest lick of love
the likes of me will pen
as all fingers are left out
along with senseless questions.
Sometimes, though rarely
the best man wins
but when a loser gets lucky
he'll only break toes
for kicking the curb
when out it runs
like the ink
like the blood
like the time in our lives.


The Soiled Misadventures of Johnny Rap-Sheet and the Skid-Mark Kid

Cruising passed a Red Lobster
I think of my conception:
a waitress, a lecher, some gin--
It doesn't take much.
"They broke the mold, alright,"
says the Happy Accident never.

How Spartan of him.
He's smitten with a franchise.

I could get used to this
firm water pressure
if only her eyes could
pierce like the weather

but for now it's back to the rules:
-No sex in the champagne room.
-No guns on the coffee table.
-Please turn down the music
while this party is bleached.

They've exhumed corpses
and found claw marks
in the caskets.
How much more real
do you expect it to be?

Currently reading:
"East of Eden" by John Steinbeck.


Bombardier's Eyes

The scene's two pickled cowboys
at ungodly three a.m.
thumbing through the pages
looking for the lines
while trying to succeed
in the remnants of a city
where public transportation
still has the right of way.

"Pass the pen, I found it!"
my conspirator exclaims
prior to reciting
a bit on shameless death.
It feels so right
to share our prayers
regardless of our state
since a jester lacking audience
is more or less a fool.

To love is to surrender
and reality's perception
so even if they take this night
I've had it, I don't mind.
It all flows back
to the same old bit--
they don't want
what we can't give.
We whip them off their pedestals
and strap our six-guns tight.

I'm often not at liberty
to share my true adventures
but this one made it all worth
coming home to face my sheets.
There's nothing like a friend
from smoother trails who's seen your
stumble and still reserves a spot
on your couch when back in town.


Road Soda

I can drink you under tables
and remember the whole evening.
I can perch a house of cards
on the backs of sleeping demons.
I can build you up
and tear you down
all with the same tongue.
I can paint a pretty picture
with an ugly set of crayons.

I can tell what that long thumbnail's for
and it isn't turning pages.
I can thread your little needle
and sew what needs my string.
I can start off on the bottom
and still come out on top.
I can throw a fool's Hail Mary
on a whim to win the game.

But there's something
in my eyes
that warns them
all's not right
as I slice my way
into imperfect wombs
and wait for morning.
The better sex is with
the girls with poorly placed tattoos
but they tend to count my scars
while I'm still adding blessings.

Currently reading:
"The Dangerous Summer" by Ernest Hemingway.


Pavo Flaco

"Maybe your cousin will offer you a turkey carcass the day after Thanksgiving," my mother quips. It's a reference to an old inside joke. My grandmother pretended to be thankful for the sad remains of a turkey delivered so rudely by one of her many granddaughters years back. "You could make a soup out of it," was the accompanying phrase, though being invited to the feast in the first place would've been preferred. Good old grandma smiled thankfully and waited until her company left to throw the skin and bones into the trash can. It was an instance the three of us would laugh about whenever poultry came up back when there were still three of us.

"One can only hope..." I type from the safety of my cell's keypad in response. It dawns on me that this will be our first holiday without her. It must be breaking my mom's heart, too. Neither of us mention it, but we know. A mother and her only son always know without saying.

I stop what I'm doing at the time, which doesn't amount to much, to think of what I'm thankful for this year: a new brother, an old father, and the beautiful life and gracious death of the woman who taught me the most about love. Suddenly it's not so bad; lonely still, but not so bad. There are people who will need me around a bit longer. There are promises I've made to photographs on shelves.

I go back to painting the mask I'll wear tomorrow when meeting my father's in-laws and hope for, among other things, the paint to dry in time.

Currently reading:
"The Selected Poems of Robert Creeley".


Water Cooler Talk From a Far Away Place

"Hey. Did you hear about Chuck from the mail room?" asked Dante as he stirred sugar into his coffee, his hand as dark as the cup's contents.

