Flight Risks, Other Than Crashing

I've been seeing eagles
while working on the river.
I suppose that may sound funny.
Most rivers work on me.

There's a lion's share
of tiger's blood
within the disco inferno.
Valor trumps discretion.
The drawing board's redundant.

Mother was right:
No wonder they run.
Sir, may I offer suggestions?

Leave this town.
Never look back.
There's a pregnancy test
in the trash can.


You Deserve the Love You Don't Expect

Studies have shown
that the bayonet
has always been
a useless tool
in battle
as human beings
have a hard time
with the physical act
of stabbing
and will use the blunt end
of a rifle butt
to bludgeon an adversary
before prodding his torso
with a muzzle-fixed blade.


Vanity Plates

A blizzard.
A truck.
A mem'ry of two drivers
crazy enough to venture
where their parents warned
of wrecks.

Unhanded wheels and trust
too easy to pretend.

A road trip.
A border.
A photo turned to painting
but never quite completed
before the altered lease.

That immortal laugh
too evil to appease.

He still drives in shitty weather
when it's worth it, only slower.
She can thank his guilty conscience
for the breaths she takes with ease.
There are some mistakes you learn from--
Rattled cages sworn for sabers.
That dreadful thing that drives you--
Never pry it from your sleeve.

Currently reading:
"Journal of a Novel: The 'East of Eden' Letters" by John Steinbeck.


Necessary Nativity Evils

It's a rare thing for Marty Guilfoyle to catch a break so close to Christmas. Usually it's unpaid bills, expensive gifts on installment, a whispered suicide too far removed to matter. When his foreman rings the bell hours ahead of schedule on Christmas Eve without saying a word, the men on the production floor don't ask questions. Factory work is hard-- harder with a boss who only speaks to kick your shins-- so every little drop of humanizing grace is savored. The day shift punches out in a huddle with talk of pungent eggnog, women too weary from chasing excited children to put up a fight, and sanctified gifts of matrimony that only come on special occasions after the honeymoon's faded. Most of them are lying. They'll sleep as unsatisfied as ever. A wise man once warned Marty not to marry for love, but for friendship. Love will recede with beauty over time. A companion of the truest form will be there when you wake without teeth in the morning someday. That same sage went mad years later. They said it was work-related, but Marty knew better. There are thousands of ways a man can make money, but far fewer means of rationalizing the race. Something told Marty the catalyst had a name and a face, a way of pinching the outside corners of her eyes when she smiled. He thinks of what she might smell like in the morning as he lets his coworkers clock out ahead of him to embark on their hopeful homeward dash.

Marty's trek is not a long one. When he and Ethel picked a place to call their own he made it a point to keep it close to the living, breathing building where he slaves for minimum wage and partial benefits. Even on his days off he can hear the whistle that punctuates the beginning and end of lunch break. Ethel has always criticized him for his inability to expand his horizons. This year he's hoping to make up for his simplicity with the boxed and wrapped necklace he's clutching in the pocket of his heavy overcoat with threadbare elbows. After last year's mistaken gift of a kitchen appliance he swore he'd never fall short in the present department again. Ethel never once made waffles, before or after that doomed twenty-fifth.

A headline jumps out at him from the remnants of a tattered newspaper decomposing in the gutter. The Communists are taking over in a land too far east for him to fathom. Marty could never comprehend how a foreigner's chosen system of government could affect his daily living or justify sudden absences in positions once held by young men at his factory. That was another point of contention for Ethel-- a prime example of his naivete that kept her crawling up the walls. The concept of a Cold War escaped Marty's narrow thinking. If anything, he sometimes joked to himself, the term should be used to describe love after forty.

When he climbs the steps to his apartment a chill comes over his shoulders like a cold breath from above. Something doesn't feel right. The hallway seems too quiet. There are no squeals of merry children sneaking under loosely fitting doors. Without noticing it he clings harder to the small package in his pocket that cost him three-weeks' pay. Ethel's taste is specific. He hopes he's gotten it pinned this time. A strange unfamiliarity descends as he reaches for the lock with his battered brass key. The knob turns, but the door is caught by the chain. Ethel never uses that added means of safety and laughs at Marty's paranoia when he secures it before bed. No lights or sounds come from the gap revealing his slice of rehearsed Heaven. Marty looks down and sees a pair of boots he doesn't recognize on the uneven hardwood floor. Instantly he knows; he knows and doesn't want to.

"Just as well," he whispers to the peeling paint of Apartment 4B's entrance. With a loveless toss the perfectly wrapped jewelry box lands in the Stranger's left boot, a penance paid for having come home too early for the motions to continue. There's an opportunity for overtime on the aptly named Bachelor's Shift that appeals to the place where Marty's heartache should reside. A man, if given the chance, will gracefully go gray. He hurries down the stairwell hoping not to hear the whistle that designates beginnings of the shift and his new life. Saint Nick and the Communists aren't the only coming red-clad men.


Reading, Writhing, Rhythm Tic

Not that it alters
the story for most
but I was jewelry shopping
when I saw him
this time.
Unlike the last
I reintroduced myself
eighteen years after
his heart taught my mind.

"Last name?" he asked
to filter out thousands
of others he helped
through the system for years.
A warm recognition
came when it hit him.
He shook with his left--
his right on a cane--
proof that we've both
had our battles since then.

