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