"No, what happened now?" Lamar replied, tightening the knot in his tie with the help of the mirror mounted over the kitchenette sink.

"He chased his girlfriend through their trailer park with a butcher knife and was arrested." Dante drew a sip of his brew, inserting a perfectly timed pause for dramatic effect, then continued. "The company let him go this morning when the newspaper hit certain desks." His voice was that of disappointment thinly veiled by false pity.

"That's the second honky we've fired this month 'cause of this type of shit," Lamar whispered scandalously.

"Oh, don't sound so disappointed," Dante accused in his booming baritone. "These people are their own worst enemies. White-on-white crime is higher than it's ever been. My wife wants to sell the house because of the recent influx of crackers."

Both black gentlemen looked around the break room to establish that it was safe to continue speaking freely. Such language wasn't encouraged by corporate. When the walls were real instead of cubicles the truth often came out. There had to be a time to vent. Being an equal opportunity employer was one thing, but to condone such a lifestyle for the sake of contrived fairness seemed insane. What company could afford such folly?

"Be easy, brother. Don't go throwing your bigotry around here. I have a lot of white friends."

"And by that you mean you want to pound out Charlene, that dainty little butter bean that winks at you while she pushes her broom down the hallway. If her body was any straighter they'd have Hank in maintenance run the flag up it every morning instead of the pole out front. Jesus, Lamar. I'm no racist, but statistics don't lie. And don't you remember how close they came to costing us that labor contract with the Christmas party fiasco?"

Lamar tried unsuccessfully to hide a smile before answering.

"It's not their fault they can't dance, Dante. Not everyone is born with rhythm. The playing field's not level."

"Listen to you, man. You sound like a bleeding-heart liberal or something. They shouldn't have taken such full advantage of the open bar if they knew it would get ugly. Those people can't resist their Pabst Blue Ribbon, though. They almost ruined it for all of us. Thankfully Jamal understands that they can't help themselves-- a little too much, if you ask me. The only reason he promoted Scott was because..."

"Now you stop right there," Lamar interjected. "Scott and I went to high school together. He was always one of the good ones. In gym class he didn't even bother trying to shoot the ball, he'd pass it right to one of us who could sink a basket. That's being a team player, and it's a trait that's carried on into his career. Scott deserved that raise whether you like it or not."

Lamar flicked his wrist toward the floor in a tic that only showed itself when he needed to make a point. The heavy links of his gold watch jumped and landed again, their settling sound punctuating his statement.

"Try telling that to my kids when they're ready for college. Lord knows I can't afford to send all of them to private schools. At least one may have to go to a state university, unless they get scholarships. Do you know how hard it is for black kids to get scholarships in this day and age? It seems if a white boy can spell his name right some government agency wants to throw our hard-earned tax dollars his way to send him off for a degree he'll never use. Two semesters go by and he's right back on the streets selling meth anyway, only now with a little more chemistry experience for his crank-cooking activities courtesy of hard-working Niggas like you and me. Doesn't it turn ya' muhfuckin' stomach?"

A new presence was felt in the room, but Dante was not to be slowed.

"And the way they can't pry themselves from their damn televisions Sunday night, and then be talkin' 'bout that shit all Monday. Or if they lazy asses finally figure out how to cook sumpin' decent and feel the need to take pictures of it to show all they friends. Or how 'bout when..."

"Excuse me, Mr. Jackson, but I find this conversation quite..."

"Goddammit, Leroy! You get yo' ashy ass up outta here before I beat you upside the haid with that 'Uncle Tom of the Year' trophy the comp'ny gave you."

Lamar shrugged his shoulders at quiet old Leroy Jefferson and turned back to an enraged Dante, who would now be visibly red had there not been so much melanin in his skin. It was all a necessary evil. A man could only take so much before feeling like he was being used by a system that abandoned him decades ago. The country was going down the tubes, partially due to the recent trend of giving hand-outs to people who didn't want to work, some of them being white. It was enough to anger any God-fearing, self-respecting, taxpaying citizen like Dante Jackson. Lamar could sympathize. It was, as Dante often said, enough to drive a Nigga crazy.

