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.