Ten Lords-a-Leaping

There's a rare and certain comfort
when a story
lived or printed
ends exactly how it must.
The universe is sated
by our sacrificed desires.
Out there in the offing
Strunk & White are even pleased.

We mortals set aside
the arbitrary yearnings
that will someday drain
from catheters in deathbeds.
Taking fate's cheap shot
leaves us pissing blood for days--
days that seem longer
than those years we battled ourselves
without knowing our opponents.

The horn will go dead when the battery dies.
This isn't a soliloquy
to commemorate a path.
It's thinly veiled specific;
our futures drop like flies.
Consider it a blessing
to live on maps forever.


Sloppy Jalopy

But it's funny
this folklore we make;
how we sit at coffee break
telling tales of prior lives--
Kira Sherwin, the quiet student
who fucked five guys
at a high school party
thirteen years ago
and blew three more in the woods.
Whether or not it's true
or a rumor, like the pickle chick
we laugh and breathe
and pray that life's not over
then look to the apprentice
smugly perched across the room
and wonder if he's busted
hymens, hearts, and the rest.

It's a raucous life we live
chewing bacon-egg-and-cheese.


From the Chapped Lips of a Taxpaying Subject of Her Majesty

Be brave enough to put yourself aside
in the name of whom you think you are.
Set down the vices that make you human
for long enough to be the Ideal
that beckons you in the morning.

When an iron hand in a velvet glove
sends your head sideways
be gracious, ye sinners.
It is only a friend who tells of your folly.

Peter called the authorities
as soon you paid Paul.
Learn to drink the cheaper wine.
It suits you more than handcuffs.

And, if nothing else, beware of the uninspired.
Apathy is the drug of the dead
and every clock is a dealer.

Currently reading:
"The Elements of Style" by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.


Marauder Eyes and Water

She wants a Polaroid
and I think she's got one coming
since she isn't fond of cameras
but knows what shots to take.

They say a lady's hands
speak chapters on her habits.
I'd bet those pretty fingers;
I'd wager those blue eyes--
somewhere she still has
the notes I leave her in the morning.



She took her clothes off
for money, but that was OK
since for me they fell for free.
We'd met again eight years later
and it seemed some sick joke
which we foolishly pursued
for a few months.
You may remember them:
the ones when I seemed crazy--
really crazy.
It started as a pit stop
but became a destination
as toxic as the Chinese sky.
We ignored her monthly
with a black towel
and her profession
with the same.

She loved yellow flowers
so I brought them every week
although I wasn't working.
They were her mother's favorite
until she died a year prior.
The color of cowardice
didn't make sense until the end.

I'd watch my girl get ready:
makeup, hair, packing bits of lace--
putting her war paint on, she called it.
She'd text me all night from the club
counting down the hours
until she could crawl into bed with me
after a sad shower
rinsing lavender and glitter
but when she disappeared
for too long my mind wandered
and it stung.
One night I woke up
to her pulling piss-soaked sheets
off the mattress; three empty bottles
of wine and some whiskey
on the counter.
That was the worst of it.
After that it got better.
She framed a poem I wrote her
and it was on her bedroom wall
until she ripped it up
one night when it got worse again.
I'd thrown her flowers on the floor.
All of them.

Others knew her stage name
but I knew her real name
and that her stepfather raped her
until she was eleven
when she told her mother
who did nothing
so cancer killed her.
How can a man
who's worth a damn
blame a woman
so detached
when life
does that
to a kid?


Alexithymia and Other Happy Accidents

The source of my existence
was on my father's curb
and almost lost to the nearest trash heap.
I'm known to pick through leavings.
I thrive on memorabilia.

This token of nostalgia
is a rectangle of plastic;
an image of a lobster
above my mother's name.
The pin on the back of the tag
still catches.
If my old man saw her now
she still would catch his eye.

He worked locally.
She was a waitress.
The rest of the tale
is as rote as the franchise.
Here I am thirty years
after that missed pill
picking up trinkets
of a love that almost was.

Currently reading:
"The Stand" by Stephen King.


The Concubine of Lazarus

He suggests we round the corner
to admire his latest feat;
"later" meaning "now"
we comply and view his painting.
The title slips from lips
between his sips of stout.
I'm familiar with the book
from which he stole the name.
"You've read CĂ©line, haven't you?"
he asks about my journey
hoping to feel superior
in our own predestined night.
"Any Bukowski fan should,"
I fire at his oak.
He turns away, a poet
still working on his tan
and I wonder if his walls
can scream through dusty glossies.

Currently reading:
"The Walking Dead:  Compendium Two" by Robert Kirkman.


He Limps Across the Plaster, a Body Drained of Grace

My lady was the pen
and I cheated with the bottle.
There were Claymore mines
and concertina wire.
There was blood unspoken for
on sheets that went unclaimed.
Plaid button-downs
covered chests unfit for medals
and when the eagle fucking cried
she really fucking sang.

Now hobble that sweet ass over here
and show an old pervert
how well a wounded bird
can kneel.

Currently reading:
"The Colossus and Other Poems" by Sylvia Plath.


Tabletop Bloodletting Americana

If I could get
my head out of my ass
I'd be a decent husband
and if you could keep
your ass in the air
you'd make a decent wife.
Now are you going to finish that
or am I taking it to work for lunch tomorrow?

A Sentence Worth the Crime

There's gravity and magic
that no physicist nor director
can capture
in absorbing a scene
for what one's gut knows
is the last time
like the sunset from Hither Hills West Overlook
while leaving Montauk, New York--
a first taste of the scale
tipping closer to the grave
with nothing about it
being anything short
of perfection
(Fuck you
wherever you are
Rocco Esposito, Jr.).

Currently reading:
"Howl and Other Poems" by Allen Ginsberg.



"Wait, what was his name?"
I stop my fifty-year-old cousin
mid-sentence in search of clarification.
He repeats the victim's name for me.
I lay my beer down on his coffee table.
"I played soccer with his son in elementary school,"
I tell him, dumbfounded.
The boy I knew fell off the face of the earth
or maybe I did when my parents split
and I moved out of that one-horse town
with my mother many moons ago.
The revelation feels fraudulent.
Things like that don't happen
to people we know;
or maybe they do
and that contributes
to the world's current state.
"How'd it happen?"

My cousin continues
after a long drag of Coors.
"He was on a snowmobile
with his son--your friend--
on the back when the old man
plowed into him.
There were targets
and casings in the car
when the cops searched it afterward.
He was on the way home
from the range when it happened.
As soon as he opened the door
to rip that old man out of the car
and pummel him for almost
killing his kid on the back of that sled
he was shot with a pistol.
Then the driver got out
aimed at the ground
and unloaded in his face
while he bled out in the snow.
His son witnessed everything.
The old man got away with it.
He argued self-defense.
It was sickening."
He punctuates the account
with another swig of his swill.

My cousin continues
his rambling, but my ears
are under water.
What else had been censored
by that hamlet's parents decades ago?
Where does that old friend
call home these days
and did I kick the ball his way
enough times on our field?
Sometimes the world isn't big enough.


Don't Tell Me How to Live My Lie

Casting aspersions over a sundowner
our genius stares into the offing.
Cesarean fleshpots.
Rheostat dreams.
He's crossing the Rubicon armed.

He'll never outgrow the symbols he knows.
That degree works wonders on townies.
An albatross hangs from his neck
to the rest of us;
fugazi, a cubic zirconia.

Forgotten the taste
of fruit that's forbidden.
Searching for devils in details.
A windowless room that reeks of bleach.
I've never grown out of that mean streak.


Crumbs in the Carpet

I wake to candles burning
and a third bottle of Portuguese red
that I don't remember opening
keeping guard from the nightstand.
She lies naked under bedclothes
on the side of the mattress that's typically mine
while I fumble in the 5 a.m. darkness
for my denim attire.
The notion of leaving
this warm place for work
seems ludicrous.
I lace my boots dizzily
and creep back into the bedroom
blowing out the final flame
before kissing her mass of hair
that conceals her face from sight.

You know what my versions
of Hell are by now.
Now let me tell you
what Paradise could be:

Five more minutes spent
in places like that bed
and a chance to address
a list of things I almost did.

West Point Folklore

A soldier on base
shared classified information:

When someone else is servicing
the wife of an officer
who's been deployed overseas
the invading faction leaves
some stripes from his uniform
in a corner of the violated party's sock drawer
to let his fellow warrior know
that his wife's been waging a war of her own
against the most sacred of orders and vows.

It's no apology, but honor amongst thieves
and if you think your freedom's free
then you've never had your wife fucked
by a buddy while you're at work.

Currently reading:
"I Am Soldier of Fortune:  Dancing With Devils" by Robert K. Brown with Vann Spencer.


Variations on a Theme

Sometimes I stand
and sometimes I stand

She tried to see
the fading good in me.
I showed her a photo
of my brother.

The dog is dead
but we're going to keep it;
maybe have it bronzed.

It takes a certain strength
to pour wine down the drain
without a stubborn sip
to confirm that it has soured.

The Pacific's a puddle
in relation to her depths.
Ask a man with shaking face
since surely he has plumbed them.

And now, eight years too late
to matter to either of us
I see why she preferred to walk the woods alone.


