The Stubbornness of Sprinters

He's burning to tell me
but his words can't leave fast enough.
It's something I share
with my three-year-old kinsman.
"I got hurt, Michael.
I was running and fell."
Even through the miles
I can hear his fettered thinking
and wince at lines of anguish
forming on his brow.
"I scraped my knee and my chin."
He's rubbing at least one of them.

Our father reclaims the telephone
to clarify the message.
"The girls track team was running laps
around the lake where we were fishing.
He took off after them with his little legs
and somehow got to the head of the pack.
It was amazing," the proud parent beams audibly.

But Newton and Murphy caught up with the kid.
His triumph was short-lived.
Those ladies were going for distance; not speed.
They're smarter than that.
It's science.

He'll learn this again when the stakes matter more.
He'll find his own limits; be his own man.
Even big brothers can't cushion those blows

though damned I shall be if I don't try regardless.

Currently reading:
"The Bear Went Over the Mountain" by Lester Grau.


Blackguard Buzz Aldrin

For all I know
the world ain't shaped the way they draw it.
The continents could be nothing
like the maps would have us think.

I've never been to space
to look down at the shorelines.
Orbit's not for laymen.
Even Jersey scares me.

If a liar held the lens
then we'd never know the difference;
billions of people
duped by floating monkeys.

The moonwalk was a hoax.
Hollywood was hired
for the biggest Cold War fraud
and a false idea of home.


Junkies and the Settin' Sun

I'd like to talk to you about addiction.

Scratch that.

I'd like to talk to you about "Greg".
We'll call him "Greg" since that's his name.
Greg is a twenty-five-year-old boilermaker.

Scratch that as well.

Greg is a sad demographic.
Greg is a statistic.
Greg is a heroin addict.
Notice there's no "recovering".
Not even a hopeful heroine could change that.

My mother falls into that category sometimes;
the Good Samaritan, I mean.
She's a social worker at a Rehab Center in Newburgh.
Greg was a patient there.
He had soupy brown eyes and rough hands.
(They still are.)
His mouth sometimes outwitted his heart.
(It still does.)
He meant well, but got in his own way.
(The story doesn't change, regardless of the name.)
Greg reminded my mother of me.
(I'm not sure how to feel about that.)

The union might have sent him on vacation.
Maybe he went by his own volition.
It doesn't matter.
Greg is a heroin addict.
That's all you need to know.

My mother saw that he wanted help.
He played by the rules.
Went to the meetings.
Slept under the required roof.
Completed some trivial Steps.
Greg even managed to graduate.
I think that's what they call it.
But Recovery is a continuing Step.
Greg didn't stick with that one.

They shipped him to a half-way house in the ghetto.
My mother bought him a bike, fixed it up.
Greg couldn't drive anymore.
The needle sews things closed.

She asked me to make some phone calls.
I did.
She's my mother.
I'd do far more than that if she asked.
Greg sounded nice enough.
Said he could weld.
Wanted to work.
Didn't have tools, but was eager.
Ready, willing, and able.
I made some more phone calls.
Greg said he'd go on the interview.
I told him to drop my name.
I didn't care.
It was for my mother.
Greg could do as he pleased with my reputation.
Lord knows I have.
It was his life.
Well, it used to be.
Greg is a heroin addict.
That contractor never heard from him.

The summer bled out on the sizzling asphalt.
Another graduate ran into Greg on a side street.
He looked like a broomstick wearing clothes.
His eyes had receded into his skull.
The soup was gone.
The hands were still rough, but shaking.
His legs were weary from walking around town.
Greg had sold the bike within a week.
Greg is a...
You get the idea.

My mother's voice was strained when she told me.
She's sick of seeing the Cycle repeat.
It was hard to hear what she had to say.
Greg had been picked up by the cops again.
He was with some unsavory characters, selling.
There was a hefty load of dope.
The bail had been set at twenty-five grand.
That's no petty possession.
Greg won't be making boilers for awhile.

But the other side of the story is what hits me:
If my mother had the money, Greg would still be hunting.
And I haven't deleted his number.


The Single Life, Deglorified

It's not that he's bothered
by her body broken by childbirth
but that he didn't get
to stretch that skin.