There wasn't the shame
there had been before.
Success is not something
one mounts to a wall.
And still, like in grade school
the pages hold answers.
He nurtured a searcher
who's still on the trail.

Contingency Plan

From my 10:03 window
on Christmas Eve morning
a bouncing squirrel stops
to drink from the edge
of a frozen puddle
formed on the rubber
of the roof next-door
by the faulty pitch
of a day-laborer
who cared not
if the rain
made it to the gutter.

By the time I return
from typing this
it's gone in search
of the next small break
waiting in a frozen world.
I crack my last three eggs
over a warming pan
grateful that none of my parents
kept a room for me
when I fell from the nest.

It took two weeks
to remember the name
of the last girl I dated
after she split.
They may all be flight risks.
I'll go unchanged.
Unshadowed convictions
won't douse my flame.
There's a reckoning with irony
that I'll live to see.


Two Is One and One Is None

She's been sick
for the last two days
with the hacking
fevered congestion
that only falls
upon the undeserving.
After working
with her husband
I swing by the diner
that makes her favorite
matzoh ball soup
and drop it off
at her condo;
two orders
in case she wants to share
or savor it.

Her first of three husbands
was Jewish and this kosher spin
on comfort food
is all she can stomach
when ill
to this day.

"How'd you know
I wanted that?"
she asks from
the top of the stairs
pretending that her son
doesn't know his creator.

One day I'll find my secret comfort
maybe someone to discover it
and when I give them both up
I'll know what it is to love.


The Sirens of Pompeii

Was it karma
catching fire?,
or a show
of beating flesh?

A white cat
on its tenth life
darts from the alley
while I smoke
Maybe this is what
good luck looks like--
a drawer full of anagrams
what have you.

And I will help you hang
your pictures
since you've helped me
rip some down.
Only Christ could dangle
The rest all longed for blood.


We've Got a Live One Here

If you can dish it
bet that I can take it.
I've done my time
and know that mine
has always served a purpose.

The way you lay them on me
when the urge writhes in your flanks
regardless of the sidewalk
has me giving thanks
for the many men who made me
and the women who were wrong
about a twisted minstrel
with a complicated song

and even to the evenings
that start and end like this.
I hear the party on the street.
It's nothing that I miss.

If you can stand it
I'd like to lick your soul.
"Wolf!" cried boy
and every toy
he ever had was worthless.


Oxford Comma

It's a rare real conversation
with a man I love
who made himself scarce
for years.
The wife's gone to work.
The kid's asleep under my arm.
The steak dinner and stars have aligned
to allow two kindred ships
to pass closer in their darkness.

He lets me lead for a change, smiles
knowingly when my hits score points.
I can tell he's surprised to hear sage words
come from the lips he passed down, a soul
he helped form whether or not it was intended.
"Like your father used to say, 'There's a little larceny
in everyone's heart'," I jab with a ringer.
His eyes gleam at the familiar advice
heard from a freshman he told ten years ago.
He shouldn't be so shocked that I've cited
a kinsman who died before I was born.
A writer, if nothing else, is a keen observer.

The years have been kind to him, at least
on the outside. Time has smoothed his face
like driftwood. There are no deep ridges
like windtorn valleys digging through
his aging countenance. And still the eyes--
always the eyes, the deep brown orbs
that reach as far inside of him as mine do in me.
A yellow glow warms the living room
where part of me grew up
as I cherish every word exchanged
not knowing when the last will come.
One never does.
He must read my mind.
The eyes again.

"God forbid anything should happen to me..."
he begins, his hands rubbing themselves
as if to feel for some latent illness
waiting to rear its head.
I nod and stroke my brother's arm
loose with the peace of dreamscapes.
Life's not worth the burden
until it's lived for someone else.
Torpedoes be damned, I have that now.

We wander back to the baffling
doled out by the fairer sex.
Years' worth of failed coronary experiments
are summed up in a matter of minutes.
One of them even gets a name.
I owe him that much, one character
in my tale. Some things, however
I keep for myself.
Only I know of the clandestinely acquired
ring sizes, the accidental misgivings, and
what they all mean to the penitent.

There's only one left to chamber
so I fire it
confident that my bullet will pierce.
"It's hard for a drowning man
to grab a buoy slowly."

My father picks my brother up
and carries him to his bedroom.


Save the Date

It's nailed to my refrigerator--
a constant thin reminder
of the chances that exist
regardless of the sand.

There's a formal one to follow
this embrace in black and white
with its swooping cursive letters
that sing of my friend's fate.

Ten months stand between us--
ample time for suits and gifts
perhaps a Plus-One venture
if the pendulum swings true

though that's not what it's about.
Selfless joy lays like a rug
in most people who've forgotten
what the Good Book vows on love.

From the Latin

The only one that matters
if the Editor should ask
is the group of honest stanzas
that had to be released
despite the burning redness
which the doctors couldn't cure
in these eyes that soak too much
of what's right and wrong and real.

There should always be a price
that is paid for making waves.
If the penman's heart's not in it
there's no blood left on the page.
When the feet-thick, dusty manuscript
is laid at Peter's toes
there won't be time for repentance
since offending parties know.

It's not so much the weather
that has him wearing sweaters.
If the Editor should ask
it was in the name of science.