Parenting in a Valley

Contents of their burn barrel
shoot sparks that flash the alley.

"Why do we hear the freight train
louder at night?"

A horn unnoticed in daylight
blares on through punctuation.

"Because the river slows down
enough to carry the sound.
Everyone knows that.
Now hush and eat your beans."

Currently reading:
"The Walking Dead:  Compendium One" by Robert Kirkman.


Through Disregarding

Her eyes arrive as words.
She picks me out across the room
pins me to the wall
with a stare no man would get away with
and whispers how easy it'd be
to regret it in the morning.
I tip my beer and focus on the band
while college kids around me
try to fill their dorm rooms
with strangers in their majors.

It's a young man's game.
I tire of statistics.

The pint glass in my hand
is the only thing that's definite
in measure, in existence
in the way the West was won.
"I'm spoken for,"
my irises reply
through disregarding.
"In love with someone
I've yet to meet."
Her retinas scan the taproom
for a nocturnal accomplice.

The singer plays the song
that he knows I came to hear.
It talks me into one more drink.
I tip a dollar extra.

Currently reading:
"Granta, Vol. 125:  After the War"


A Decade and Redemption

He made her out of always
from a pocketful of nevers
laden with revisions
to transform a sin to legend.
Memory was blurred
for the sake of new religion.
Edges of the facts
were chipped through use like flint.

A fool became a martyr
in worse cases
a jester
to consummate a marriage
of callouses and hope.

Somewhere walks a goddess
who doesn't know her power.
He made her out of always
since eternity can't fade.

To Vilify the Baptist

David holds the smoke in
while converging on the sidewalk.
It's what a man should do
when confronted by a lady.
She's wearing a doe-colored jacket
that extends beyond her knees--
an homage in the name of
some dead and buried Hepburn.
Her hair is barely darker than the cloak
that hides her form.
His trichophilia's tamed.
He keeps his thoughts from straying.
Neither of them look
at what they'll never know.
A stream of carbon's spewed
once the path ahead is clear.

Jim waits on the corner
dressed in haggard denim.
His overalls have holes
and dirt that's not from farming.
A Steinbeck novel character
escaped and found New York.
David's not a gambling man
but Jim's bereft a deck.

He's choking down a nameless brand
given by a stranger.
He holds his other hand up
in a gesture smokers know.
"Do you have another, Dave?" he asks
without the need to.
It's extended to a twitching hand
before his words are done.
"Enjoy it, Jim," David says
in a wake of jumbled street talk--
something about carpets
with the phrase "most folks don't know."
"That's a good cigar, Dave,"
the outdoorsman says with gravitas.

The clothes don't make the man;
neither does the smoke.


A Pedestrian Cresting the Ramparts

Main Street's not as bustling
due to recent change in weather
but some players are still out
being pawned across the board.
A gas station clerk
sweeps cigarette butts
from around his empty pumps
shaking his head in disbelief
that some would take that chance.

One block down
a crossing guard dozes at his post
STOP sign in hand resting on his orange vest.
He dreams of kids and grandkids
too absorbed to lift their phones.

Leaves fall arrhythmically
and mix with refuse in the gutter.
A storm drain waits for all of us.
It's merely a matter of when.


Even in the Hamptons

I'd stayed in some stranger's bed
a happy home away from home
while working out of town on Long Island
and was driving out against the piercing sunrise
to Montauk, a place they call "The End"
when a stoplight revelation
woke me from the recap
right in time to read the score.

In the shelter of a bus stop
three Latin day laborers
watched an old man on his knees
pounding lengths of tarnished copper
ripped from a house
to cram into his backpack
and sell at current scrap rate.
The light turned, releasing me roadward
but I'll never forget that man's sweat
at seven in the morning
stealing and toiling
and there with the aliens
in the wealthiest part of New York State.

I wonder if that bus ever came.



"No, really. I don't want any whiskey,"
I tell him, subconsciously rubbing
my stomach while filling a corner
of his couch beneath the distant ceiling.

"I didn't pour you a whiskey,"
he corrects, handing it over my shoulder.
"I poured you a rye."

I sip it gratefully
and listen to his stories.

Prick a finger.
Sign in blood.
Hope that you make friends
like this.

The foulest days
can't steal the fact
that some men aren't afraid
to love.

On Crosses and Crossroads

There's tuna on my breath and I mean that in the literal sense. I had a can for breakfast, spiced by some seasoning with a marketed name that I don't remember buying. The ghosts are becoming more bold. They're stocking the shelves with condiments they enjoy. At least I can share this space with some company, even if it's not the variety I've been chasing off for three years.

That's not to say I'm celibate. Last night there was a romp. She's a grand old girl, a throwback to Dorothy Parker and other sharp diamonds who didn't care what society thought of women who admit to craving carnal pleasure much like men. In the twelve years that I've known her it's always been that way. I've left her place scratching my head on more than one occasion. Was that the beer talking, or did she really mean to have such a pointed tongue? It didn't matter. We came so we won, at least for the evening. Distance lends perspective. By the time I returned home I had that much figured out. How much longer I can pretend to quench the expected thirst is a different topic, however. Nothing seems enjoyable for more than thirteen strokes these days. It's equally trite and emasculating to confess that I miss making love.

The accent wall was her idea, but breaking up was mine. We'd been together for long enough to know that we shouldn't have been, and therefore did what most couples do in that case:  we moved in together. The dog was dead, but we were going to keep it; maybe have it bronzed. It lasted for all of a month until I suggested a rift. The rent is double what I'd been paying at my previous place, but sanity is more important than prosperity. I've managed ever since. I've chased them off with sticks, and by that I mean choice words. In the three years since my three-year relationship I've refused to settle and I've abided by the rules of the road I've learned along the way. There's a whistle in my head that keeps me sleeping alone at night, or as alone as one who's haunted by ghosts who shop for groceries can be. The Great Ones have been coming to me in my dreams more frequently.

The character varies, though the theme is the same. The theme is the only one worth a damn in any book or film:  redemption. Last it was Angela. Before that Stephanie. There are others on that list, but we'll stick to those two since they're recently married with children. The internet is a cruel tool for the lonely masochist. I'm not sure if the knowledge inspires the dreams or vice versa. The plot is usually the same. One of the Ones That Got Away returns to make it right. I adore her, dote on her, tell her all the things I used to notice without having the sensibility to say. It may be the tiny circles in the skin under her eyes or the way her teeth are so much straighter than any line I could draw or how she whimpers so slightly before she falls asleep. Whatever it is, it's rounded and softened by the dreamscape--and that's when I notice it's fake. At first the revelation's heartbreaking. I know that when I wake my euphoria will cease to be. Regardless, I savor every stretched second for the solace that it is. When a cab's horn or the need to urinate wakes me I'm out of luck again. The only fate worse than losing love once is losing it over and over in the mornings.

It's not entirely selfish. A part of me's elated. They've given into instinct, those stubborn former lovers. The Great Ones are all safe now. They're safe and far from me. The women I meet in the wake of my prime don't last as long as a carton of milk.


Nocturnal Calculus

Tires slosh the streetrain
on a tired Wednesday night
walking back from a delivery
that leaves a man's jaw sore

when it goes out
quite like clockwork
once it's stridden under
goes off like a gunshot
that'd send the sirens soon
(perhaps it's more reliable
than anything man-made;
more like Newton's Law--
the third one about motion)

though there aren't too many things
that trump the net of clockwork
unless we're talking streetlights
or a friend who keeps a secret.

Currently reading:
"The Juliette Society" by Sasha Grey.



I'd been drilling through foundation
to install a new hose faucet
one October afternoon
when the sin of my vibrations
startled sleeping fauna
back to slithered life.

It dangled from the doorframe
flinching not an inch
once its presence was detected
and my face went wide in wonder.
I exited the basement
making strides to grab my gloves.
Protection of the leather
would help me catch the vermin
but that brief time with my back turned
had let the snake escape.

I suppose that's how it should be.
There's no outsmarting nature.
The rest of that day's plumbing
was done with restless eyes.



There've been two years
of avoiding those serpentine eyes
"You didn't do this last time"
Fingernails dig into an arm
while their counterparts
run through wet hair
"Yeah, well"
No sign of the Messiah
but there's been a Second Coming

Protective rationalization
In his defense it's basic math
Steal their thunder playing 'possum
with an Ace up the sleeve
that comes through in the clutch
whether he knows it or not

The scent will hang
in sheets; until shaving.

Currently reading:
"The Long Walk" by Stephen King.


Salud, Comrade

When it's gone
as it almost is
I'm not sure what will happen.
Maybe the boy truly dies then.
There are no by-laws for the supernatural.
I hadn't thought about it until today.

Mocking acquaintances
from a time when they were tolerated
called it the Dead Guy Disaronno.
The large bottle of Italian liqueur
had come from a cleanout job
I did in the East Village years back.
Cancer even kills in Manhattan.
Cancer even kills 21-year-old kids.
His family paid us to empty his studio
in order to avoid further heartache.
It seemed to be the right decision.
I'd want the same in a similar scenario.
We discovered a bong and dirty movies in the closet;
a used rubber behind the bed.
I found recording gear and a deviant
pornographic film script in a shoebox.
I haven't told anyone about that until now.
Among the syringes, pill bottles
and expensive pieces of plastic medical equipment
that didn't earn their keep
there were packs upon packs of empty Marlboro Reds.
He was Russian
and wanted to be a cowboy
but instead he died
an ocean away from his birthplace
nowhere near the O.K. Corral.

