Survivor's Guilt

He killed himself
nine years ago
by cheating on his chance.
It was her birthday Wednesday.
There was no call.
She's married.

A ghost of a joke
or maybe that's backwards
still wanders her poster-lined bedroom.
"Go for the gold," she said
so he did.
Virginity's much overrated.

Sex never means
"I'll see you again,"
though the images play on for decades.

No one in France blamed Anne Boleyn
but her head rolled hard just the same.

Currently reading:
Poetry magazines in which I'll never be published.


Idaho Apology

That potato's still there
shriveling to nothing
on the top shelf of my fridge.
A friend brought it
over the summer
after I'd been temporarily blinded
by an unexpected welding flash at work.
It only lasts a few hours, but the
feeling of having sand in ones eyes
is unpleasant.
There's a chemical in spuds
that helps ease the discomfort
so when she asked what else
she could bring
aside from her matching underwear
I mentioned a trip to the produce aisle.

She arrived with two varieties
in case one worked better
sliced two slivers off
and placed them on my eyelids
like coins for the ferryman.
Although I couldn't see
we made the most of a lousy night.
There've been times I've wanted hash browns
or a baked to go with steak
but that window is long gone now.

It's only there to remind me
that somehow
some of them
care for this mess
whether or not he deserves it.
And the truth is
more often than not
I can't see the obvious
regardless of work-related injuries.

Maybe she wanted more.


A Lush's Advice To a Novice

Dave marches into the bar with a purpose. He's been lied to before, but never as beautifully as this. It's time to seek vengeance or at least an explanation. The perpetrator's present and probably drunk. It is, after all, almost noontime.

"Goddammit, Hank. I've heard your lisp on the tapes. I see through your blind braggadocio. You've drank more screwdrivers than you've turned. You've probably never even owned one."

One of the neons in the gin mill's window flickers. Neither burnout fazes Hank. He continues staring straight ahead at the mirror behind the bar shelves. A small crease forms at the visible corner of his mouth. This is assumed to be the makings of a smile, thus infuriating Dave even further.

"You think this is funny, old man? There comes a time in every recordist's life when he chooses the pen or the promise. I've had my fun at their expense, and the more..."

But Hank cuts in before he can finish.

"You've chosen neither, kid. You've got to have both in order to decide on one. Do you really think you've mastered your passion? How cute, how precious, how sickening."

Hank sips his Vodka Seven and turns to a man propped up in the darkest corner, his hand on a mojito sweating profusely onto the oak. "Hey, Ernie. Can you spot me lunch? Martin's got a a check in the mail this week."

Ernie raises his hand in agreeance. The barkeep shouts an order to the cook without asking Hank what he'd like to consume. Regulars have it that way. Barflies take it, like it or not.

By the second gin-and-tonic Dave is almost back to normal. His ears have lost their redness. They flush when he's been prodded. He pulls his stool alongside Hank's, who's now working on lunch. The plate of ribs before him is half-way gone.

"So what am I doing wrong?" Dave asks, his tone exuding humility.

"Do you want the list in alphabetical order?" Hank quips. He sucks barbecue sauce from his bony fingers and turns to face his progeny. "Writing's not for weak of heart. That much you've got, but there's more to it than that." He swivels a bit to address the inquisition.

"It's like this rib," he says, holding a morsel of pork in his hand. "The bone is the truth: hidden, but there. The details of how her hair smelled, the plot you've pulled from dead-end jobs, the characters you've met at whorehouses: they're the meat of the story. And see this?" Hank asks while pointing to the blubbery edge of the rib in his hand. "This is the fat. Trim it at all costs. That's what most hacks can't muster." Ignoring the knife set before him on his place mat, he reaches into his pocket for a pearl-handled switchblade. With a flick of his right wrist he slices away a strip of lard from the rib he's holding up with his left.

"But you've cut too deep," Dave points out, more confused than accusatory.

"Not unintentionally," Hank replies as he brings the culinary metaphor closer into view. "See that sliver of white poking through? That's what separates the good from the great."

He sucks the meat from the bone and turns back to his stoic self, his work and good deed for the day being done.

Dave kills his cocktail and tips the girl heavily. He's back at his desk before the sun sets; and like that old pal who bought lunch for Charles says: that bastard sometimes decides also to rise.