An Easy, Late-Night Let-Down

...and she was nowhere near
my ideal woman, the one
who'll someday crack me open
for the final time like an egg
hitting a tile floor, but seemed
to be a real sweet gal for someone else.

"You have perfect teeth," I replied.
"I could never date someone
with perfect teeth."

Thankfully for both of us
I never heard back.



I was basking in that precious brand
of warm, mid-Autumn sunshine
with the afternoon's first cigarette
dangling from my lips
as a man, perhaps a vagrant
careened westward down the sidewalk.

He reached into the garbage can
spewing on the corner
and removed a brown beer bottle
that a merrymaker left.
At first I thought the refund
was the gent's intended bounty
until he tipped the bottom up
to suck a stranger's swill.
When the last drop hit his tongue
like the gods' most sacred nectar
he jettisoned the longneck
moving on about his day.
I thought I did the same
until it dawned on me this evening
that he must be out there somewhere
grabbing joy by its thin throat.

I've seen cowardice so blatant
that I've looked for hairless tails
and I've walked by dusty mirrors
and lakes on windless days
but the bravest man I've seen this week
was chasing down a thirst
that no white boy prone to staring
could make him fail to savor.

Cloak and Dagger Tulips Too Soon

"Turn yourself in, Dale," Melanie begged. "You've got too much to lose this time."

She mostly meant herself, and Dale agreed with that assessment, though he couldn't let on that any of it was true. The moment you gave them the satisfaction of having wings you were done. It was an unspoken truth that she'd swooped down and plucked him out of his self-imposed gutter. It would be that much harder to crawl back into it while pretending to stand the stench. Dale didn't fear the law as much as he did what the ramifications could imply for his fate with Melanie. He couldn't believe he'd put that at risk. Even after all the changes he made to prevent himself from losing this chance, the cut ties and deleted numbers, there was still one fact staring him in the face: Dale had a streak of sorts exacerbated by the bottle. It wasn't necessarily a mean one, hence his omission of the word; but it was there. Too much reading of cowboy novels, too many calibers collected like the paper proverb contents of fortune cookies, too long on the trail that almost brought him to that final clearing. Dale had given up on blaming genetics. His father could barely be held responsible for his own actions, let alone those of his wayward progeny. If there was one thing Dale was good at it was simply being Dale. He hoped that would be enough for Melanie. He hoped for a lot of things, but rarely spoke of them sober for fear that mentioning his dreams would scare them away like precious feathers floating on the water in which he'd been treading for years.

"I can't, sweetheart. Not yet."

The pained look of disappointment on her face at the sound of his refusal cut his soul to its stubborn bone. How could he say no to the one woman graceful enough to love the likes of him so completely? It made him want to bury himself in that foul trench from which he'd been rescued. Men of his staggering gait deserved every bit of karmic justice which came their way. Dale felt sick at the thought of what that meant for his hand. It'd been Aces and Eights for far too long. A few pair of Queens came and went along the shuffle, a Suicide King adding blood to the mix. It was his turn to call and watch that black-hooded villain read 'em and weep. Sore knuckles and a barely blackened eye were saying otherwise, however. "Don't think I've come out of this unscathed," one of those Queens had slung at him during a textbook farewell speech. He supposed the same held true for brawling. Winners and losers-- they all walked away with a trifling bit of a limp.

Her eyes never met his, but he felt just as guilty. "It's about time I wash this blood off of me," he said, changing the subject to one equally scandalous. Most of it was not his, not that he mentioned that to Molly. Saying so would have made him sound barbaric, a gloating sadist glad to have inflicted pain. That was not the case. It was merely a fact. He had delivered more blows, and to the face. Not unscathed, though not as worse for the wear as his dance partner.