My employer salvaged some usable items
unworthy of the trash heap
and encouraged me to do the same.
It lessened our trips to the dump
and the fees.
I copped that bottle of amaretto.
My bar back home needed some sophistication
amidst the mags of whiskey and rum.
Wasting the nectar of freedom is abuse
and I'm not one to abstain.

It didn't get much play
in our weekend cocktail rotation.
Only now, in my hermitic years
has it had its cap removed.
Coffee is better with a bite
like a kiss
so I've sipped and been bitten
and grateful.
Tonight as I indulge
with a pungent cigarillo
the dusty bottle stares back
two portions left.
It's dawned on me
with teeth, as death often does:
When the vessel gets tossed
in a week when it's empty
that Russian stranger dies
for the last time in my life.


Persecution Complex

Her room's a museum
with blankets of dust--
a shrine to poor choices;
potential that was.
The saltwater therapy
didn't pan out.
Her legs found the land;
refused to leave ground.
To spit out a tantrum
and call it her art
is as useless as friends
who can't shuffle cards.
Damn the torpedoes.
We're coming in hot.
The flesh that's not burned
is destined to rot.


Lunatic Smiles of Guerrilla Warfare

Blood fills his left boot
as it pounds against his steed's sweaty flank
during what will be
their last ride together.
His wool sock soaks up
most of the warm plasma
though even through the ringing
of gunfire in his head
the sloshing sound resonates
giving a wet cadence to his unraveling.
"They're only flesh wounds,"
he'd lied to his Corporal
the darkness of night being a co-conspirator.
The good Corporal is dead now
so none of it matters.
Only the cavalry on his trail
will determine the final detail of his life:
When and where he shall perish
by a violent cloud of smoke.

Tree branches thwack
against his tattered uniform
as he rides through the cover
of close-enough-to-midnight.
The smell of sulphur
in the air is overwhelming.
The smell of copper
on his breath sours his nostrils.
He spits a wad of blood to his left, then coughs up
something large and nondescript
solemnly swearing that another bodily function
has shut down as a result.
No one needs a pancreas
as much as a few more rounds
would help him now, but the days
of his dealing in lead are no longer.
He tosses his carbine over his right shoulder
in an effort to lighten his horse's last load.
The stock of the rifle slung across his back
was cracked in half by a bullet, slowing it down
before entry to make the meeting intimate.
The good Corporal would have dug
the slug out of his flesh
with his bayonet like clockwork
but the good Corporal is dead now
so none of that matters.
The rhythm of hooves on the forest floor
gets closer and louder and more like ferrous metal.
A volley of shots ricochets off
the wood in his vicinity
splinters of bark exploding into shrapnel.

"It's as good a spot as any," he says to his
brass-burned stallion
running more on adrenaline
than any healthy sustenance.
When the next low limb
catches his chest
the Captain succumbs
taking him from his saddle
into the mud
where the contents of his boot spills
and is soon joined by the rest.

Through visions of love
he sees what never was
and by speaking of death
refuses to die.
Most of the barrage
lands in the softened earth.
None of the ones that hit
mar his face or chip his teeth.

Consider it a victory.


Confession of the Sawbones

One of the most terrible things
is when a man telling the truth
goes unbelieved
and can't sway his detractors--

which is why I never tell the truth:
to avoid terrible things.


Cheapskates Leave 15%

She lives in her parents' basement
and admits to nightly pale ales
while watching their backyard chickens
but from my corner of the ring
on the south side of our table
I notice that her bottom teeth, like mine
are deceptively out of line
and that's perfect.
It takes some extra stuffing
of a sandwich in my mouth
to keep from blurting out
the number of the faceless
who've picked children's names
like beacons plucked down
from a Van Gogh Starry Night.

Hate the sin, love the sinner.
Admit when the mission's been compromised.
That being said
I'm enamored again
as before; as I will be next week.


Canon Fodder

I really should read more Neruda;
spin magic like Garcia-Marquez;
Borges, romantic as Shakespeare's pedantic;
Rilke spits fire with Nietzsche.

cummings is mostly an acrobat.
Dickinson's caught in her pause.
Whitman walks right through the line breaks
while Jeffers confuses his neighbors.

Kerouac--the jittery camera--
does little for Plath's dance with death.
Artaud, Rimbaud, and that sad Baudelaire
slowly go crazy (in French).

Stevens' talent escapes me.
Williams is vague as his name.
Aiken and Auden and Lawrence and Browning
dive nothing like tragic Hart Crane.

Thomas, alone in the Village;
even old Hemingway played.
The filterless Hank gets a nod for his wink.
Oxygen, ink: overrated.


Postpartum Impression

"'V' as in 'Victory'," he tells the receptionist
through my telephone. The flower beds
I helped him build last spring
stand empty and waiting for Indian summer.

"I'm trying to find my wife," he continues.
You and me both, and my old man goes on:
"Room Number 12? Thank you."

The kid saw the ambulance
while playing in the neighbor's yard
but didn't decipher the same thing I can't.

Maybe they're marigolds.
Maybe magnolias.
My mother never told me the difference.

Currently reading:
"Catch-22" by Joseph Heller.


The Sneeze of the Nazarene

Her skirt was winter white
a creamy patch of fabric
compliant with the passing of Labor Day
from which her legs dangled
two feet above hallowed ground--
a lithe apparition alive on hot macadam.
The comprehensive presentation
seemed too good to be true
and its witness proved his genius
again. Everpresent fly-spots
unveiled themselves on the overhead lighting
and the deer crossed highways en masse
at 4 a.m., aiming for punch-drunk headlights
but if you'd heard the thunderstorm
that waited for penetration
maybe you'd believe that this time
it seemed real.


The Bloodiest of Gears

"It made a few uncomfortable
to see those burning tanks
but it was better them than us
smoldering and charred on the roadside..."

Spare us these threats of armistice now.
We've seen reasonable men
slaughter children with a cadence
not unlike a lullaby
while the anchor read the script.

A culture raised to glorify war
before the altar of a flag
far enough away
to hide its tattered state
is lured astray by shine
and gossip
while young men learn
the smell of human flesh--
the promise of a future
dangled high above their noses.

"It's not that we wanted to die
for our country, but the guys
to our left and our right
had to live."

The End of Aphesis

An amputated stairwell
thrice reneged by the castrato.
A newfound sense of duty
not as sacred as it's swift.
Black towels hide the blood
that was destined for the bedsheets.
There's a list of ways to slay them.
It's endearing 'til it's not.

A Hippie, a Heron, and Two Fishermen

When the sun hit my eyelids it wasn't stopped by skin. I felt the burn of hydrogen and helium from 92,960,000 miles away--miniaturized, purified, made safe for human consumption. My head was tilted over the edge of the inflated rubber inner tube which pulled me down the creek. Loose strands of hair dipped into the September Catskill water, and when capillary action failed to soak my head to my liking I reached back to cup some stream my way. In fitting fashion the words to 'Yellow Submarine' played in my head; the only part of the verse I knew: "In the land where I was born..." For another gracious instance I was grateful for that place: the Hudson Valley, New York State, and the sleeping hills of the Atlantic Northeast.

Opening my eyes into the stark, late-summer sky revealed clouds which would never harm a picnic. If white is gauged by absence then those nebulous bodies were barely there. The river's current was picking up pace. Rapids laid ahead in wait, but first a friendly denizen. He was piling flat stones atop one another, his gray chest hair shamelessly displayed, while his wife looked on in innocent bliss from her perch on a creekside boulder. "That's not a rock," I jibed, floating by, as he approached his zen creation with a two-foot piece of yellow-painted driftwood. "I'm bending the rules a bit," he replied. His submarine had landed. He knew right where he was. His wife, in her modest one-piece swimsuit, crossed her legs and winked my way--or maybe it was a reaction to that far-off furnace blinding her left side.

After the accelerated ration of ripples I came upon a fisherman, clearly from out of town. His pole was too long for the limited casting distance, his waders were too new to have experience behind them, and his gait within the water seemed as though a frog had stood erect. I pitied his doomed excursion and empty creel. The net tethered to his hip would not be needed today. I anticipated a glance and was ready to silently point upstream, then lift four fingers to indicate the number oncoming tubers, but no such look was given. His polarized lenses stayed in the eddies made by rocks. I wanted to warn him in case of collision. Instead, he focused on trout out of sight that would have laughed him back to Long Island if such a thing was possible. The Esopus carried me closer to Phoenicia. I didn't argue.