In all relations
where "I'll give you X
if you give me Y,"
X and/or Y are always
currency, love
or their conglomerate:

On any given Thursday
you could dig through his wallet
and find the contents
of at least three fortune cookies.
He's collected them, unofficially
since the age of eighteen.
Our fates are scribbled in pidgin English
and rest on a shelf
collecting dust and threats of dead men.

In direct defiance of the Surgeon General's warning
he's renouncing the curse of the Human Condition.
"In what war has that officer earned his stars?" he asks.

The standing answer follows.
A cricket tunes its legs.


Fluid Ounces

I've worn the same cologne since the irreparable brilliance of age fourteen. My mother bought it for me at the mall in preparation for my junior high debut; Polo Sport, the crisp fragrance of budding manhood throughout the privileged world. It came with a gym bag which I used to carry my cleats to football practice. That's still in my mother's shed somewhere. The scent lasted. The jock dreams didn't. There's not a single cell inside me that's not at peace with that.

Then, the better part of a decade later, she chimed in with a second olfactory gift. This one didn't stick. It came at the time of my first apartment, a foray into debauchery that led to years of karmic justice. The smell of Curve changed overnight, somehow smoothed into a buttery musk that quickly gained a shameful association with hangovers and awkward Good Mornings. It didn't last long in the repertoire. The man who still has notes from high school in a closeted shoebox didn't keep that overpriced bottle of regret. I hope it's bringing someone else better luck.

That was a far cry from the innocence of young boyhood when my anxious father walked into the bathroom with a gift for his six-year-old son. The packaged set of Jovan products slipped from his hands and the bottle broke against the tile floor. I was left with a stick of deodorant which I didn't need yet. That episode managed to sum up much of my old man's aspirations: a heart in the right place, hampered by his own overzealous fumbling. One should be grateful to have experienced half of that equation. I don't deny that. He's a better man than me in most ways.

Last winter I briefly dated one of a slew of Italian single mothers who wound up being slightly more predictable than the rest. When Christmas came I already knew that I'd be receiving a bottle of men's aftershave. It felt more apropos than clairvoyant. I wasn't her ex-husband, nor had I spent seventeen years clinging to the shirttails of her life, but I knew she'd want to somehow change me when the opportunity arose through the ritualistic giving of gifts. Refusal meant upheaval. It came as a clandestine blessing and I haven't heard from her since. I wonder if she hocked that necklace. New rule: No more jewelry prior to six months.

But the last one is what matters. It seemed a normal compliment when Jackie said that she liked the way I smelled. Ralph Lauren has narrated the tale of many a half-hearted endeavor. I probably reciprocated similarly. Pheromones contribute to cases of mistaken identity before reason has its say. She fed me and skipped through the channels as we played the parts on her couch. When my bladder prodded to be drained I excused myself to the bathroom. Her medicine cabinet contained no prescription pill bottles--always a positive sign. I could say that I was searching for some Advil or a Q-Tip, but I was not. Hemingway warned, "You never understand anybody that loves you," while a dying protagonist, thinly veiled as someone other than himself, bled out on his ship. Even less can be said of those whom are only liked. You drink the cork with the wine. You endure some mild violation with the expectation that you too are being entered into search engines on the internet. Consider yourself flattered. There are people in the world whom no one cares to know, but they're not in this formula.

There was, however, a familiar blue bottle of Polo Sport on the middle shelf of the hidden realm behind Jackie's bathroom mirror. Why did a woman have men's cologne among her toiletries? I picked it up and rolled it in my hand. On the side opposite the printed logo was a primitive, hand-etched stencil of a name: Andrew. I didn't, and still don't, know her handwriting well enough to determine if it was her scrawl, but I assumed it to be so. An image of the pencil drawing of a young man's face on her night stand, rosary beads draped over its frame, rose to the forefront of my mind:  Andrew, her high school boyfriend who'd been killed by a drunk driver. The essence in common with this deceased kid was a token of the loss of innocence for our shared paramour. I placed the bottle where I'd found it, closed the cabinet, and saw a scoundrel staring back at me. There would be no prayers or grieving when I left. I was unworthy of art. I never even offered to do the dishes after dinner or help change the sheets.

"You smell nice," meant more than I'd earned. I haven't returned her calls. Somewhere, soaking raindrops, there's a spirit more deserving.

Faulkner Drawing Knives

Best friend's box truck climbs his gravel driveway.
Offers me a road soda hopping down to Friday.
"There's rum already in it."
Decline and shake his hand.

