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.