The next peaceful stretch was a lesson on the stubborn. I was just as guilty since I'd ventured north alone. It seemed a sad break in tradition to not enjoy this rustic pleasure I'd indulged in for fifteen years due to a lack of constant company. Abstaining from my annual tubing adventure would be silent confession to the sin of getting old. Thirty meant Reality, but thirty wasn't Dead. Neither was the river. There were strangers I could talk to. There was Nature, always listening. And as the case has always been the words played in my head. A heron, not so cheerful, watched as I approached. The shallow pool she hunted would soon be disturbed by my presence. Her four-foot wingspan opened and she floated, airborne, thirty yards downstream. A few half-hearted pecks at the water yielded no stabbed sustenance. From the corner of her eye she saw that dreadful human. I smirked apologetically. She lifted off again. The pattern repeated for what felt like ten minutes before she flew into the forest. I felt bad for my trespass. I knew the pang of hunger.

There are themes throughout our books and lives, though none of them as strong as redemption. The second fisherman I saw was a poem by Robert Frost. His sway matched the current, man and momentum as one. His clothing and gear were older than the teenager who rented me the tube in town. A pipe was pinched by the corner of his wrinkled mouth, giving him a mild resemblance to Popeye, and if the fish knew what was good for them they'd acknowledge this man's talent. I lifted my limbs from the water to avoid stirring up the muck or spooking wary trout. My right index finger found its way to my pursed lips in the international symbol for "Shhh" to imply I was aware that trout fishing's more like hunting. The old timer smiled with his eyes, creases jutting towards his temples, as he lazily let his lure plop into a hole he trusted. "If more people went down like you I might actually catch something," he said above the din of rushing water. "I thank you." I remained silent for the duration of my passing, well knowing that his modesty was not founded in truth. He'd had his shares of beauties. Those who have don't talk about it; still the sailor shares his day.


Hip Replacements and Gentrification

Mirrorless crusaders
haunt the city streets
one block in particular
more repressive than the rest;
bred like pit bulls
guardians of Children
spawned by guilt
they'd never have
if neighbors weren't so cultured.

Down back there's a strip of trees
too small to hide a corpse
but if they have their way
that forest will be named
with a sign to carve and paint and hang
and directions from the train.


Table Scraps & Doggie Bags

Sunday morning
mist commute;
colored ribbon
over job, wishing job
was over.
Bottom found
for first time
stemming from the Hudson:
Diamonds, but no gold.
We take what's left and precious
when the rainbow leads us there.

Birthday barbecue due east.
Fighting not to jerk the wheel.
No yellow flowers
either: a sign of growth
like shedding.
Ride home
to sweat it out.

Staring up the stairwell.
Scrapes of knives on plates
through deadbolt doors.
Found the rainbow's bottom once.
It can be done again.

Currently reading:
"Jorge Luis Borges:  Selected Poems", edited by Alexander Coleman.


Floored Pillows

And when he turns
he turns hard
ignoring the rustic architecture
in favor of feminine frills.
Safe middle names
always on the palate.
A recent increase
in feet tucked to thighs
with emphasis on
a foreign alarm.

Languish in lavender.
Roll through the smoke.
He hails from the marshes
forgotten by maps.
If it happens that cell finds cell
then so be it.
There are holy days made
without the permission
of bank and federal calendars.


Marxist Mojitos

I have a bowl of garden tomatoes
and a gallon of good intentions
gone sour.

You have a winter white vehicle
and the libido of a twenty-year-old

We've been on two trips together
to the ER
and the sex is the best I've had
this week.

"Are you in love again?"
the birthday girl asks flippantly.
And she's right
to flip
through ten more pages, ten more weeks.

The bravest man I've known
this summer
has a kid coming next month
with no idea of its gender.

More lime.
Less mint.
A floater of rum for your comrade, please.

An Ending or Two

He's perched on the porcelain when he smells it.
Blue smoke bleeds through the cracks
around his bathroom door
nearly rattling its brass hinges
as it enters--searching, grasping.
That oracle on 40th and 9th
called it years back.
Both of them were in common form
though one managed to make sense.
He wishes, now motionless like quarry
pinched by steel, that he'd dropped
more money in that homeless man's hat.
He wishes for a lot of different outcomes.

But there's no smoke to smell
and no one's coming to get him.
It's another delusional daydream
set in place to pass the time.
Creative, they used to call it.
Now it's diagnosable.
He stands, rightly constipated
and almost forgets to dispel
the water he made.
He used to scold her
for not flushing
in her effort
to save the world
but now he'd love
to enter his bathroom
tainted by the faint stench of urine.
It'd help him remember
that there's still something left
worth saving.

The knot on his tailbone
throbs harder as he rubs it
wondering if he's devolving
like some Kafka creature--
an exacerbated exercise in karma.

Currently reading:
"'Salem's Lot" by Stephen King.


Playing God in Pine Bush

She's got pictures from a path
I remember from my childhood.
There are placards notating flora
and a statue of Walt Whitman.
I remember the font and the bronzed stride.
"That's the Bear Mountain Zoo,"
I inform her, as if she doesn't know.

"Most of the animals there
were rescued after being wounded
in the wild or maimed by poachers.
A friend of mine brought an owl.
His dog found it in the woods
wandering the ground
disoriented. He wrapped it in a towel
and brought it to a vet
who discovered it was blind.
Now it lives in that zoo.
Did you see it?
How's it doing?"

She's forgotten if she saw it
or perhaps I've stopped listening.
Another thought has taken hold;
a notion which had to come out

Maybe that owl was meant to die
in that forest.

Some lessons you only learn
through repeating to another.


A Silent Mayday

It starts as trivial blips:
I pull up the mail key
to lock the front door;
Refrigerate my wallet
and pocket ketchup packets;
Answers get longer
when strangers ask questions
and I find myself talking
to myself in paragraphs.
Then the echo sets in.
Interpret that how it suits you.
Some hear reverberations.
I see mine.
She's smirking at me, naked.
These days she doesn't respond.

I ash into a tray
someone made for me
from stainless steel.
I'd say "a friend"
but you have to be a friend
to have a friend.
I haven't.
I'm not.
It's all about the spiral
and how to end it
in my sliver of reality
where reflections look
less and less like what others see.
Even the father and husband
I claim as my brother
cringes at some of my antics of late.

There's an odd vulnerability without mountains
so I live in the shadow of one.
Every morning and every night
it groans at me through curtainless windows
picked by the last person who knew me
three years ago--to the month.
Even she wouldn't recognize me now.
I'm paying the price
for what a little bird told me.
My father would call it a snake
though I prefer the secular cliche.

A consistency I'm fond of:
I've always lived in river towns.
Come Hell or high water
I'll be that fluid Pisces.

The moonbow doesn't cackle back tonight.
I spit when I type, not when I talk.

That hotel laugh in New Hampshire
is the last time I was happy.


And the Walls Got Loud

Dinner's almost done
when she shows
choosing water over wine
though I indulge
for the both of us.
"We moved too fast," she says
like it's news.

I stir the pasta in silence.

"Anything? What's on your mind?"
She sips that water
like it has the answer.

I pluck a strand of linguine
from the pot and try it.
Perfect al dente.
Eight minutes.
It's one thing I've perfected.

The water didn't cut it
for her.

I finish chewing, unaffected.
"I've spoken my mind before.
It's why I'm here.
You should have called;
Saved the gas,"
I say, pragmatist to the end.

She leaves as desired.
I eat at the table
not clearing her empty plate.
It stands as a reminder.
The wine washes the garlic down.

A sink full of dishes
and it's back to bedding widows.
I wander my apartment
approaching several countertops
and a table
checking their height
for impromptu penetration.
There are  none.

Tom Petty makes a promise
he can't keep
on the radio.

I crack a window
and smoke inside
for the first time in months.


Catching Up

Any longer
there's no ketchup
kept at my
mother's house
the kids having scattered
to starve elsewhere.
I learned this
when I brought
a fast food
burger and fries
for lunch.
She confessed
the condiment's absence
with a weary widow's voice
her husband
at the gin mill
his headstone
not yet carved.
Holding back the curses
for the Shadow
slow approaching
scythe and contract
in bony hands
I finish my meal
and starve elsewhere.


State of the Union

Waking with his watch on
he ignores the morning news
another workless week lined up
and apathetic bedclothes.
It stinks there
like a slave ship
his mother teaching nothing.
The atlas in his back seat--
that's his father in him.

Necrotic limbs
too weak to chop
spare the amputee
but the heft of muscles atrophied
becomes a latent anchor.

The novel reads like prophecy
foreshadowing a storm.
No man can be an island
for longer than a heartbeat.


De Rigueur

Aroused on numb wrists
from sleeping off a decade
of a Pisces night with warpaint worn.
There are laws passed to prevent this.

Bite a bottom lip
and wake up still a dreamer.
Scrawled graffiti promises
on urban concrete lie.

Hair too long to cut
like a house too old to paint
swiped around the ear
to help amend the stubborn.

Judge a man by numbers:
statistics, accounts, dimensions.
The objects most protected
are not found in his safe.


Papal Resignations

I'm draining myself in a way
less scandalous than five minutes prior
into one of those faulty toilets
that requires you to hold its lever down
for the duration of the dismissal.
It's mounted so crookedly
one corner of the tank a solid inch
further from the wall than the other
that I almost pity its owner.
She's fifteen years my senior
and has dealt with far worse
than skewed plumbing fixtures
with weak flushes.
If I had any intention of returning
to this place I'd bring my tools along
but that won't be happening.
We haven't exchanged numbers
after meeting last night
and there's a silent thieves' agreement
that none of that will change.
Her bedroom's down the hallway.
She's in it, feigning sleep.