Yard sale guitar on the porch needs tuning.
Strum a G Major until it sounds right.
"Have any gum?" his eldest kid asks.
He knows the answer coming from a rusty cowboy.

"Stay for Chinese," declining again.
"Good luck on your date," the chewing boy says.
"Learn to play that and you won't need it."
Headlights scan the highway.

Currently reading:
"Book of Sketches" by Jack Kerouac.


Stairwell Scrimmage

There's something disconcerting
about seeing someone in a football uniform
and shoulder pads grumble, but I too
was once a nine-year-old.
The neighbor kid's groaning
over being sent back downstairs
by his overweight mother
for the rest of the laundry
waiting in the back of their sedan
parked at the curb.

My smoke's half alive
but I toss it anyway.
"Need a hand with that?"
I ask, reaching out before
he has time to answer.
I know how this goes.
"Sure," he replies
handing me the balled-up blanket
that seemed to be defeating him previously.

Two friendly barflies
guarding the sidewalk real estate
in front of Joe's Irish
cheer from their battle stations.
I suppose it looks ridiculous
especially since I'm still
shoulders-to-shins in denim
slathered with grease from
a day of work next to a man
I wouldn't want in my foxhole.
But it pays, and this kid's laundry
is the lightest thing I've lifted all week.

#42's kneepads are spotless, along with
the rest of him. He's either very good
or very bad. I stubbornly give him
the benefit of the doubt.

"What position do you play?"
I ask as we trudge up the stairs
both tired for different reasons.
"The Line," he confesses.
"I played the Line," I tell him.
"It's boring. All you do
is hit the guy across from you
over and over again."

He takes his bundle back
when we reach the door to his apartment.
I can't remember if he thanked me
not that it matters.
My mind was back on my own Line
wishing I could have a second chance
to unleash my angst
on a faceless, mouth-breathing stranger
for an hour at a clip.

I think I'd be efficient now.
The reasons have amalgamated.

Currently reading:
"The Hidden War" by Artyom Borovik.


Since You MotherFUCKers Think You Know Mike

I am not a good man, but sometimes I try to be--
or maybe I feign trying.
It's just as rewarding without all the sacrifice.
There's been a battle since I was seventeen
and discovered that in
[edited since she may read this
though I doubt it].
Still, always there is hope.
We'll get to that later.

I appear selfish to those safely removed;
selfless to those comfortable enough to pretend;
and once again selfish to the stubborn who dig diligently.
All of this is trivial.
The few who are any better
would never see this accusation.
Consider yourself judged.
When's the last time you asked yourself,
"Who would bail me out at 3 a.m.?"
I didn't think so.

Some more on negativity:
You wouldn't know it if it fucked you in the ass--
hard, and without lubrication.
So often I'm mistaken
for this woe-is-me hermit
who loves to stroke his misery
instead of making change.
That is not the case.
I'm working, if only in theory.
But part of that
meant cutting out the cancer
which is why most of you
wouldn't notice any progress.
You're too busy chasing handjobs--
social, emotional, financial, literal.
Your lack of depth is alarming.
Your existence is proof
that they should tax air.
The better part of your genetics
must've slid down the crack
of your mother's ass.
Justice will not be served
unless somehow one day
you accidentally consume
toast buttered with horse smegma.
Am I done yet?
Do I need to go on?
Are you offended to the point
of ending this charade of friendship?

I don't know if I'm a realist or a romantic
but if there's a common thread
it's hope.
And to hope implies that things aren't right.
(If you disagree there
then I want what you're taking.)
To acknowledge the presence of clouds
is to amplify the rays of the sun
when they're there.
If everyone tooled around
as delusively happy as you do
then the pharmaceutical industry
would cease to exist
and America would implode.
Is that what you want?
Where's your sense of patriotism?
Can we sit and rotate
on the marble cocks of our Founding Fathers?
"Yes we can."

Try making sense again
when you're not the latchkey kid
of that Dream with altered locks.
There's an extra layer of vanity involved
when you take her in your T-shirt
the next morning, though you'd never admit that.
There's no revenge for tasting sloppy seconds.
You do it to the next.

Forgive this menage-a-moi.
I needed it.
It meant nothing, I swear.
A friend went for the jugular.
Maybe she was right.
There's a first time for everything.

You never hear the bullet that kills you.

Currently reading:
"To Love and Be Loved" by Sam Keen.