Dale excused himself to the bathroom. He wiped gingerly, his reddened knuckles resisting certain angles, then took a plunger to the ever-clogging toilet after relieving himself. He'd miss the faulty plumbing if the plan didn't pan out so graciously. Through the hollow bathroom wall he heard his neighbor playing an electric guitar. Something soothing, clean, arpeggiated. He'd miss that, too. Everyone should share at least one wall with a musician, Dale thought as he loosened the shower handles. Warm water came down from the head in giant beads that seemed to find more sore spots than he realized existed. He winced as he scrubbed and he rinsed. Not enough dirt swirled down the drain.

A combination of the warm stinging sensation and the rhythm of the water had him hypnotized as he stared at his toes in the controlled deluge. That's when the lights cut out. They've killed the power, Dale thought, one too many Hollywood shoot-'em-ups swimming through his aching skull. But no SWAT teams burst through any doors or windows to slam him with an arrest warrant after pinning him to the tile floor, naked and ashamed. Instead a thin hand reached through the darkness and drew back the vinyl curtain enough for a lithe female figure to slide in next to the fugitive.

"Room for one more?" Melanie asked as she  wrapped her arms around Dale's torso.

"Always," he said, a grateful desperation in his tone. The legal consultation could wait until Monday. There were larger things at stake than securing a retainer. If and when the time came they'd face the firing squad together; not Dale and his advertised attorney.

There, in the silent assurance promised by an unseen tenderness, the lucky couple made love without the need for intercourse.


No One Can Love a Broken Record

For the first time in my life
"Angie" by the Stones
comes on without me dumping
money in the juke.
After realizing Mick's point
I delete her number--
long overdue, with the rice
in her shoes.

When the barkeep
makes eye contact
I halfway raise my left
while downing the Club
with my right. He's pouring
out more whiskey
as the final chorus ends
with a promise and a pleading piano.

As the ice cubes hit my teeth
I make amends with
a twenty-year-old
who got too cocky
without having the knack.
The cocktail slides my way
as I try to tell the difference
between late Winter
and early Spring.

It's tough when you can't
trust the women
who've let you inside them
and worse when you can't
trust yourself
but we don't have those problems
here, this man serving the drinks and I.
(The waitress called him Mike, poor slob.)
We've trued up ancient sums
and I'm about to pay him, too.

It will be a short drive home.
I tip thirty percent
and feel I got off easy
though honestly, when do I not?

Currently reading:
"The Wind Through the Keyhole" by Stephen King.


Never Tell Me the Odds

It's late and I'm sober
when there's no excuse to be.

I can hear the bricks
of my bedroom walls breathing--
The sound of karma snoring
deep beneath the waves.
"Keep your heart small,"
the rhythmic pulse entreats
though I know nothing
of such travesties
and might yet die
an honest man
if I can stay the course--
Here, for lease, with option to buy
and a lifetime supply of adjectives.


A Marksman On Retainer

The thought of turning cheeks
was more daunting at the time.
Details make the lie
and liars make their deals.
Say what you will
but the kid can take a punch--
A soiled name in circles
and without a bridge to cross.

Starting over's hard
when your fists still write the script.
"A man walks in a bar..."
and proceeds to plead the Fifth.
There behind the oak
is a woman pulling strings.
There's a rhapsody in progress
that'll pass you if you blink.


Behold the Bride Iscariot With Emeralds In Her Eyes

"You don't have to go through with it, Linda," her sister-in-law said sweetly without knowing her breath was wasted. "The family considers you a member. That'll never change." Gail's eyes weren't visible through the telephone wires, but Linda could see them looking up and to the left. She couldn't blame anyone for feeling as they did. The heart wants what the heart wants. Linda had been through enough transformations to know that like math.

"Thanks, Gail," Linda answered, still cringing from the bit about being "considered a member". They made it sound like their kinship was some sort of elitist country club to which she'd been, and would be, an honorable guest regardless of her low-caste bloodline. It was a favor she didn't want from anyone, least of all these stunned Anglo-Saxons scurrying for cover. She slid the pile of forms closer to her and began filling out boxes and blanks, careful not to use any lower-case letters in case Uncle Sam raised his eyebrows. "But I think it's what Paul would've wanted-- for me to be free, to move on and rebuild, without having to think of him every time I sign my name."