I wash my hands symbolically
and chalk it up to hygiene.
There are gadgets on the vanity
with purposes beyond my comprehension.
A white contraption with hoses and dials
and a tube of some sort, all centered around
a reservoir of blue liquid. With a gun to my head
I'd guess it somehow cleans teeth, though
how blue can yield white is beyond me.
Next to it there's a smaller device
with less frills and specifics.
It's plugged into an outlet
blinking to verify it's alive.
There's a handle, a head, and
what seems to be some rotary component.
I flick water from my hands into the sink
since I'd rather not touch any towels
swearing to myself that I'd make a terrible woman
the opposite also being true.
I've made some women terrible.

There's a photo on the wall;
one of those themed numbers
they take at amusement parks
with people dressed as cowboys
or Prohibition gangsters.
This one has the Western motif.
She stands, dressed as a harlot
behind her two teenaged children
the boy bracing a rifle over his shoulder
while his left hand fingers a holstered revolver.
If he was here he'd shoot me
but her offspring are down south
for the summer with their father.
She'd advertised that at the bar
where we met. I called her out on it
but dropped a line of my own.
"I'm not leaving here without you."
I didn't.
She acknowledged my acting prowess
in the darkness of 4 a.m.

I close the bathroom door behind me
making sure not to trap any cats inside.
The floorboards creak menacingly
as I navigate this gin-soaked vessel
back to its latest port
and fall asleep dreaming
of a life spent in one harbor.


Photo Albums Died in the Digital Age's Wake

The caffeine hasn't taken hold
since you've yet to brew it
but there's a subtle tremble
in your hands that breaks the eggs.
It's not the pan.
It's not the spatula.
You're slipping.
You haven't flipped them without popping
in months, though it used to be
an art you'd proudly honed.
Yolk oozes out accusingly, solidifies
and mocks you.

Your bike sits flat-tired in the spare room.
No one's around to justify making the bed.

"Looks like we'll have to take
over-easy off the menu, Jack,"
you tell your stubborn self as you dump
a late breakfast onto a plate
that won't be washed for days.
There's something subtly magical
about hearing your voice
for the first time in the morning.
It's proof that you're still here
if only talking to the dust
standing naked in your kitchen
with food you make from habit
and a cloud that rubs your brain.

The coffee goes down
better than she ever did
or would have, given a chance.
The rest of your day
seems a blessing
There's a god still on your side
whether or not you deserve that.
If you ever learn her name
you'll have to carve it somewhere.


Your Clitoris Is an Inside Joke

A woman in scrubs could make me move mountains.
I've witnessed it.
They didn't.
Be that as it may, stethoscopes are expensive.

The difference between Disney World and Disneyland
has nothing to do with Mickey.
Walt was not a fascist; a mere fan of efficiency.

Stuffed bears strapped to stop signs at intersections
where some faceless kids died make me cringe
for the wrong reasons.

The Irish Goodbye should be an Olympic event.
Perfecting it is high art.

My landlords raised the rent fifty bucks
but refuse to repair the intercom system.

If you love something
(more than from the waist down)
let it go.
When it doesn't come back
hunt it and kill it with fire.

No lie can be told in the pre-dawn purple
of a bedroom so beautifully desecrated.
Your clitoris is an inside joke
and Jill went tumbling after.

Currently reading:
"William Carlos Williams:  Selected Poems" edited by Charles Tomlinson.


Repeater 21

Mary's favorite flowers
had been propped upright
in the back seat of Troy's sedan.
He took the time to position them carefully
nestling the bouquet betwixt his
hard hat and a case of Coors Original
which, with any luck, would aid
in the redemption process
picking up where the flowers would end
and increasing the odds
of horizontal reconvergence.

Troy savored that part of romantic quarrels.
He, like his contemporaries, had
become accustomed to the delicate cycle
and reveled in the art of dangling in the
emotional no man's land tightly tethered
to relationships which burn too fiercely
for their own general health.
His mother always warned him
of that passed down zealous passion
but Troy was the type of man
who sought his own Battle of Waterloo.
Besides, Mary loved the flowers every time
and the cans of pale lager
could soften the edges
of any jagged evening.

The summer heat subsided
by the time he hit the highway.
Air conditioning seemed to be
a waste, the compressor stealing gas
so Troy rolled down the windows
of his car and laid his arm out.
A feeling of July reflected from his limb
and smacked him in the face
with decades of fond remembrance.
It was the first time he'd allowed
himself a windblown ride this season.
The thought of summers dead and brewing
added to the admixture
of pleasant mental images--
he and Mary rolling in the dark
like apologetic panda bears
though it wasn't all black and white.
Still, he soaked the night
through pores as best he could
anticipating solace in the form of his beloved.
Counting down the miles in his head
he joined the chorus
of a song played on the radio
that fit the mood too well.

When he arrived at Mary's cottage
in that godforsaken valley
he heard his mother chuckle
at his stubbornness and swore
as soon as he reached back
to grab his feeble gift
and saw that all the petals
had been blown off by the wind.
Troy cracked a can of Coors
and thought of what to tell his girl.

The ride home was in silence.
The boys were at the bar.

Currently reading:
"American Gods" by Neil Gaiman.


Another Deadly Hoax

The French missionaries to Cameroon
left that radio as a gift
to their pygmy converts
in the early 20th century.
It's hard to blame them
for the aftermath.
Even Orson Welles
walked away unscathed.
The low-hanging clouds
of the ionosphere
would be safer scapegoats.
They bounced those radio waves
from CBS headquarters in New York
to the coast of western Africa
on that ill-fated evening
of October 30th, 1938.

When "The War of the Worlds"
was translated
by an elder of the tribe
who had learned
the White man's tongue
a massacre broke out
leaving fifty lives
hacked to bits
by steel machetes
while hovering above
in their spinning Martian saucers
the only intelligent life
within a thousand light-years
laughed at man's irony
and waited.


The Test

Someday we'll look back on these weekend nights and laugh--
Maybe at the party of another married couple
whom we seem to charm enough to earn frequent invitations.
The white wine we bring will be chilled
and safer to us than our hosts' amateur Margaritas.
I'll shamelessly raid their cupboard for chocolate
after the third glass.
Not a chip shall remain by the time of our departure.
At one point we'll be introduced (against our will)
to a fellow bride and groom
who will bore us with the tale of how they had first met.
"...Then I moved across the country, but she waited
for two years," the beaming fool will croon
pausing for the sighs that usually pour forth
but our pupils will be locked across the coastered table,
our feet will meet and rub, and we'll laugh
within our minds at amateur Margaritas
and cookie-cutter romance.

Our story is a secret
and that's what makes it real.

Family on Parole

His seventies have left him
looking like a jack-o'-lantern
but no one with half a heart
would say so. In his time
he was an athlete, an officer
an eldest son, a lover
a fisherman who took
his nephew chasing trout
on long summer days
that started and ended
with strong Spanish coffee.
That's the hero I choose to remember:
Rafael, a man of the Renaissance.

There are five lives
directly the result of his own;
twelve if you go downstream
to his great-grandson
whom he's never met.
His youngest daughter, a wisp
at thirteen, plays on my mother's computer
in the next room while my uncle and I
pretend to watch a program
on the history of the Underworld.
Hieronymus Bosch paintings of Hades
from the era of Columbus
have been chopped
doctored, and animated
with demons floating
across the screen
for the sake of this
fake documentary.
He keeps muttering
protests under his breath
a recurring one being
"The Bible doesn't say that."

The subject matter
swells too much. I offer up
the title and plot of a book
I've been reading
as a merciful sacrifice.
"I know that one.
Great story. Books are like
taking a trip," he states
in the mystified tone
of an old man who once
was excited by life.
It sounds like there was more
to his thought, but the words stop there.
A man who did fifteen years
in state prison would know about
the various means of escaping one's mind.
Literature, that trip, can tunnel under walls.

I remember the river we were fishing
when he told me. I was ten. I didn't care.
My uncle was not a manslaughterer to me.
Our eyes return to the screen
though we already know what Hell is.
"Do you need some more water?"
I ask as I rise to stretch my legs.
"I'm good, man. I'm good," he says
without adjusting his bifocals.

On my way back from the kitchen
I slip a crisp Fifty in my teenage cousin's hand
as she plays a game on mom's computer--
the only time she'll get to use one outside school.
My right index finger hovers above my lips
in the international code for
"This can be our secret."
Her eyes light up as she snatches
the bill and shoves it into the pocket
of her shorts, mouthing two words
that I should learn to say more often.

It's the first decent thing I've done all month.
I decide to ruin it later by sharing it with strangers.


The Purge

Round them up like derelicts
prisoners of war
to eliminate the risk
of wishing for the miracle.
A spine compresses
from ceiling weight
and clouds above a world of ants
while shaking hands burn 
en route to closet corners
with real-life Kryptonite 
in the form of left belongings.
Reduced to Mr. Kent again
dreaming through alarms.
The rent's been paid to Caesar
though home has driven south.