Filed Incisors

The Riesling was weak
but the pint of lager
pleased them;
pried lips enough apart
for two strangers
to meet eyes.

He reaches
to light her cigarette
between street lights
on the sidewalk.
"You're good at that,"
she tells him
naively appreciative.

He smiles, sparks his own
and tries not to let on
that there's been a bit of practice.
His skill comes at a cost.

It's not in his nature
to let the last word leave her lungs
but the proudest wolf plays dumb
if he ever wants to eat.


Coughing Up Coffee Grinds

Then three of us
got anchor tattoos
since it seemed
like a good idea
at the time.
Mostly we don't speak anymore.
I conveniently forget
it's there on the back of my arm.
No one's safe from hope's cruel joke.

We could have everything we've wanted
if the thought of that didn't terrify us.
Our lives are sung falsetto
the same way that they're lived.



The Devil in Headlines

A sinkhole in Florida
swallowed a man.
His bedroom was sucked
down the pit fifty feet.
They pulled his brother
away from the scene
unable to save his mortal remains.

"It wanted his soul,"
my mother said, spooked.
"A portal to Hell. They're out there
you know."

I think of the dozens of doors
that I've dreaded
and nod at her statement.
My hells are bulimic.


Crass Castrati

Cut off your face
to join your nose.
You're vexed by
such small room to talk.
A gentleman never tells
but those who claim so

I've fudged too many tax returns
to let some skirt get the best of me.
Truth be told, John Q, it's unclear
what that would be
though there's a club
who sometimes sleeps with me
precisely for my faults
and another sadder sector
that wishes that they could.

(I'd kind of like to put things
where you didn't know
you'd like them.)

Keep calm until the sheriff comes.
He always carries breath mints.


Cold Chinese Food at 2:00 AM

No one knows it but me:
There's a bear in Riverside Park.
He's the only one on the isle of Manhattan.
As a result he's lonely
and fills the void by eating from trash cans
even when he's not hungry.
Sushi is his favorite.

It's almost as sad
as women who buy themselves flowers.
And if I'd married that girl
like she thought I should've
and I think I should've
I wouldn't be wasting
our time
with this.

That bear.
He's not real, you know.
No one hibernates
for that long
and gets away with it.



How does one write about a life too magnificent for words? How does one honor a person who so selflessly changed a multitude of lives and lived to meet the fourth generation made possible through her existence? I knew for years the time would come when that precious task would be laid before me. Its gravity was intimidating, but its message is crucial. I brought pen and paper to the lake at Bear Mountain to try to capture some thoughts to share in the pastoral serenity of the setting sun mirrored by the water. As glorious as that environment was it pales in comparison to the place where I know my beloved grandmother, Maria Amengual, shall eternally reside. Please bear with me as I try to harness the comfort in this fact to make it through the rest of this as clearly and tearlessly as possible.

Many of us knew her as Tita, short for Chiquitita, the smallest of the small. Her family placed a ladder in front of their stove in their rural Puerto Rican home so this tiniest of their tribe could prepare and cook food for their household. The gift of a servant's heart was instilled in her from a young age. Most of us have had the pleasure of experiencing this quietly noble trait in the forms of her generosity, nurturing, and mouth-watering cuisine. Even those not fluent in Spanish felt what her secret ingredient was-- the universal language of Love. Don't be fooled by the sofrito, Adobo, or garlic-- it was her genuine sentiment that filled our grateful bellies for so many years at her table. She wasn't satisfied until she'd fed you. It was hard to avoid complying. And whether we knew it or not at the time, our spirits were just as sated as our bodies when we left.

After losing her faculties and moving in with my mother she was no longer allowed to operate any kitchen appliances. A gas stove and a forgetful woman are a dangerous combination. At first she'd be caught trying to boil water for coffee once in awhile, but eventually it set in that those days were done for her. I remember her offering me a cup at my mom's one time, then explaining that she would have to ask someone else to make it since it wasn't a good idea for her to operate equipment fueled by combustibles any longer. The grace of acceptance had set in. Even in her capacity as someone requiring constant care she filled her former role of caretaker. Adaptation-- another of this fine woman's many qualities.

