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.