Still We Let It Choke Us

"Which hurt more? The first or the last?"

You have a lot of time to think about it afterward, not that it's a question that anyone would ask you. It's the type of debate you have with yourself in front of a mirror at three in the morning, often under the influence of an overserved evening. The hangdog look of confusion in your eyes betrays the truth hiding behind your lips. Five of your front teeth are missing and you know that neither option is correct.

The first you barely felt due to the adrenaline. The last were not as bad because the shock had numbed your mouth. The ones that bastard yanked in the middle are what inflicted the most pain, though not for the reason expected. With enough time to think between threats made by the loan shark you'd crossed and the chemicals coursing through your bloodstream you managed to decipher the true source of the suffering:  a human being, by definition only, is capable of torturing another individual over money, for revenge. That is what struck you the hardest. That is what made you curse birth. Duct-taped to that basement chair you found a reason for heartache.

Your physical affliction was gruesome and acute, but the psychological damage done by those rusty pliers lasted longer than the ache in your gumline. There's no phantom limb syndrome for teeth. You learn to live without them, eating foods more appropriate, smiling with your eyes instead; but the fruit from Eve's tree cannot be spat out. You know what man is capable of now. Feel free to throw that accusation at the fairer sex as well.

If you had insurance--the type with dental coverage--then you wouldn't be reminded every time you take a bite. But hey, if you could pay, then you wouldn't need Albanians. He must've gotten his rocks off. He never called you back.

Amateur Oncology

It's not the first time
she's rubbed it discreetly;
a fifty says it won't be the last.
"How long has this been here?"
she asks of the small mark on his forehead.
"As long as I can remember," he blurts.

It's one speck of the spatter
that flecked his skin at birth--
an external flaw doled as counterpoint
by God the Father's left hand.
There are hundreds on his body
but this one catches her eye.
She would know.
She's an expert.
She doesn't like its color.
He fears her mistrust
of his faulted epidermis.
He'll never tell her this
but the irony seems right.

It's a year since her mother
was eaten alive by cancer.
Her own skin that betrayed her
was washed and clothed
by her daughter until the end.
He quit fifteen years of nicotine
the weekend that they met
though there was no ultimatum.
There can't be
if it's to last.

Scrolling back through years of pictures
zooming in to check his head
would seem like cheating fate.
Who needs reassurance with a memory like his?
That brown spot's been there forever.


Key West Blues in C#

In the back of his throat
there's a gallows
where he hangs himself
with the wrong words.
None of it will matter
in his own private Idaho
when celebrities die
to be quoted.

It isn't how the rules are rigged
but why a ghost would abide.

The service is lacking.
The liquor is watered.
Regardless, they come for the brass.

Currently reading:
"Sunlight Here I Am" by Charles Bukowski.


Isis, Cease to Weep

The sincerest of greetings
from an aerated chauvinist
comes after nightmares
of standard transmissions
guns without bullets
botching escape.
The fortunate wake with their teeth
still intact.

It's Shangri-La versus Valhalla.
All day long
stuck in your rhythm
with better places to be.

Good god
I see women from my father's hometown
and wonder why he ever left.
Springing to your assumption
is the part begged to play.
Mistaken for a misogynist
with only a weakness for women.

New wine fills the skin.
A pack of year-old cigarettes
medicates this latest retreat
after meeting the same bird
with a different wounded wing.

It's not the best Sunday for breathing.


Ride the Mattress

The State Department regrets to inform you that Mr. David Vargas has become a parody of himself. Like rape, it's worse than death; but there are no made-for-TV movies about this crippled fate. He'll, you'll, however the Royal We shall choose to address Itself this time--will only fade into oblivion, another silent casualty of apathy; though in your case, Dave, the sinking isn't silent. You're a writer, or so you think since you wave your arms and throw words at the shore. There will be a record for whatever fouls you commit. There has been for a decade, and it's cost you friends and family. It's cost you love. It's sentenced you to lust, to the search for a gourmet meal in the soup kitchens of Skid Row. And still you let it choke you.

That's what you're supposed to do. This laying in bed until four is expected. While others are returning from work you are still basking in the self-pity of your sex-stained sheets, a mouth unwashed and hair uncommitted to any compass points. Your back is so sore from laying on your weight that the rolling and switching of postures does nothing. You swallow anti-inflammatories, careful not to call them painkillers, and medicate the sore reminder of your syndrome. It's not the first time you've gone that route, though no one's around who remembers such an old yarn.

But this is how they did it, right? You are the quintessential. Congratulations on your complimentary toaster oven. The Network regrets that you've missed the Grand Prize, fallen barely short of its omnipresent glory. The image fades to a laugh in your bathroom. There is no Network, no network, but there certainly is an audience: schools of sharks swarming since your first release of blood. It came as unintentional then. It felt right to allow that slice. When it was over your smile was less crooked. You read it three times in your hovel of a bedroom, foolishly proud of what any sap could accomplish. And so began the cycle that has hounded you ever since: the creative recounting of fallacies, the abhorrent rehashing of crimes, a revisionist history so drenched in self-pity that even the meek must cringe in disgust. You claim it's all cathartic, but you don't learn from the lessons. You type them out and ship them out and now sometimes they're published. Here we are in the wide world that credits a fool for his folly. There's no money in the lines they print, though once in awhile some fresh thighs spread for you. Nothing you have entered in these last years has been sacred. No one's felt the overwhelming urge to stay, yourself included in that spiny accusation. You are the man you loathe inside, and lately it's been easier for the sharks to see straight through. The taste of copper rides high in whichever seas you navigate.

Once you tried to cook with a pot you had just washed. The water had to boil for the process to commence. Something didn't seem right minutes later on your couch. You could smell the looming danger. The moisture on the pot had extinguished the stove's flame. Another twenty minutes and the whole place would be poison. It would have been a headline. They would've all assumed. You ordered out instead, newly grateful for the menu.

You're unsure of what you're doing. That's no secret, friend or foe. The women you've made tender did it more to spare the world. "In a scrape", they used to call it, though it hurts much more than that. Karmic justice triumphs in your recent lack of life. There was once a line of women who would save you at your door. Now the line's retreating, pouring shots for bullets dodged.

Instead of seeing sunlight, calling day a chance, you pull the blinds tighter before covering your head with a blanket that's only smelled of yourself for far too long.

You'll be skipping Happy Hour. There isn't room for acting. The only wings you want adorn some angel out of reach.

Currently reading:
"The Hunt for Red October" by Tom Clancy.


For a Shoebox in a Closet

So strange, these clumps we deify.
Golden-hour lighting yields saints with vulvodynia
while the scrotal exfoliation of senators
determines the outcomes of our lives.
Lou Reed is dead and Seeger's dead
and we're supposed to feel awful
for that Seymour Hoffman junkie.
We dump wine atop our cereal
to slurp down liquid dinner
smoking cloves instead of menthol
since mint's a faster kill.

There's wet work for rapists in prisons
where all our best felons are made.
The horror of dating has not been the bar tab
but how many women were robbed in the dark.
A truer use of lead and steel
would put fathers and Fathers
coaches and confidants
with the monsters their hormones
have burned underground.
Right as rain, sworn on a stack of Gideon Bibles
their silent equalizer should be praised
with union scale.

Somewhere in his chest
there's a bullet you can't catch
bouncing off his ribcage
breaking bits of bone
and they say that when it stops
or he ships those hidden letters
then the tide will shift accordingly
to hail the highest bidder.

Right as rain
but still the village fool.

Currently reading:
"The Breathing Method" by Stephen King.



It's been nineteen months since we put her in the ground. There still is no tombstone, but my uncle is working on that. My mother's picking a style, he's prying some cash back from his wife, my grandmother's waiting for a name on her grave. These things take time. It's not like in the movies. At least she's next to her husband after fifty-eight years apart.

In many ways she's with us now more than she was during her last few years topside when her mind was truly gone. The wounded who preach of love never dying have a leg to stand on, though it can be misconstrued. It changes, you see. It has to. The departed aren't present to give themselves back, but love is meant to be selfless. We carry the lessons and laughs that they brought us. We wear their hardships as stripes on our skin. We throw back our shoulders when words hit our ears that give us the cue to carry the name.

And that is how my grandma still lives: through the words.

She spoke only Spanish, at least for the record. Ninety-two years is a long conversation. Her lexicon was that of a small island farm girl from Puerto Rico, peppered with wit she dragged in from the streets of New York like gravel that sticks to the bottom of soles. There's a list I have of her phrases; aphorisms from a wiser generation. None of them are dated. Most of them are funny. Some of them don't translate. All of them are true. I won't write them out in their native tongue for you to butcher. That would be disservice. That would be irreverent. Here's a prime example of the type of lines she carved: "He who doesn't want broth, you give three cups to." Her third-grade education made more sense than much of college. I had my share of cups there, though not enough was broth.

We revel in her words still--certain rolling R's and salty lady syllables. Even her cough is something that we mimic when with the closest family: "eh-heh, eh-hao."  We know who that is. We miss her all the same, though in different ways. My mother called this morning, mentioned weekend chores. Her condo is a mess, she claimed, though only by her standards. I let my grandma's word for "mess" fall into the phone and the two of us remembered how she'd go off on some tangent. We could smell her small apartment, rice on the stove and dark meats laced with garlic in the oven. We could see her tiny apron adorned with handstiched flowers. This four-foot-nothing giant who loved without limits taught her children well. Be not "zeroes to the left", as she used to term the worthless. That sounds like a title. When it's time to print I'll use it.