It's no surprise that she excelled in that area. She came from a generation of those forced to cope with hardships that we can't comprehend today. Her husband died tragically in a car accident shortly after their young family's immigration to America. This was a devastating blow to a mother of two sons unfamiliar with her new home's native tongue. New York was a different place from the farm in Puerto Rico to which she'd been accustomed. Unbeknownst to her, the recurring sickness she was experiencing was a side effect of her pregnancy with her third child-- my mother-- who had been conceived earlier in the month prior to the loss of her miraculous father. It would've seemed a complication to most-- one more mouth to feed in an already impossible venture-- but that's not how she saw it. Some people are such survivors that they need an extra challenge to keep their wits about them. My grandmother was one of those individuals. Working in factories, selling food to blue collar men in the neighborhood, and running restaurants were a few of the ways in which she managed to make ends meet for herself and her three children. Government assistance was not in her vocabulary. Milking the system was not on her agenda. She worked hard to provide without Uncle Sam's handouts in this new land of hers. She was here to make a better life for herself and those she loved in the face of adversity, thereby embodying one facet of the American Dream, just as her husband and two brothers did their part as citizens by serving their country in World War II. We are a family of pride for a reason. Those who came before us have walked too tall for us to slouch, even those ancestors who didn't break five feet. Let's never forget that.

But this isn't a day of mourning, it's a celebration for a victory that's been won long ago. There are plenty of sunsets in ninety-two years. Our precious mother won't be here to see another, but the choices we make can honor one setting sun who set an example for all of us to follow. She was stronger than any man I've ever worked beside. Her sacrifices reverberate through the destinies of many in this room. Consider her the personification of unconditional love. The doctors are wrong-- her heart never failed.

Bendicion, Abuela Tita. Te amo siempre.

An Aberrator's Genuflexion

Speak not in victims' rhythms.
Hear not the liars' lure.
You are a son of Abraham;
no less, no Holy More.
To tell it on the mountain
wastes air where it's most thin.
Go sing it in the valleys
where the meek are soaked in gin.

All elbows need some skinning.
Don't waste time rubbing saints.
They're hard to find and hard to please
and paint life what it ain't.

A man knelt here, repenting
for a life's worth of remorse.
He rose rejuvenated
and rode out on the horse
that'd brushed him off a few times
on branches growing low.
Not all reduced to crawling
learn what seeds to sow
in the desert where arroyos
promise nothing of a stream
and beautiful mirages
have eyes and teeth that gleam.

It's not so bad, the Hell we make.
The danger's in the nest
of iniquities we foster
when we settle like the rest
for anything that's warm and wet
and listens when we weep.
Some searched the dust for forty years.
Thank God the wine here's cheap.

A Verse On Good Service

What roiling the blood does
when called up to churn.
No claim laid as a fighter
though still some lessons learned
like you lead in with an uppercut
and pour from underneath.
Nothing makes good neighbors
like fences and loose teeth.

If your might swings to one side
and inertia goes unchecked
then use those rigid forearms
to shelter and deflect
since you know the counter coming
will be a rookie's right
dig in with the left arm.
This chance won't come up twice.

From there you're on your own, kid.
A bar fight's not like chess.
Predictions there are limited.
It soon becomes a guess.
The trick is to keep swinging.
No mercy for the weak.
If the sloppy fool deserves it
then you won't let him retreat.

Hesitance is poison.
Your liver's overworked.
The novelty of winning
is a minor perk.
It's more about the mirror
and what is has to show
in the morning after battle.
How trophy bruises glow.


Moron Lobbed

"Take it off the pedestal,"
they said.
"Love the one you're with,"
they said:

All such sage advice
from those who've never needed it.

Ear plugs silence snoring moms
and county lines aren't thick.

I want to have a son someday.
I'd like to name him Jack.


Nicotine Stains

A stranger in his forties stops me
on the street for a light.
I pause to pass my Bic
and he shoves a pack of Reds
in my hand after sparking his smoke.
"Take them," he says
like he's known me for years.
"I'm hanging out with my girlfriend soon
and can't be caught with them on me."

"Been there," I confess, shoving the
Cowboy Killers into the breast pocket
of my denim work shirt.
I thank him and proceed to the entrance
of my apartment building
slightly more satisfied
with the state of the human race
even though they're not my flavor.

Anyone want a pack of Marlboros?