A silence fell over both rooms simultaneously despite the dozens of miles between them. Mention of the deceased had brought it back to brass tacks. He'd barely been in the ground for a month, but then again they'd only been married for two anniversaries. Time would always be relative, whether or not these strange people would consider themselves the same. A mass of confusion had muddled the circumstances surrounding his death. A suicide, and with no note; it seemed uncharacteristic of their beloved Paul to react so intensely, and to what? The lack of explanation was unlike him. Paul was more verbose than those around him could tolerate at times. He was the one whose drinks were watered down first at family parties for fear that they'd never end otherwise. Once his lips got rolling it was hard for them to stop. Aside from his verbiage, his passion raised questions. Theirs was a love he'd always been seeking. To give it up so brashly after finally finding solace in the storm made no sense. Passionate, rational, and long-winded:  their son's demise failed to fit with any of these traits for which they'd known him. The abundance of alcohol in his system at the time of autopsy deemed an investigation unwarranted, however. Local police wrote it off as another maudlin drunk's permanent solution to a temporary problem. There was little that loved ones could do to refute this. Statistics, like bedsheets, don't lie.

"Well, as you wish. Let me know if you need anything. Being back there again must be so difficult for--" but Gail fell to sobbing before she could finish. A love nest turned crime scene was what the home had become. Linda had refused to enter it until now even though the last strand of yellow police ribbon had been plucked from the premises weeks ago. Suicide was a crime, but not one that could be tried. Paul would have his Maker as his soul's sole judge. And Linda would have the pieces to collect, though not necessarily by herself.

"I will. I promise. Give your family my love. I really must be going, though," and with sparse goodbyes and verbal curtsies the two women ended what would be their last conversation.

Linda had almost completed her Change of Name paperwork when the telephone rang again. The afternoon had waned to evening without her noticing the change. At first her hand hesitated for fear that it was another ex-in-law, but something in her gut swore otherwise.

"Hello?" she asked from behind a timid veil.

"Are you almost done over there?" came a curt, masculine voice, gruff and sore and soaked with whiskey.

"Yes. I'll be heading out shortly," she sighed, a slight alteration in her tone. "Shall I bring anything special?" Linda knew well what he'd be desiring immediately, particularly after the alcohol, but her pawn in brute's clothing understood that saying so would only cast it farther out of reach. The fairer sex knows how to sell it.

"No, darling. Just you," he said with a schoolboy's sincerity.

"Good. I'll see you soon."

After signing away her brief former self to the sanctioned powers that be, Linda walked around the house turning out the lights. She wouldn't miss that place or the future it could've held for her. The money was now hers, and time. What else could've mattered? She thought nothing of it as she pulled the lamp chain above Paul's desk and left the answers in the dark to be discarded by the real estate agent prior to the showing. There, in the wastepaper basket tucked under the antique roll-top, was a crumpled ball of receipts she'd failed to hide well enough from her groom, as well as the charred remains of a letter scrawled in nervous strokes that ended with "Goodbye".

"How could you?" was her favorite line, a rare succinct sentence from her former lover.

She had a lifetime to reply.


Wayward Waterfall Companions

"Someone call the sawbones!"
and then the Inquisition.
The promise ring has tarnished.
The junkie shoots up Hope.

A mammal cried for Mercy
when the catheter was yanked.
A peasant's face, a Russian's
by candlelight sans icon--
In lieu of further sexcapades
go tell yourself you're owed.

I've ridden this horse
into battle before
and notched my pistols' grips.
Most times the shortest chapter
is the best one in the book.


On Playing the Minefield

the Duke
tried in vain
to tell us
with film:

all for you
it's all

("I remember
what's behind
those trusting eyes,"
she said
capping our convo
on Change.)

Judas here
the hottest
he ever held

and envies
his lesbian neighbors.