There's a lot to say for language. There's a list of those I've loved. One can only hope that the actions match the words.

Currently reading:
"The Body" by Stephen King.


Shorts Above the Knee

He used to have this saying
he'd tack on
to ends of phrases, messages
and Hallmark cards:
"...and know that you are loved."

I haven't heard him say it
since I could drink in public.
The old bird still believes himself.
Half of me is jealous.

Those words the vodka mumbles
come as soothing threats:
"I'll never be my father."

At least I have his eyes.

A whore's demise is marriage.
The greatest death is love.
Your sign at city limits
and its welcome are suspicious.


Springfield '03

My granddad had a relic
hanging in his closet.
I saw it once
while rifling
for his favorite
blue umbrella.

"What's this?"
I asked excitedly
not needing him to answer.
"My service rifle, sonny,"
he said through custom teeth.

All steel was blued
the highest shine.
Its wood was well intact.
A dulled edge on its bayonet
coerced my mind to wander.

"They issued these
with leather slings?"
my anxious tongue inquired.
"No. They came with canvas."
He didn't seem impressed.

I stroked the strap, its stitching
worn, admiring its craftsman.

"You bought it then?"
"My best friend did."
"...a gift?"
"He died in France."

That was the last I asked of war.
I found him his umbrella.
And when he passed
a few years back
no weapon plagued his will.


Drunk on Shirley Temples

Spit at him the ways
he's been down this lane before:
Oversexed, underfed
with a welcome outstayed
by days.

There's always a cat
who gives too much affection
as if to make up
for those nights in between.
The drinking of time
and passing of water
becomes his old blur--
familiar at worst.

Six pounds were lost
though not ever missed.
He means to buy matches
to keep for her porcelain.

He almost braved to hitchhike back home
leaving a note on her mother's best lace
but then came the fear
that no one would stop
and no one would start
to know him again.


A Prowler Unsabered

Spent the last four mornings
learning six a.m.
by the light through her blinds
in lieu of an alarm clock.

Favorite time of day:
Five minutes after
our last release
as I hear her gentle snoring.
There's trust in vulnerability.
What more can lovers give?

And in one of those talks
coached by long-dead men
I broke it down in concrete:
"Someone's got to love you, woman.
Why shouldn't it be me?"


A Flower You Can Eat

There are rules
in dusty books on this.
Their writers are all dead;
still trusted.

A Luger's
felled me, spread the wealth.

"So now what?"
Heather asks, flora
in her own right.

It turns out I'm a monster.
It turns out that won't change.

Her earrings are here
on the night stand
though that means nothing, detective.
Not all mistakes
are implications.
Not every thorn
stems from red petals.
Can't read the future
in a puddle's oil slick.

All hands on deck
to hear these proclamations.
There's a list of tunes
I pray are in Hell's jukebox.

So, now what?

Currently reading:
"Apt Pupil" by Stephen King.



Since Christ had Mary Magdalene
then I demand a saint;
perhaps another slattern
accused but not convicted.
There is no record printed
of washing dusty feet
on their gold-inked
see-through pages.
It's folklore for the barstools.

Who wouldn't love a god
so humble to scrub seed
from between the toes of harlots?
It trumps the evening news.
But you never lose a button
on a shirt that came with extras
stitched in some hidden place
that even lovers miss

so while we're missing lovers
and playing Cunning Linguist
here's a dose of braggart's folly
that the unsubscribed won't share:
The only sight that's sweeter
than a note found after work
is a second hidden deeper
in the same excited scrawl;
a cinema star's signature;
more I wouldn't risk.


Shakespearean Iambi

"To be
or not to be,"
he booms striding by
arm extended Heavenward;
a dramatist in yellow.
I look up from my pages--
the butt of this friend's joke.
He's grinning as much as he will
on our shift.

"That's right," I concur succinctly.
"When I was an apprentice
they used to call me..."

But he's already back
to his lunch break brethren
before I can finish my sentence.
An antiquated nickname
embroidered on my cap
twitches in the breeze
as we all savor roles
beyond terms like
Steamfitter, Laborer
Anxious General Foreman.

Life's too short to wear one hat.

Currently reading:
"Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" by Stephen King.



And we're family
but we're not.
And we're graceless
skipping Grace.
And we're eating
from the table
too careful of our toes.

And we're armed
beyond our teeth.
And we're sober
as the Pope
half pitching double-headers
or sharing beds alone.

And we're grateful
there aren't albums
and the photos aren't in print
since we'd have a lot to conjure.
It hasn't been nostalgic.

We were warned to stay away.
We came, as Catholic raised.
Eve was hexed a harlot.
Now will you pass the fruit?


The Last of the Mohicans

It greets me
like that tentative friend
on the playground:
A book
lightly used
bought off the Internet.
First edition.
Grease stains adding character.
I saved 20% with my discount card.
The couch feels more comfortable
as I crack the old whore's binding.

Someone left a message
with black marker in the cover.
An inscription from its giver.
"A quickie existential crisis."
Some praise.
Some page numbers.
A "Happy birthday"
and the Love

but the part that makes me cringe for "Ed"
comes right before he signed it:
"I want to spend every year
of your life with you."

It seems she sold the book.

Heavy Petting

He hacks at the windshield
blood vessels in his eyeballs exploding
and tries not to spill his coffee
clutched by fingers that the nicotine can't stain.
He grew up fishing the pond he passes
on his morning commute
now reduced to a milestone for punctuality.

Today's trek is different.
There's a swan standing oddly
at the side of the road.
Fifty feet more and the crime scene's revealed:
Its mate sprawled backwards, legs pointed to God
on the other side of the poorly named guard rail.
The surviving bird stares into traffic
as though considering the march
that'd send it to eternity
alongside its ill-fated lover.

He takes a deep drag
fleeing the latest tragedy
eight miles over the speed limit.
Teeth clench like chalk
in the mortar morning.
The acid of last night's grapes
wears away their enamel
as scenes such as this one
have done to the rest.
Petals from a blossoming tree
flutter through his window
at the next traffic light
and choke on exhaled smoke.

There shall be a fifth Horseman.
He'll come bearing gifts.

Currently reading:
"Survivor" by Chuck Palahniuk



A rap sheet.
A rent cheque.

A library card.
A union card.
Birthday cards on the refrigerator.

A credit report.
A driver's license.
Unsolicited mail-order catalogs.

Dental records.
Planned Parenthood bills.
An insurance ID that works sometimes.

But the only thing that proves
that this life was ever lived
is a photo from five years ago:

Two stubborn lovers
naked from the waist up
laughing in the yellowed sheets
of a queen-size hotel bed
on the Maine-New Hampshire border
with no knowledge of the ending.

For that I will save documents.
For that I'll play their game.


By Proxy

Charlie opens his door
to a man he's never met.
"You're late," Charlie tells him
and laughs
as expected.
The man doesn't flinch.
A gold watch
from Chinatown
weighs down his wrist.

Outside, on Main Street
a woman tries three times
to parallel park, but fails.
Her car speeds off down the block
in search of another spot.

"Do I have time for a smoke?"
Charlie asks
tapping the unbuttoned breast pocket
above his heart.
The stranger yawns
tired of his typecast role
without an agent to blame.
He produces a pack of Lucky Strikes
and lights two, handing one
to the man across the threshold.

Charlie, unaware of the rules
takes a free drag and waits for words
from Sleep's tired cousin.
They don't come.

"Making the rounds?"
Charlie asks while exhaling.
The man in borrowed clothing
pulls long and hard
at his cigarette.
Its cherry lengthens at once
and turns to ash
which he flicks
on Charlie's unsuspecting doormat.

His mouth finally opens.
Perfect teeth.
"Time's up."

But the kid is faster on the draw than most
and no one's ever thought
to shoot Him in the knee.
The stranger chokes
on the embers of his cigarette
as Charlie slams the door.

"Jehovah," Charlie shrugs
to the woman
curled up on his couch.
"Where were we?"

Currently reading:
"Chump Change" by Dan Fante.


Bachelor's Ball

A sadist would make this
some problem of math
questioning the Sun's angle
as it moves up his legs
warming more of his lazy skin
slowly, by the fraction of the inch
helping him to remember the sensation
after what felt like his life's longest winter

but he's no sadist
so instead he stares down
at the face rising and falling
framed by naked thighs
eyes closed, lips welded
recognizing this as a symptom
not a cause.


Swinging for a Ring

In names like Love
she bares her breasts
to strangers on the Internet
so that her knight with bedroom eyes
won't have to weave his web of lies
to bring home strays
and feed the beast
cursed by sunsets in the East.

There are few creatures pitied less
than birds on roadsides, broken necks.


Not for Sport for Once

She rides me
as she has for years--
a cold offering
to an idol we'll never share.
"That's a new one,"
I observe between thrusts
and the setting sun.
The ink is fresh;
the body isn't.
she's more beautiful
than in high school.

She shivers in affirmation
and pleasure that's forbidden.

Black text.
Two dates.
Her ribcage.
Foreign epitaph.
Beautifully under
her bra strap.
Her grand-someone
left last year.

But it's false:
We don't die
all at once.
The French say
a little at a time
and they're right.

There's a fine line
between man's laughter
and manslaughter.

Currently reading:
"The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein.


Crossing the Double Yellow

Longer days with looming light
giving reason not to sleep
though he's ginned and catatonic.
Spitting on streets was illegal once.

A mother confides her woes
asks her only son to pray.
He can't lift words to gods
he's sworn off like friends in debt.

His stance on the masses:
Brake when they're passing.
There's no reason now for rushing
to other worlds than this.

Conspirators cast out
like merchants from the temple.
It was comfortable and easy
like missionary
like taking one on the starboard side
like her tenderest of parts
that tasted of grapefruit
and are gone now.

And are gone.


In Vino Mendacium

There are people
skinning people
with the sole goal of profit.
The Corporation wins
regardless of your vote.
If Congress turned honest
we'd see trademarks in cheap suits.
Credit pays the bills
and the wine tastes good.

There are hungry children sleeping
with their eyes glued to the screens
that their parents placed before them
to replace the food of learning.
Overfed and oversexed
they rely on backs of busses
to teach of fornication
and the wine tastes good.

There are teachers
pulling wrenches.
There are soldiers
sharing secrets.
There are victims
droved and shorn
who believe that freedom's free.
There are peep shows in Manhattan
where a man can skip the dinner
and go straight to feeling lonely
and the wine tastes good.


Finding Orion

Piranhas and pariahs;
neither much desired.
Eating not for sustenance
but to fight the pangs.

Touch fire to the box.
He's bred of noble stock
but foreign constellations
make no compass claims.

Postmature and panting
they tire of the ranting.
Cauterize with quips
instead of heated blades.

Style points are given
though never to the living.
Read and eat and write and drink
and hope our brand's the same.


Long Island Viticulture

Ambushed saints
roll around in underbrush
throttling each other
through the din
of sin's confusion.

He saw this in a man
straightening a photo
hung on a rented wall
that no one cares to see.

"This is where the war
was waged," a tour guide
tells some Asians.
"This is where the war was lost,"
he mutters, off the clock.

Dishes in the sink
are proof of last week's guests.
A truth that doesn't make you ache
is not worth your remembrance.


Caveat Emptor

His work jeans are delivered--
slightly irregular, highly discounted.
Tearing them from their clear plastic packaging
he notices small strips of white masking tape
near the imperfections
that deemed the pants unworthy
of full retail:
a tattered seam here, a crooked stitch there.
The hands of poor Mexicans
in both senses of the adjective
have clearly delineated
all flaws on his behalf.
He barely paid half-price
and his friends will never notice
but that denim seems much darker
with the stark white set against it.

An itch subdues his chest.
He scratches, checks to see
if there next to his pocket
someone's tagged what is defective.
Even through the laughter
some can recognize the mark.
He likes those seers dearly
or as best as he knows how.



A ship becalmed
four words reneged
and lies like dioramas;
Liberals in their bomber jackets
toss the burning filters.

Caesar scoffed an omen
and bled out from his Senate
on a date that we'll remember
while the others seem to wane.

Women loved the fugitive
far more when he was hiding.
Friends and kinsmen called
when there was still much to offer.

Windless sails and raincoats.
A cracking masquerade.
If one god trumps another
then let's hope that we chose wisely.


Plus One

Two words
drop mail
in the stairwell--
An unexpected
return address.

First guess: belated birthday card.
An invitation ensues
and the falling.
Postage paid envelope. Nice touch
like a cruel joke, strategically timed.

Picking up the papers
demands a second glance.
A cousin's marriage. Relief.

They share the same first name.
The last one came close.


A has-been hangs up his holsters
and waits for a candle to ring
but she's forgotten.

Currently reading:
"The Road to the Dark Tower" by Bev Vincent.


Cryptic Prophecies in a Fugitive's Red Pupils

I am not a snubnosed revolver. I am many things, but a wheelgun in .38 Special is not one of them. I've ridden in pockets and stung a few hands, though that doesn't make me a Smith nor a Wesson.

I am not Nick Adams, Jay Gatsby, John Galt. Gregory Peck smoked better than me and Humphrey Bogart's less typecast. The problem with some assumptions is that not all martyrs are saints.

I am not Sub Rosa. The Chatham House Rule does not apply herein. Occam's Razor is a joke of the most perverse sort and Murphy's like Gravity without any conscience.

"Anaphora"'s a word redundant as another."Eutony" sounds like "eulogy" and means about the same. Listen through the laughter if you care to know the man.

My work here is done. We should all be committed.



When I feel it's
only sometimes
but when it's there
it's there

and if I'd done a better sweep
and the frame had not been shattered
and the wall had not been moving
and the wine had not been there

then this glass stuck in my heel
would not remind a heathen
that his brother deserves more
than a mess who drinks alone
when not smiling alongside him
for a camera and a man
who bore the both of us
twenty-some-odd years apart

so tonight I feel the shard
so tonight I suck the bottle
so tomorrow when the bombs ring
I'll know I'm still alive.


A Terror to the Savage

I've seen their palest skin
where it's calm under the cotton
the curtain call of twenty-four
and all the King's best men.
Compared to petting burning dogs
I'm a solid wager.
The theater has been emptied;
still all these palls to bear.

A threat posed like a mannequin
seeps down beneath the rifts
that we never would suspect.
Some eat the windfall apples.

When father's lure caught lakeside branch
there never came rebuke.
A sentence that would slice too late:
"You've got a lot to learn, son."



She came bearing a gift
contained within a bottle:
New Zealand's proudest grape
as per his request.
Some friends converged
in honor of a day
they draped in scarlet.
The march home
had cigarettes, missed calls
from one missed lover.

In the morning
when he found it
there wasn't much surprise.
The bag held the receipt
and the value of his life.

There are terms
like "martial artist".
The female knows of blood.
He hopes seats aren't assigned
in whatever they deem Hell.


The Breakdown

Photographers are painters
with slightly less ambition.
Painters are but writers
afraid of the true challenge.
Writers are skewed historians;
scientists stumped by time travel.

Let's hope the threat is shallow
and those who can't
don't teach.


We All Have Our Reasons

This hellion stands
smoking at his post
listening to the flakes
as they hit the awning above
and a stubborn motorist
in the distance of a still night.

Across the street
a known neighbor
works at the sidewalk's snow
though he doesn't live
on that side of the drag.
The Samaritan pauses
looking up from his silent toil
causing the guilted party
to retract into the safety
of his building's concrete vestibule.

We wonder what it was
to catch and kill magicians
but really, through some sifting
the meek already know.

Battered, resilient
in clothes befitting peasants
a better man throws
what Mother Nature's dropped.
Having defeated much
but not enough
he shovels for himself.

Currently reading:
"Texas Devils" by Michael Collins.


The Spinster That Scares Me

My greatness is not readily perceived.
Even when I let neighbors
smoke in my apartment
it's unnoticed.
They probably assume
I've made a habit of that.

I dated a man once
who used his knife
so gingerly
to persuade food
onto his fork.
Three years later
I do the same
and cringe
at picking up
his mannerisms
like poison from a plate
my stomach's rejected.

A woman like me
says more by saying nothing
neither waving nor drowning
in this river of indifference.

I almost felt bad
for my overripe onion
that sprouted and tried
to set its own roots.
Had it been summer
I would have tried planting.
Instead I chopped chives
and fried a blue omelet.

He's out there flailing.
For now I paint sunsets
and hang them in closets
where no one can see.
It's a matter of shared profit loss
before I'm discontinued
like my childhood perfume.



The mail-order quality knife set
that Meg bought for my birthday
two years ago is slowly falling apart.
Handles break when there's company.
Blades rust in the sink.

Rather than ditch it entirely
I let the joke play out
like, "Maybe I won't answer
the next time that she calls,"
or, "Maybe that cutlery's
stainless as it claims."

It's hard to replace
what you never had
and China will never be Germany.

A Reluctant Matador

Exiled from bed
by a stranger's shameless snoring;
a sin only endearing
when the victim
paws at quarry.
Instead these novice saviors
flood the gates
with raw incentives
though none taste like
stale cigarettes
nor other ancient innocence.

Fellate, filet, and file.
Incinerate the vine.
A mattress is an altar
with a sacrifice that varies.
Listen for the asthma.
Spare none but the willing.
Plug your ears with cotton.
That's not Christ.
It's heartburn.

Currently reading:
"Lana Turner, Vol. 6"



We're careful observers
who may or may not offend
those who aren't careful.

We're kids who loved to play
but hadn't enough toys.

We're that special breed
of craftsman
who swears he could rebuild Troy
through skilled renovation
and without any horse.

We'd rather excrete than eat.

No secret we hear is sacred.
Every word uttered is fair game to field
as long as we change the names
at least slightly.

If we pooled all our knowledge
there'd still be a question.

At the end of the day
and the end of the sentence
we do it for the same reason
that rock stars first picked up guitars: