For JJ, as Always

Second Biggest Fear:
Becoming a Great Man

who's more than halfway
through his Life.
Time has been generous
in doling Billable Hours.
Gods have been gracious
in granting him Gifts.
He's Mastered his Art
his Skill, his Trade.
His Name brings nods
of approval in trenches.
At night he counts Achievements
like the lines in the grout
that hold the bricks together.
The walls and roof
keep Nature at bay
while he waits for the Dirt.

Biggest Fear:
History repeating

for a boy who's got
a Chance
and a brother who's not strong enough
to weather the Storm
and warn him.

Great Men make great statues
but a story trumps a Legend.


Living on Leftovers

It's days since we've been holy
but the food ain't running low.
"Take some home with you,"
the bloodline women say.
The maid quit
and the chef, too
and a bachelor's a fool
if he turns down a meal.

She reaches out on Christmas
to wish her merry best.
The next day his date
proves his mother right:
"They can see it in your face."
His reply is not a lie.
He misses now a ghost.

Two recipes of his dead grandmother go down
like "soul food and something to eat."

Season to taste.
Whatever you do
don't swallow.


Date Two, Scene Thirty-Nine

Jackie, will she do?
She almost looks like you.
The poor girl wouldn't talk to me
if she only knew.

She asked me if I'm stuck
or feeling out of luck.
I ordered up another round.
I didn't sip--I sucked.

I noticed in her eyes
she saw through my disguise
of beard and flannel button-down
and waiters used as spies.

Jackie, she won't do.
I lost her, just like you.
I hope Chicago treats you right--
an office with a view.

Currently reading:
"Poetry East:  Numbers 84 & 85".

Reveille Reunion

Overhead lighting
is karmic justice wisely avoided.
The lamp at my dining room table
starkly illuminates the right side of his face.
His cauliflower ear
earned from years of wrestling
attracts accidental glances
that he may or may not notice.
I inhale his mother's leftovers.
He attacks my mother's baked goods.
We catch up over whiskey
wine, and rum-infused eggnog
seeking refuge from family
we suffered through all day.
There was a time at age fifteen
when we'd be drinking giant bottles
of malt liquor with parents out of town
but now we speak of noteworthy literature
convenient history, drunken fumblings
women who framed our penchants and pet peeves
lessons we learned in and out of classrooms.

No savior is born, but a few saints perish.

The time comes when I kick him out for his own good.
There's a holiday party waiting in his new state
with a woman or two worth effort.
There are stories to be made for next time.
The oldest friends know distance.

I hear the locks tumble
as my wrist turns brass
and he descends the stairwell.
Half a glass of wine swirls down the kitchen drain.
I realize I don't have a suit fit for weddings.


A Homemade Hades for the Holidays

You shave the strays
pluck a few grays from your beard
repeating her name
into the medicine cabinet mirror
in case you forget it
in your cups over dinner.
Someday only one phrase
will ever leave your lips.
Until then it's "Cheers"
and "Sure, we'll hear the specials."

There's no miracle on Main Street.
It's like a Buick:
It holds up in court.
Please don't wish for luck;
only a graceful death.

Christ is born every Damned day
in the form of a stubborn writer.


The Bush Pilot

Drink back to your first rodeo--
then your lasso;
now your noose.
Flaccid attempts
Seeking refuge in daytime sleep
when the pages aren't enough.
The glorious maelstrom
swirled into a morgue
with no one left
to claim the corpse.

Four champagne flutes, rarely used
collect dust on a shelf
since they're too tall for the cupboard.
You should have let her breathe
like the fine wine that she is.

Call it even.
Call it clashing.
Call it in the air.

An Understated Magi

Dumping the peppers was making me late. It was only a Saturday side job and my employer was probably still rubbing last night's venial sins from crusted eyelashes. That row of mason jars had been sitting atop my kitchen cabinets for well over four years, mocking me from their pressboard perch. Kristen's canning abortion lingered like a reminder of what unhealthy love can yield:  a dusty relic of time gone by that haunts you, breaks you, castrates. Company often asked about them and I fumbled for an answer. The drain sucked down the liquid, the trash can took the solids. I smirked with overdue accomplishment and descended to the sidewalk.

I'd seen him around town ever since I'd moved here shortly before the breakup. It was unclear where he slept, but his clothes implied a stairwell. He was old enough to have served in the latter years of Vietnam and the courtesy in his eyes suggested that the young man who drew a bad hand had served his country dutifully. There was always a nod or a wave from the suntanned skin he washed in public bathrooms. Long strands of gray hair fell from his head and upper lip. This morning a trenchcoat shielded him from the first delayed frost that had stalled until December. While I approached my truck, he rummaged through the ashcans behind the bar next door.

I pulled the pack from the left breast pocket of my denim shirt and counted its contents. Eight was enough to last him two days. Eight was enough for a Festival of Lights.

"Want a smoke?" I asked while my altered course intercepted his.

"I found a few butts," he confided. His trenchcoat made him look like a film noir detective. What he sought was the boiled down reduction that all of us pursue in our our ways:  a few simple pleasures before the curtain falls.

I handed him my box of smokes without the complication of words. He replied with "Merry Christmas." I admired the lack of "Happy Holidays" paranoia. We went our separate ways.

My truck rumbled to a start and I shifted into gear. I was barely out of the municipal lot when my part-time employer called to notify me of his anticipated delay. A boiler he'd installed last winter was having trouble. A man of his word, he was heading there with vengeance.

"I'll call you when I'm finished," he said. "Stay home for now."

I parked and climbed three flights to my apartment. My boots were returned the closet and I peeled my work garb off. Air bubbles plagued the copper pipes in its hydronic heating, but sunlight augmented the warmth. It seemed the right time to wash those mason jars. The faucet ran, the dish drain filled with glass. Timing sets the stage for the silent wars endured. A block or two down Main Street the outdoorsman lit his first.


Henry VIII

Sometimes her name
(a guillotine blade)
falls from my mouth
against my will
as if on cue--
like when our favorite gin joint
serves my sandwich with the gherkin
that made me sick last winter.
Maybe it's pathetic
to the patron hunched
on the stool to my right
but at least there's a name to say.

What they don't print
on that bottle of pills
is that you have to believe
in the medicine you're taking
if you want it to work.



The photo's black & white
two-by-three inches
and framed in dollar-store gold.
A soldier and his ladyfriend
stand faking smiles
for some mother or brother
or friend of a friend
while the camera freezes the '40s.
He's in uniform, she's got curls
and their pose is off-center
like the world at that time.

I pull the cardboard backing out
see his rank, their names, the date
scrawled in a proud female's handwriting
wipe my dust and floating smoke
from the glass that still protects them
and place them back next to Clancy.

I brought them inside
a few months ago
to let them live on a bookshelf.
The curb was no place
for those young folks to die.



Hit 'em in the kidneys.
They'll be pissing blood for days.
Sleep in wet spots, dowry hunter.
Charming snakes can pay.

Vineyard clippings.
Livers dying.
Russians play roulette.
An off day or a day off--
neither help forget.

Lucky pliers.
Funeral pyres.
Matchbox Cars with dents.
Home was where her scars were
but Hell has cheaper rent.

Currently reading:
"The Bell Tolls for No One" by Charles Bukowski.


Marine Disasters of Cape Cod

It was her idea in the first place.
She asked of my Thanksgiving
but clearly sought to fish.
I pried myself into the shower
and headed for a familiar stage
across the trusty Hudson.

The script was slightly modified.
For the first hour she rambled
about her new French bulldog
as it tried to nibble on my groin
through the blanket covering us on the couch.
"This is Jack," she proclaimed with motherly pride
as I cringed at the canine name's irony.
"She's a rescue dog," she bragged
but I knew who was being saved.
Details of crates, eating feces to hide it
and being bred for financial gain
dripped from her living room walls
as I tried to watch a childhood Christmas film
while waiting for the wine to take hold.
At first I'd declined it, but the dog-talk
drove me to the corkscrew.

Our eyelids gained wait
so we ventured to the place where she sleeps
that's mostly made of pillows and wood.
"Don't untuck the sheets," she scolded
as I tried to free my feet.
It was Hell as I'd remembered.
It was unforgivable sin.
A poster in her bathroom
purchased in Massachusetts
made me swerve my stream.

The straddling was pleasant
until Jack howled through the door.
"What about your neighbors?"
"I pay rent. Who cares?"
I did, and urged her to allow
her charge to enter.
That was my second mistake.

The pooch climbed into the bed
though it feigned a need for lifting
when the sofa was our setting.
Commands were whispered my way
as the dog ignored her orders.
I felt a cold nose behind me
and lost it all
though not due to the grape.
"Let's stop."
So we did
and she put on her pajamas
and watched some late-night television
as I tripped over a garden hose
in her landlord's driveway.


An Owl and an Ingrate

The sex had to be quiet since we were staying with her family at their summer home in Vermont. Her brother always had something to prove, although he was already the golden child. A high-paying building management job awaited his return at a high-rise residential building near Columbus Circle. I was still on the unemployment list counting down my remaining weeks of insurance benefits. When he invited me on a night hike through a local nature preserve I had to accept. If you sleep with a man's sister that shamelessly you have to accept his challenge.

I wish I could lie to you about the moon, but there was none. It was there. It just wasn't visible. The darkness was a safe place to wear hard thoughts on my face. I wondered if she'd told him about how neither of us had cried after her appointment on Bleecker Street. I'd say "our appointment", but it was hers and hers alone. They save the inclusive phrases for happiness:  "We're pregnant"; "We're buying a house"; "We're in love." Suffering is solitary, unless one is being dragged through the forest by an over-zealous brother of a stubborn lover. A branch he didn't hold swung back and caught my forehead. The awakening was appreciated. That mental subway ride back to her apartment was worse than the current trail under foot.

I'm not sure who saw it first, but both of us heard the rush of wind and ducked simultaneously. An owl with a wingspan double the width of my outstretched arms swooped down at us--directly in our path--veering up inches before contact. Its talons could have flayed us had we made better victims. The night was owned by predators more savvy than ourselves. We shared some laughs and expletives. Our ride home was in silence. I was glad he didn't bring up Bleecker Street.

A few months later he flattened his face at a friend's house party in Boston. Cocaine and vodka convinced him of his immortality. He ventured from a balcony out onto a limb. The tree gave way underneath his slender frame. His fall was broken three storeys down behind a brownstone. The family rallied and made the trek to Beantown. His sister took it the hardest despite their sibling rivalry; or maybe she made those scenes to win back some attention. Regardless, I hated those weekends in Massachusetts hotels and that stinking waiting room. I hated the way she'd fly off the the cuff more easily due to the emotional cocktail mixed within her fragile system. I hated the tubes that ran in and out of him, holding the hero intact.

And I hate that owl, six years hence, for keeping its claws from our necks.


Mercutio, Fetch My Derringer

The article reads like a ghost story
a sadistic older cousin tells
with a flashlight for a microphone
in a midnight bedroom
the night before a holiday
when visiting from out of town:
Wooden ships laden with dead seagoers
have been washing ashore
on the Japanese coast which faces the Koreas.

The bodies are badly decomposed
left at the mercy of currents for weeks.
There are photos of first responders
or whatever they call those in Japan.
Investigators use surgical face masks
to mitigate the stench of liquefied flesh.
It's a recurring nightmare for the locals.
Finding boats containing corpses
is enough to madden a prophet.

To think that this happens
in this Year of our Lord.
To think of the conditions
that warrant this grisly gamble.
To think of the regrets
that went through their heads
as the seagulls circled hungrily
awaiting tender eyeballs.

It's enough to drive a man to Christ
this Age of Information.
Instead I watch a speck of floating cork
and wonder if wine
can turn back to water.


Chekhov's Gun

There they were
pinned to her kitchen's corkboard:
her poem I got in print
and a note from her ex-husband
that accompanied a birthday cake
which I was too stubborn to share.
There were three Chinese cookie fortunes, too--
something else I collect
but I was too jealous
to read them.

We slept soundly
even though her dog
kept tossing in her sleep.

I left before she woke
with the sun angled low
and always in my eyes.


The Man Who Braved the Everglades

Ray calls me for my address
though I've given it to him twice.
He's the uncle I saw most.
He's the uncle who Did Time:
15 years for beating his young wife to death
when he caught her cheating, high on LSD.
He's the reason I've never used drugs
outside glass.

First Puerto Rican cop in Rockland County.
First man I saw cry.
First and last person I visited in prison as a kid.

I think of him every time I cross the bridge
and see the lights from Downstate Correctional.
He thinks of me now
as he calls me on a Bloody Mary Sunday
my teeth unbrushed
my knees uncovered
my heart in relative shambles.
I give him my address
and he hangs up.

I know what it's like
to write from a jail cell.


What Do You Mean, You Don't Dance the Tango?

She keeps the gin I love on hand
in case we both get lonely;
never lets me make my own--
though not 'cause she's scared
of my heavy hand.

Sometimes I use
her lovely mane as reins.
Sometimes I drool
cruel words
to spare the innocent.

You only live once
and only with yourself.


Bargain Basement

The package waited
as patiently as it could
for my blade to tear into it.
There they were:
ammunition cans
"Army surplus", they call it
as if such a thing exists--
cubical steel painted green
hinged tops with handles
rubber gaskets to keep the powder dry
yellow stenciled lettering and numbers
that I only halfway understood.
I unclasped a latch
heard the vacuum break, felt my money's worth
with blinded buyer's pride.

There were grains of sand inside.

I opened the other five
all to find the same:
foreign soil in the boxes
that once held bullets
hurled to save the lives
of the frightened kids nearby.

I checked for dents
checked for blood
checked the white receipt
neatly printed in a warehouse.

I'll be buying new next time.
It's worth the extra cash.


Baking Soda, Vinegar, Science Fair Redundancy

"I love your words," she says through the haze.
"So do I," he says through the smoke.
The latter will stay the same.

"I want you write one for me," she says through the rain.
"So do I," he says through the clouds.
The latter will stay the same.

"You're going to write yourself right," she says through tears.
"I'll get it down fairly," he says through teeth.
The former is more accurate.

"She doesn't exist," she says through the door.
"That doesn't matter," he says through the wall.
The verdict is out on transparency.


The Wedding Photographer

I want to be the wizard who keeps the trains on time.
I want to be the only man she calls Sailor.
I want to wear her father's ring on a necklace.
I want to be loud on the Western Front.
I want to deny the continuous supply of female flesh.
I want to be a gentleman of leisure with the roughest hands.
I want to stall the morning commute in an early-model sedan.
I want to tell the men I love exactly how I feel.
I want to chew my tongue and wait for blood that isn't coming.
I want to be reminded that she's poisoned if she's fanged.
I want to be entitled and always photogenic.

Honey, let us settle for waking up forgetful.

The Windy City

She texted me from the Blue
to tell me that she found that sauvignon blanc
I introduced her to out there in Chicago.
It's another detail that means nothing to you
and everything to me.
I was drinking it at the time.
I was thinking of her eyes.

What's mine will always be yours.
Without yours in mind
I wouldn't bother opening my own.
All things grow.
I don't mind.


The milk's soured in an unopened carton.
A blue date scoffs from the refrigerator door.
I've barely been home for two months.
Work has consumed me.
I haven't had time to cook, sip coffee.

As I dump the spoiled contents
into a swirling toilet
I remember doing the same as a kid
when visiting my father
two weeks after seeing him last.
The milk had sprouted chunks
ignored in the corner of a sad bachelor fridge.
He'd forgotten that he'd bought it for me.
The sentiment was there.
He tried.
I'm trying, too.

I push the lever, flush my thoughts
and contemplate the circle.
We've lost the marital privilege.
There isn't sweat to spare.

Currently reading:
"Big Bad Love" by Larry Brown.


Sea Cred

I catch her sketching me
from the corner of the bar
with a rum-and-coke collecting dust
on the plot of oak before her.
She's Jackie in ten years.
She's full-blood Italian.
I'm in lust so I step closer.
The profile of my nose is correct.
The beard has yet to flourish.
"It's a two-minute exercise,"
she confesses between strokes.

I return to my initial roost
and pose to let her finish
but the pressure's been added.
The knowledge is there.
She can't force the disconnection
we once shared
now that I've gone and
ruined it with words again.

Last Call comes and she flies
to another man's shoulder
saying she's too old
but still giving me her number.
I catch a glimpse of her final rendition
before she folds her pad:
Lead's been added to paper.
Space has been added to time.
She's captured a darkness in my eyes;
a sadness.

We'd get along just fine.


To Fight a Windmill

You never quite forget
the taste of blood
in your mouth.
Grade school taught you
to loosen teeth
to completion
and feel the swell
of copper from your gums:
the economy of motion
and general mistrust
of those who like math.

It's practice for Saint Peter
when the first frost hits.
A criminal gets caught
when he changes his routine.


Something Else to Scare You

Take it from someone
who knows of the lonely:

A friend is someone who drags you out
when you don't want to be dragged.


Adapt & Overcome

To the men who've surprised me
with a precious egg sandwich.
To the men who've whispered jokes
in our redundant safety meetings.
To the men who've tossed me
a piece of candy in the eleventh hour.
To the men who've reminded me
to shut up and take the money.
To the men who've helped me rig 35000-lbs pipe
into place with cranes and chains and ropes.
To the men who've made me smirk against my will.
To the men who've called me in the evening
to congratulate the prosperity.
To the men who've mentioned
the merit of keeping one's chin up.
To the men who've taught me the value of a Day's work.
To the men who've broken my balls wide open
for the sake of keeping me humble.
To the men who've seen something in me
that reminded them of their youth.
To the men who've fostered
what I failed to see when the odds were against me.
To the men who've left voicemails
I've saved for rainy days:

The trade can be lucrative
but your Brotherhood means more than the check.


Elusive Solutions & Comfort Food

"Your insight was right,"
she says with no surprise.
"I'm getting back
with my husband."

You feel the gin bite.
A lime wedge squirts your eye.
All's well on the oak.
Kids drown by the pint.
You're laughing.

Currently reading:
"The Sexual History of the World War" by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld.


68 Days of Hard-Boiled Eggs

Leave No Marks:
The mattress rule
for women who have men.
Although they like it rough
it's uncouth to bruise the fruit.
The goods are damaged inside
but their skin's as pure as bleach.
No evidence.
No love bites.
No handprints on their thighs.

Start in fire, end in fire.
Lies within the ashes.
Tread lightly, son.
Carve slowly.
It's not a kissing story.

This is all there is.


Decapitated Vines

I used to do this thing
where I'd save the corks
from wine bottles shared
with my beloved
of the month
and spread them out
on a shelf that houses
Catholic patron saints
burning above my bed springs.

The price of genius is sanity
but He called my wooden nickel.
I cheated on my lovers
with my writing.
Fire has no loyalty.
I purged and built again.
The corks were swept methodically
into an open trash can
and a new collection started
within the week
or less.

I used to do this thing
where I'd drink with other people.
Their voices became grating.
They took up too much space.

It's me and wine and cigarettes
and wedding season's over.


The Navigator

Our first night in Maine was decent
until the mosquitoes
came to claim their dues.
My father and I rolled up the windows
and left the rural rest stop
driving through the night
to the best cheap motel
I remember in a lifetime--
comatose for three hours
until check-out time arrived
since we were on a budget.

He bought sheets and bungee cords
to rig a canopy over his Camry.
I thought of what Bar Harbor wouldn't be
while trapped in a white sedan
unable to escape for a midnight piss.

At 15 I learned
how patient one can be.
Double the number
add a few more bloodsuckers:
I'm still here
writhing, with a smirk
and more fathers than I'd realized.



****** lived in my childhood neighborhood.
He was Pakistani and more intelligent
in areas where I floundered.
Frankly, looking back, there are ways
in which I envied him:
Two years older;
better at math;
an unquestioned knowledge of reproduction;
and the best dirty joke in town
at a time when very few of us
knew how sex smelled.

I was eleven
equally dark, but naive
and ****** seemed to have most of the answers.
Laughing last is laughing longest
but I am doing neither.
I learned last night that he's been dead
for seven years now.
There's an article on a local newspaper's website
on his life and death
with a photo of him in uniform
standing in front of our flag.

Left college to enlist
four days after 9-11;
was ridiculed by drill sergeants
due to his foreign name;
served his country
as a soldier of Muslim faith
like my German grandfather
who fought in WWII
since he was spat on in school during WWI;
earned a master's degree at RIT
after his deployment to Iraq;
gave his dog tags to his little brother
after getting married;
returned to active duty in Afghanistan
as a second lieutenant and translator;
was blown to patriotic pieces
by a roadside bomb with the four men
in his patrol--
a martyr, buried in Albany
too young to be over
and too old for dirty jokes.

The boys in our development
used to laugh at the way
he'd wear his bicycle helmet
even after reaching his destination--
sometimes inside a condo
while we played video games
and tried to muffle the cursing
from our parents in the next room.
We even had a name for his condition:

I wish his Kevlar helmet
had saved him in 2008
but explosions aren't like bike wrecks
or ridiculing kids.

Currently reading:
"The Zombie Survival Guide" by Max Brooks.


Talcum Powder

It's been sitting on my kitchen table
for the better part of a worse week
since I don't know what to do:
Toss it in the trash can
or stash it somewhere safe
for a future belle to loathe
and hold against me.
Her lack of return address is predictable.
The typed and printed destination
is what first implies sterility.
My building number's wrong
but the letter found its way.
My postman knows me;
crumples my mail

like that final cocktail napkin
from a night
the summer before last
careening in Manhattan
while visiting her friend
here from Ohio.
We'd hit several gay bars
on his behalf
and I'd hit the gin
on mine.
When she tried to pass out
on a Midtown walk-up's couch
I commandeered her keys to drive us north--
a modern Dmitri Karamazov
with work to do early the next morning.
I hit the Home button on her GPS
on a taillight-infested parkway.
Not recognizing the address
I barked toward a slouched dress
in the passenger seat
that the damn thing was mistaken.
She told me that valet drivers
can't be trusted, but I knew
she meant all men
because her stepfather had entered her
until, at ten, she popped
to an unresponsive mother.
And that was the end of that
and us;
and now, with this missive
I have her forgiveness
printed, italicized
in font as big as the fold.

Maybe she has the lines
I wrote her
--hiding in a drawer--
that no one will discover
since with our death
died her faith.

I'll do the same.
I'll tuck it in a place
that no one dares.

There are people
there are places
that best remain uncovered
but the envelopes we open
can bring us back to grace.


Rickshaw to Nowhere Fast

I don't expect you to understand this
as more than a sequence of words
but I get sick when I haven't sat to pound keys.
Something in my gut twists until circulation is lost
and purple parts inside turn blue, then black.
I shit dark organs in the morning
or maybe they're wine stains.
The coffee'ed commute
is more comforting than tired springs.
There's no one to impress by making the bed.
A gargoyle sighs and swoops down to Main Street.

I take out the gravity between nine walls
echoing only one voice
on lost souls who have none.
The aftertaste of mayonnaise
is permanent in my mouth
no matter how much I flush it
with 13%.

My Friends With Benefits
are all too sad to fuck
and I'd rather show restraint--
Disillusioned ships
sinking in the Southern Mediterranean
a stone's throw away from shore
or maybe another sandbar.

See what I mean?
I can't write any more;
only type.
But the fact that I'm still here to fail
means the chance is alive:
As it has been.
As it is.
As it will be when they sell my guns
and dump ashes in the Hudson.


Ode to a Clove

They mock me
call me hippie, faggot
assume I reek of patchouli;
But really, why I smoke them
is not their longevity
not their pleasant aroma
not their pungent nature
but that they require
a taming all their own:

If I don't suck
they won't stay lit.
I respect that.
There's a cherry
still present
that needs me;
knows my name.

Djarum Black
I stay true
and acknowledge
the existence of repercussions.



My brother-in-arms parked--
the classic rock station
turned to what most would deem too loud
for so early in the morning--
and rolled down his window
to share sincere suggestions.

"I'll be Tom Petty.
You can be the heartbreaker."

We knew it was going to be a good day.
We were right.



It picked 
a Hell of a night to rain.
That frog picked 
a Hell of a time to cross.
I picked 
a Hell of a second to swerve.
Your brakes picked 
a Hell of an instant to lock.

This is what they tell you
when the Ride is finally over:

You've learned nothing
--wasted space--
if you haven't absorbed
the theme:
We pick nothing.


We pick nothing
(but our words).


Olive Drab

They drafted me in 1969
to fight their fear of yellow men and Communism.
I quickly forgot how my girlfriend tasted
and learned the smell of melting flesh.

When they ordered me to take the point
I led us through the jungle.
When they told me to clear an underground bunker
I grabbed someone's .45, prayed with a flashlight.
But the first time in base camp
when commanded to clean the latrine
I told the nearest sergeant, "My father's a janitor.
I won't die dumping barrels of shit in Southeast Asia."

They never asked me again.


Throwin' 'em Back on Thursday

It stabs me in the eyes:

There's the chop-job she got
that I drove her to
eight years ago--
a haircut of rebellion
since she knew I loved her locks.
I never thought I'd see it again
especially on her 21st--
a bottle dangling from her mouth
when she isn't slumped over on carpeting.

But the world has changed since then;
The world, and circumstances.

We all now know
the same as all of those
whom we pretend to know
and the juniper is strong
and the ice is melting fast
and the years are melting faster
and I'm glad that she married
the man whom she did
'cause I've seen their kids
in pictures
and Damn.


Riptide Fortunes

I take a page
from some stranger's book
by turning down her drink
while she sprawls across me
on the couch.
"Describe your ideal woman..."
she says, feeling so falsely original.

It's a ten-round fight
in as many seconds
as I dodge my mind's vignettes--
How the girl on that TV show
curls her upper lip over her teeth
just like you do when agitated
or the time I saw the painting
hanging in your kitchen
on the living room wall of a customer
and almost dropped my wrench
or that corner where I spotted a truck
from your development's landscaping outfit
and my friend said "That's a sign"
or the non-existent birth certificates
of those hairy, sweaty kids
you promised to get me back
and the night I walked away
from breaking up that bar-fight
when I felt your hand leave mine

Jackie, if you're reading
you're wrong about the Universe--
All your math be Damned.

I've run from gods I couldn't name
but yours is carved in brick.

Currently reading:
"Fight Club" by Chuck Palahniuk.


Brooklyn Bombshell

There's no note
on the kitchen table
this time
when I exit
my bedroom
Sunday morning
and she's gone--
but I'm grateful.
Never again
will I see
the sailor tattoos
her old seaman
carved, marked
like claimed stake.

The blurred recollection
of her pulling back
the sheets
to find and thank
my sleeping face
seals the unsaid deal:
With a forked tongue
and a forehead kiss
we never would have made it.

The distance doesn't matter.
We use the same two moves.


The Practice Run

Her dog was 17
deaf and going blind.
The poor bitch
was a ghost
of the family friend
they'd known.

A neighbor backed down
their driveway in her van
crushing the Husky's head.
"My mother swears it was suicide,"
she says, her pupils pinholes
her palms a mess.
"The week prior she laid down
behind a parked Volkswagen
got up and limped away
when its weight was not enough."

Our conversation shifts
but my mind can't leave that scene.
A canine's wisdom tells it
when it's time to leave the pack.
Admirable. Admirable--
Yet humans have a stigma.


Coppertone Gal

Beach-bronzed buns
scamper across
my fake wood flooring.
Tan lines entice
what's left of this romantic.
The amber skin's real.
The blonde hair isn't.
The latter doesn't matter.

I know why the logo marketing
made millions.
When I hear her toothbrush
above my recently cleaned sink
every skullghost dies.

They knew that hope would sell.


Compensated Endorser

Don your morning war paint.
Give them half of what they want.
Keep them coming
back for more
of what isn't yours to give.

A silver fish blinds the meek
with sunlight, doing eighty.
Cutting off your fellow man--
that isn't very Christlike.

They'll claim you've left them tender;
try to flatter you, coquettish
but you can't be very tender
while your hands are wrapping headboards.

They don't make splints for lingchi
with lungs that limit laughter.
If you're still you'll feel the earth spin.
It's scaphism, at best.

Someone pretty block the shrapnel.
Someone else can grab the cab fare.
It's the sand you chew in scallops
when you're dining with dessert.


Franklinesque Experiments

Summer thunder wakes me
an hour before my alarm--
vibrations through the bedsprings;
flashes through the blinds.

It makes me feel much smaller
in a world that's grown complex.
I think of what my mother said
so many times in grade school days:
"It's the sound of angels bowling."
A crash comes like a strike.

She almost had it right
though it isn't fair to blame her.
It's coming from the Heavens
but not balls and pins and laughter.
It's the sound of angry gods
who are fighting for our souls.
Somewhere there's a kid in me
who's hoping for a win.


Common Thorax

I only see
one at a time:
the massive ant
that rides these walls
and pillowcases
here in my third-floor walk-up.

The singularity
leaves me unsure
if it's an infestation
since I've changed the locks twice
after breakups
and the exterminator can't get in--
or one freeloading roommate
too sharp to help with rent

but I never swing to squash it.
I just flick him from my corner.

There are broader swords before us.
"Death is not the Beast."


Pine Bush Blues

"This town's known for UFO sightings,"
he says between our calculations.
"There's a diner on the corner
that's called 'The Cup and Saucer'."

I stare through the fractions
stamped on my tape measure;
stare through the apprentice
fumbling through our Trade.

"I dated a girl who worked there,"
I tell him, boiler room sweat
stopped by my eyebrows.

"Did she believe in aliens?" he asks.
The Kid's a year older
but he's got a lot to learn.

"She believed in someone
more far-fetched."
I grin like a burglar
immune to the Universe
and pull another trigger
that only revs the band saw.

Currently reading:
"On Writing" by Charles Bukowski.


Gideon Bibles

across the page
yellow light
to praise high words
of the living dead
who speak
with those too tired
for sleep.
The ink is running dry
so the rubbing is much harder
blurring black and peeling pulp.
Omission is a sin.

Electricity, like fire
was discovered
not invented.
Edges smoothed by friction
prove that some things gold
can stay.


Soul Food

A reheated plate of leftovers
steams up at my face
on this quiet Friday night--
rice my mother brought me
and grilled chicken from my father.
The plate, so commingled
would make both parents pause.
Who knew they'd be feeding
their only son together
two decades-and-a-half
after the kitchen split?


The Motions

Sitting, sweating
sipping sauvignon blanc
while salivating for a cigarette
fingers dug in
to the armrests of my recliner
the antibiotics at play in my system
as my mother does a crossword puzzle
across from me on the couch
making eyeless small talk
waiting for her to leave
I notice the lampshade
swaying under the ceiling fan
and laugh where I laugh hardest
laugh in my head
since some of us aren't screwed so tightly
some of us still dance.


Two Pescatarians

With callouses as collateral
her pheromones did me in.
We come of royal blood
and leave with moonlit blues.

What they don't tell you in documentaries
is that the slaves who built the pharaohs' tombs
were killed to save the secrets.

It takes a fool to argue with one.
She's a bigger waste of time
than learning cursive.


The Golden Arm

He's a year older than me
but somehow none the wiser.
We all call him Kid
like any apprentice
and try not to let him
lace up for failure.

"I'll bet you coffee break tomorrow
that I can get one of these two apple cores
in that dumpster," he proposes
as the three of us sit in the 9:13 shade
finishing cigarettes and stories of prior greatness.
I take a look at the distance
gauge the trajectory
and mentally count the bills in my wallet.

He sinks the first
then the second just as easily.
"Looks like I'm buying
next Friday, too,"
I say, feigning disappointment.

The Kid, two inches taller
laughs triumphantly
as I toss my butt
to the curb.

That's what it's about sometimes:
Taking a bet
you know that you'll lose
to someone who hasn't
knocked one over the fence
in too long.



You spew a gob of toothpaste
and force yourself to shower
with hope to rinse the sour salt
of three poor souls in love with you
and all your multiplicity.

This is where you lost your ring.
This is how you hone your horns.
Some would say, sans battlefield
this is when you died.


Cowgirl Cramp

Head against bone;
a self-bitten lip;
expert thrusts
into the intangible
while caught
between calf pain
and seraphic loins

she rides
to let the devil out
making her lion
sleep lamblike.

Currently reading:
"The Devil's Doctors" by Mark Felton.


Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet, and Watch

I'd been saving it for rain.
It hadn't been in stock for months.
I'd like to blame the absence
on a vineyard strike in Portugal
but could such a feat exist?
It was probably a shipping glitch.
The truth could bore to death
and does.
You see it in their gaits.

Tonight seemed like the time.
There'd been friends
though they were gone.
There'd even been a woman
two nights prior
though the verdict
was still out.
There was a week of work ahead
and a head to clear to face it.
My favorite brand of red
seemed the only sound solution.

The cork felt weak when pulled.
I poured a quiet glass.
The first sip broke my heart.
The second sealed its fate.
Buy enough wine
and it's bound to happen.
A "Friday after lunch"
that leads to a loose bottle.
Somewhere in Iberia
a drunk had done me wrong.
It swirled down the drain
like quite expensive vinegar.

Sometimes wines, like women
sour second times around.
Sometimes men are stubborn
and crack a beer instead.



I am a federal employee.
I've taken a civil service exam.
I fund my own wage with the taxes I pay
contradicting myself as much as the next.

I know when they put their mail on hold.
I know when their boxes are full of bills.
I know when they're away on vacation
and I burglarize their homes with friends for fun.

I am a federal employee
and I've got one hell of a pension accrued.


Potshot in the Dark

The bed's been a pyre
its occupant dreaming
of counterfeit cash
found on floors of department stores--
the meaning of which as certain
as the broken gifts given
to wayward accomplices.

By the time the bourbon takes hold
it's too late to evict the devil.
How many times
do our saints pass us by
like sneakers dangling from power lines?

Down to your fightin' weight.
Down for the count.
Down for a drink
or what have you.

Short of screaming her name
it's the closest.
The neighbors are tired
of hearing the smoke.


Backslidden Ginny

"Sorry about your sheets,"
she lies
cheap red hair dye
screaming from the pillowcase:
"Look at what you've done!
Look at what you've carelessly
allowed to happen again!"

She slithers back into her summer dress--
no undergarment in, no undergarment out--
excusing herself down your stairwell
for the first and last
in a lifetime
playing out a farmer's phrase
that splits you like a plow:
"If you're born to be shot
you'll never be hanged."

The sour smell of gunpowder
sticks to the surrounding air.
No wonder you're the way you are.
No wonder you're away.



[radio silence.]


It takes several days
for intestines to settle
whenever someone does it--
whether or not
the divers
find their sad quarry.

"Once there was a child..."
should never mothers say.

To live next to a gallows;
To pray they build a net;
Squandered taxes, politicians;
Decades left to change.


A Different Type of Minuteman

What's hardest to confess
[so I'll tell you here and now]
is that no matter the place
[nor the poor girl's Heart of Gold]
I'd pull the intravenous tube
[regardless of her protest]
to come
and grateful
[and as stubborn as you are].

Currently reading:
"Apologize, Apologize!" by Elizabeth Kelly.


Everything Yellow

His bride pulls down their driveway
greeting us after popping the trunk.
"Did he tell you?" she asks
as my friend loads arms with groceries.
I know what's coming next.
I'd been wondering when
their house alone
would not fill the equation.

"How far along?"
"Four months and counting."
"Do you know if...?"
"Not yet."
"Some people save the surprise."
"Some people are foolish."
"How would they buy things?"
"Everything yellow."
I let it soak in.
It seems to make sense.

My neighbor returns
the shopping bags gone
while the mother-to-be
ascends the front steps--
her body a vessel
transformed into glory
that seraphim even
would secretly envy.

"I wanted to wait
for an intimate time,"
he says
with hangdog eyes

The cap'n of cop-outs and quinine
can't hide.
The walk home on sea legs:
as useless as landlines.


Driving in the Breakdown Lane

Tonight it's a Swiss white
with a leather-bound hymnal
of sentences eternal
from a sentenced man
I've never met
but know through
laws of physics
despite his fight with cancer
that ended as it does

while a woman
I could almost love
if only she weren't perfect
says too much about her husband
before the separation
divulging secret stories
and origins of pet names

until I almost heave
and it's not to do with grapes.
Too intimate, those sacred seconds
shared by fledgling thespians.

It's the reason that I don't attend
the weddings, uninvited.
It's not a lack of formal wear
that's wearing on my soles.

Currently reading:
"Within the Limits of Self" by Rick Maertens.

Nature of the Business

The church bell tolls
through bird calls
on a dripping Sunday morning
while a family converges
from three separate states
to bury a woman
again, two years later.

The headstone is new
though the feeling's the same:
None of us here are immortal.
Of all the customs that make no sense
cemeteries seem the most useless.


The Intruder

To find and wed
a Saint out of your league
striving every day
to deserve the same air.

To keep her in a cool, dry place
insulated from your abortions.

To wear a watch you tried to sell
perhaps to prove some unknown point.

It's go-time when her hair goes back.
It's tires on the pavement.
It's the hopeful part of stubborn
and it won't be your demise.


Elective Surgery in a Gin Mill Outmaneuvered

She saw Sailor
on an off day
when his rash was acting up
bags as blatant
as cigarette ads
in vintage skin mags--
a cordoned off coronary
just under the skin.
Undisputed bragging rights
like knives that hold no edge
dug into in his forearms
from the oak that no one noticed.

The problem was the shift:
he stopped producing fiction
and lived the tales he told;
traced a vein in grout
while perusing an illusion
and traced his troubles back
to a list of secret names.

She lost him
when the room filled up.
Saturday tends to do that.
He found a choice
in midnight snack
that most would shy away from.

Like him or loathe him
starve him or clothe him.
If Old Scratch
and his ilk weren't there
someone would have to invent them.



I whip up a batch
and take a premature taste
thinking back to the woman
who wouldn't let me lick it.

Filling the bowl with water
as the brownie pan stares back
I swear not to fall
for a person so concerned
with salmonella again.


Newburgh in June

His buzzcut fit his features
like his tank-top matched his shorts:
both utilitarian, determined by his mother.
A strip of dirt comprised their yard
between the tattered sidewalk
and the porch his father failed to fix
between his cans of lager.

As the tanker truck approached
that land became less interesting.
I was stuck behind them both
and witnessed the whole thing.
The boy was jolted, face lit up
and ran along the roadway
tugging downward with his fist
elbow bent, a perfect corner.
He was begging for that horn
but the truck driver denied him
and the kid's mom called him back
while his father killed a Coors.

The boy in red changed a shade
jogged, then walked, and stopped.
He threw his palm the trucker's way
tasting dust and not the Rockies.


Left Hand Man

But sometimes
when that song you shared
hits your speakers
at the end
of the latest Day from Hell
you've got to turn it up
instead of tuning out
since otherwise the gods win.

We can't let that happen
can we?


Weak Teeth

The shower's running when he shows up half an hour before her specified time. He's greeted by a quiet canine with wet, inquisitive eyes as confused as his intestines. Without a sound he slips from his Levi's and Hanes to join her behind the waterproof curtain. She's surprised for a second time when he reaches for her razor and stoops to his knees. They've never played this way before. He begged her to let it grow with the insistence that one facet of classic feminine beauty had been lost in recent decades. Slowly, between trembling thighs, his steady hand strips her of the small sacrifice she'd made at his request. He rises when he's done--the remnants of a promise catching in the drain--then lands a hard kiss on her forehead while the showerhead pummels their faces to form a memory they'll view differently over pending weeks and years and cocktail conversations.

The look in her eyes is harder to stomach than any absent words would be. Her guilty razor's returned to its perch among the products and soap scum. A step onto tile is easier to make than he'd anticipated with no slips in the script. Denim and jersey stick to his skin since using a towel seems trivial now. While seeing himself out of her apartment for the last time, that familiar form of solace in the quest swells up and swirls around him like a squall of possibilities. Somewhere, he swears stubbornly to himself. Somewhere, regardless of rainbows.

He may be a wretch for feeling it, but he'll miss the dog more than its owner.


A Humbled Hymn

It's the shape of her face
that has me intrigued--
triangular, Irish, feline;
nothing like the one I love.

She's the rain we need
but never want.



We're smoking barfront on East Main
instead of in his mother's garage
like ten years ago
the coffee can ashtray
overflowing shamefully.
His arms flail in conversation
proving his points
and that he's Italian.
He pushes his thick-rimmed glasses
back against his face
sometimes in the middle
sometimes at the edge.
I assure him that his mannerisms
haven't changed with time.
"Your laugh's the same,"
he tells me, a compliment
if true.

He built something and walked away.
He didn't profit where he prayed.
He knows about integrity.

Admire whom you're not.


Rellenos de Papa

There's this place on Broadway
in Newburgh where I go for my fix
of Puerto Rican food
once in the bloodiest moon.

My grandmother's dead
and wasn't allowed near a stove
for the last decade of her life
for safety reasons.
My mother doesn't make
most of those country kitchen dishes
fried and basted in garlic.
Besides, her house is off-limits
since I'd speak my piece to her husband
once and for all and with legal ramifications.

Instead I barter with strangers
pointing at trays and forcing a stubborn tongue
to pronounce the nostalgic delicacies
of my youth, sneaking to my refrigerator
to savor a bite at a time
for precious days later.

If growing old is learning to lose
and filling the voids with distant replacements
then Peter Pan was right
though he shot over the moon.



I started the day by saving a turtle
lost on a sidewalk next to the road.
He paddled away in the nearby pond
and I washed my hands, patted my back.

I've only seen the man once
in the last two years
and even that was an accident.
He's more of an acquaintance
than a friend, but he's got enough
charisma for the both of us
so I like him
and I'll bail him out of this jam.
Only a plumber
can truly relate
to the martyrs of this world;
the cheaters of fate.

"Have you been punching walls?"
I ask as soon as I notice
the gouges in his knuckles.
The routine's familiar from formative years.
"Any domestic disputes as of late?"
I had to throw that jab.
I had to.

"Nope," he replies with a gleam I misread.
"My father's dying. I'll find him in a puddle soon."

One of us changed the subject
though I don't remember who or how.
Everything went dull in sound
like a dive made too deep
at the neighborhood pool as a kid.
Another man would have decked me
and I would have deserved that bruise
but everyone needs a trustworthy plumber.

If that turtle could talk
he'd say he was fine
without me.


A Memorable Snapper

She's spread-eagle in the shoulder
of the road, dripping between her legs
as she deposits her clutch of eggs
into a hollow clawed in gravel.

Her pride is prehistoric while she scowls
at passing vehicles, braced inside her shell
like stubborn proof across the board:

Humans aren't the only ones
who curse their offspring's fate.
Some hatchlings might avoid the cars.
She'll never know their faces.


The Flowers He Promised

A timeworn codger
phallocentric in his voting
tips poorly for undeserved service
thinking of the times
he threw last handfuls of salt
for their sake
so they wouldn't bother
to look back
after donning dancing shoes
in anticipation of a night's worth
of forgettable revelry.


Immeasurable Hells

He's got a truckload of groceries
but there's a spot
in front of his stoop
for once.
Some Spanish girls in their teens
run away giggling
chalk in hand
leaving a message on the asphalt
that could only come
from the same place
as that parking miracle:
"God is not ashamed
of you."

It still takes five trips
up three flights of stairs
arms laden with thin plastic bags
and purple without blood
but there's Someone on his side
that he can't acknowledge.

They say if you try a food
you don't like ten times
you'll grow to like it.
The same is true of people.


Jim Jones Bullhorn

An orange prescription bottle stares back from the vanity, merciless in seeking its justification. Howard finds it difficult to wash down any more of them; not without Tanqueray dressed in rocks and tonic. The sun has killed the grass in a record-breaking heatwave. Is this the Promised Land that they spoke of at the Academy? "We need a good rain," a radio personality comments from the kitchen. Howard only hears, "I need a new name." The voices, the changing--other things they don't mention when issuing your gun. There were lies and libations. There was a light under his bushel. I've been humbled by the god of my transgressors, Howard thinks into the mirror. He fumbles with the kid-proof cap and downs his dose of laughter. Some crazy people walk these streets. Howard's here to save them.



A Spaniard in his fifties
tipped me with a Cuban
without asking if I smoke.
The unapologetic flare in his gesture
loosened the tools in my hands
as I packed up the van.
"Sure," I said. "Thanks."
In his country
that's still normal.

Later that evening
I ran into a man
from my formative years
known for his penchant
for scotch and cigars.
"I won't tell my wife,"
he said with a weathered smirk
pocketing the gift
I couldn't retain
since I wouldn't know a Cuban
from a dime-store counter stogie.

That's what you do
with a gem you can't appreciate.
That's why, sweetheart
I've got to let you go.

Currently reading:
"Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx.



We're in the back of our father's minivan
en route to celebrate the kid's fifth birthday
at the sushi bar of his choosing.
He gives me the devious grin
that I know all too well, a sick sparkle
brooding in his eyes before he forms words.
"He's not your daddy anymore. He's mine."

The old man pretends not to hear it
possibly since he bailed on me for six years
the last two of which spawned
my loving sibling seated to my left.
Guilt's one hell of a motivator.
He's old, but isn't deaf.

It's the boy's mother who turns
from the passenger seat to scold him.
At first he pleads innocence
but when it doesn't work
he offers an apology
and reminds me of his affinity
for his one and only brother.

I can muster nothing
in the form of a reply
to any of his sentiments
so pure, so young, so wicked.
He's stunned me into silence
despite the gap in age.
There's a looming truth
that gathers in my forehead
like a storm:

The Vahsen mean streak
runs in blood
and skips no generations.


A Realist Crunches Numbers

The dogwoods blossomed hard this year.
A woman with a sense of humor comes faster.
Only the dust doesn't settle 'round here.
He speaks in tongues like a Pentecostal.

Bookended cheap shots she couldn't resist;
This is how never tastes.
This is your fear.
We tore down our painting, aborted our kids.
Our hearts are bastards searching for fathers.


Shopping Cart Dings

Paul waddles through his wallpapered foyer
complaining of the hips
he had replaced last year
while stroking his liver-spotted forehead.

"The problem is," he confides
"your mother didn't give you life.
She gave you death."
A benign grin creeps across his face
as he blooms into the likeness
of an Italian Rodney Dangerfield
waiting for the rimshot
that would have come
in his bygone black-and-white television era.

I finish working on his boiler
and bring my tools through the garage
only to catch him dancing
to '40s Big Band 8-track tapes--
cane in one hand, Death's neck in the other.

The best men I've ever met
were also the best liars.
He tipped me five bucks
and told me to buy a cigar.


The Nebraskan

I remember that hospital--

How the nurses
brought me
paper-thin, open-backed
they watched me don
referring to them
as "modesty garments"
and I wondered to myself:

How can a woman
like me
ever be modest again?


A History With Backwater Nuns

When the gin works harder
than her Little Black Dress;
when 'my bed' turns to 'the bed'
turns to 'our bed';
when you realize that she hasn't
divulged her last name
since technically she still has two;
when you've both comprehended
that Tiffany's doesn't serve breakfast;
when bringing the severed heads of kings
to the altar of your Almighty
gains you nothing but a handful of hair

mayhaps it's time
to alter your routine
of sleeping with strangers
easy on the eyes;
of getting it wet
outside of the shower;
of wasting time with women
named for heroines in Hemingway novels.

Pardon any rust in this approach, young harlot.
The State of New York deems me
ready, willing, and able.

We all know
that the government never lies.

Gridlock Golgotha

Behind me is a Charger
white with black accents
and vanity plates
that say "SINNER".

The rusted sedan ahead
that's weaved its way forward
has a tattoo-emblazoned arm
hanging through the driver's side window
with an overgrown pinkie nail
for snorting cocaine.

A phantom limb twitches
in its sweat-beaded holster
and I wonder which of us three
will find Dante's deepest layer--
Foxes in the henhouse
beaten like driftwood
on a highway that's destined
to crumble.

Currently reading:
"Kafka on the Shore" by Haruki Murakami.


Modern Art(?)

I'm sorry, J
I'm sorr
I'm sorr
I'm sorr
I'm sorr
I'm sorr
I'm sorr
I'm sorry, Ja
I'm sor
I'm sor
I'm sor
I'm sor
I'm sorry, Jacklyn, for the words that sliced too deep.
I'm sor
I'm sor
I'm sor
I'm so
I'm s

[But the whiskey works wonders for putting kids to sleep.]

Pet Sounds

My father turns 64 this week
So the Beatles are stuck in my head
Though he wouldn't catch the reference.
The Stones weren't his bag either;
Too many drugs, too much blatant sex.

He listened to the Beach Boys
Back when he still listened;
Sometimes the Righteous Brothers--
Wholesome, soulful, safe.

My father turns 64 this week
But his head's still in the sand.
A man who's put down music
Is a man who's aged too soon.


A Starlet and a Harlot

That turn comes
as expected
though the radio throws
a curve of its own.
Some announcer who sounds
like he's high on cocaine
prattles off a promo
for a charity event.

I ease off the accelerator
as the hydrogen drops:
a tigress I bedded
three years ago
has her name announced
as part of the upcoming comedy show.
"A local gal," he specifies
while I fumble for the brake.

Life makes jokes of all of us.
Some laugh while others wince.
If I could stomach penance
I'd sit through her routine again.


Prayers Through Broken Teeth of a Cafeteria Catholic

"Don't be sad, mom," he pleads
through smoke exhaled
outside a fast food joint
on this call cut short
by lunch break
ideal for breaking news
of break-ups.
"We wanted different things."

Some would mistakenly tout
Reverse Parenting
though Freud be damned
it's no such beast.
At core it's saving loved ones
since we can't protect ourselves.

The Special Sauce
shifts in his stomach
staking claim of conquered land
from a meal too rushed for comfort.
He waits for affirmation
through the intermittent signal
part of him believing
the words he's said in haste.

The drive-thru girl walks by
to burn one in her car.
She leaves a trail of cheap perfume
that lingers as it shouldn't
though it beats the reek of onions--
Doused like the fire
that stubbornly won't leave.

It'll make for better memoirs
that every inch was won.

The din of midday traffic
drowns his mother's sigh
while his best friend
twice removed
swears off tertiary chances.


Luna in Vacuo

I've known her half my life.
We've woven in and out
of paths and arms and blankets.
Most communication
occurs when we need grounding.
It's not about the physical;
we know each other's souls.

"The moon is cool tonight,"
I told her down in Texas.
She traveled there for work last year
and never made it back.

"I can't see it
from the windows
of my place,"
she responded.

"It's time to move again," I typed.
My fingers hid my tone.

The conversation shifted
back to happiness and illness.
Those two can coexist.
That's more than most can say.


Antebellum Vellum

I've yet to meet
my newest neighbor
but I heard him
for the first time last night
crying through the door
of his parents' railroad apartment
as I exited our building.

It hit me then
as hard as when She leaves:

There are doors I'd rather be behind
and tombs I'd rather leave behind
and anything less
than knowing the joy
of a pink and screaming baby
would be a wasted life.

I'll risk it.


Faraday Bag

And if you think
for one red second
that any of the madness
the stale cigarettes
and potholes on the ride back
the afternoons spent alone
on a couch, clutching guts
and a bottle and a smoke
burned down to the filter
while words replay
in a mind unduly cluttered
by the need and search for love
would be traded
like a baseball card
for one that's twice as shiny
and might increase in value
in some parallel universe
where everyone knows what matters
then, my friend
you've missed the finer points:

Read English;
speak Spanish;
try not to hurt anyone
on your stumble home.


Pontius Pilate of the Alps

there's a layer
of Hell
than burning
jet fuel.


Savings in the Circular

I was mostly going for produce.
It was a Sunday afternoon
with the golden hour approaching.
Two cars were parked
on the far end of the lot
nowhere near the entrance
of the supermarket.
I knew.
I knew because I'd been there
twenty-something years ago.

Pulling closer to the scene
revealed that I was right.
A father hugged a daughter
of elementary school age
one last time for the weekend
before she'd hop into the sedan
where her mother was waiting
to bring the child back
to her version of home.
The courts call it "visitation"
but that's far too fair--
an overabundance of sharing
with a kid who's more like cargo;
a childhood of goodbyes;
sunsets fucking ruined
since they always meant the end.

I lucked out.
There was a spot right next to a handicapped.
My cart wandered the aisles for awhile
but I found those vegetables eventually
and brought them home to share.
I lucked out.


Armed Cosmonauts

The old man wasn't home
and the boy was taken hostage.
I didn't leave a note
for fear of being honest.
There's comfort in an evening ride
as dead conversations
play out in my mind.

Colors fade
from warm to cool
a border of white
between them.
Heaven's reflected
in silent ripples
on the only river I've known
above another mountain
refusing still to move.

The skyline's a melon rind
and I'm not finished chewing.

"Christ, kid.
I'll protect you from Christ."
A flock of one sleeps safest.

Currently reading:
"The Martian" by Andy Weird.


Deposit Slip

There's an engraved sign screwed to the heavy wooden door that seems more official than is justified. White letters stand out against a maroon rectangle that vaguely suggests some clinical version of warmth. Regardless, Rich enters the Production Room as if he owns the place. For a few minutes he does, and will be rightly compensated. It's not his best work, but that ended years ago. A masterpiece is only a craftsman's last achievement in the forgiving world of fairytales that dies with income tax and puberty.

Eschewing raw material left for his endeavor, he thinks of things outside of what's expected while coaxing his contribution:  virginal nicknames unused by prior suitors; the only person he knows who folds a fitted sheet with ease; a case of wine that soured when it froze in the back of his car overnight. "I'm doing this for us," he tells a beaker, unsure of whether walls have been soundproofed--or if some nameless nurse is giggling or frowning or both. The corkscrew motion settles the matter as it has since some ancient fellatrix informed him of its merit. It seems a shame to leave so many possibilities behind. Fate is out of his tired hands, parallel universes be as damned as the torpedoes.

After the crescendo and sterilized cleansing, he stops at a reception window to collect his check. The woman filling it out reminds him of a dream he once had. Rich wonders if it'd be like putting his tongue on battery terminals. He shakes his head free of the intangible world of maybes and reaches for his payment. Fifty dollars richer, he walks through the double-doors and ponders where to apply this temporary bandage--a typical modern American with just enough credit card debt to remind him of his follies.

He kicks his heel inadvertently while stepping off the curb, smirking since none of it matters more than what's waiting. At the end of the game, the pawn and the king enter the same box. He heads home, where he'll shower, eat dinner, and be taken by the woman who knows what scares him most. There's little more to ask for than a love as strong as sickness.



It's in the mail already
though its meaning is uncertain.
The postman holds an envelope
that must, to him, feel empty.
With so much pinned to words
it's a wonder that we love them.
Ink is never permanent;
in air, in print, on skin.

Currently reading:
"Pulp" by Charles Bukowski.


Cut the Kid in Half

An old version of myself
would have rolled back out of bed
to make a tall White Russian
opened the living room window
lit a smoke for old time's sake
and told you some misquoted
parable from the Bible
decreed by King Solomon
the wisest man to have ever lived
aside from Charles Bukowski
about how "Power is the ability
to destroy something, but not."

This newfangled variation
of the same flawed heathen
who insists on bastardizing Scripture
in the name of a few drawled lines
has mostly followed suit
but this time, as the smoke's sucked out
by a fan perched on the table
I'll leave you with some words
uttered through the vodka
that may not be profound
but hold the weight regardless:

Power is the ability to love
from a distance
and I, like this cocktail
am stronger
than any
dead and buried king.

Currently reading:
"The Giver" by Lois Lowry.


The Universe, etc.

"The thing is,"
he says, whiskey-swaying
in his kitchen
"that shard
from the glass you broke
is never gone."

He slides a sweating tumbler
and dries the countertop
hanging his towel
from the oven handle
as early punctuation.

"You'll find it again,"
he assures
his captivated guest
"in your foot."


I Needed a Pack of Smokes, or The Day I Saved My Block From Exploding

So I decided to put pants on for the first time all day and walk to the bodega on the corner for some nicotine. While traversing a section of sidewalk in front of the Beacon Theater (the local one, not the good one) I noticed the pungent aroma of natural gas. I paced around, sniffing through my congested nostrils to see if it was a case of wishful senses pretending that I was back on the job engaged in some repair work. A neighbor-friend walked by with her dog and I asked if she detected the scent as well. She did. I called the police to report the circumstance and waited for the proper authorities to respond. "No big deal," I insisted. "Don't send the whole cavalry."

They did. Seven fire trucks descended upon Main Street, closing off the intersections at either end. Some guys in fire-retardant gear approached me and I showed them where the utility company, Central Hudson Gas & Electric (whose last bill was outrageous, I may add), had done some underground work a few nights prior. I remember seeing them out there with their excavator and some guys messing with something in the ditch. I'd been drinking wine with a good chum all evening while the boys in blue collected overtime for shoddy craftsmanship. Anyway, the firemen agreed that the presence of natural gas was evident and called the utility service to send a crew to the scene. The block is still shut down so parking and traffic are hindered, but I can't bring myself to apologize to any inconvenienced parties. I did what I felt was right and may have prevented the loss of life and property; at the very least, a waste of natural resources was curtailed.

If you smell something, say something. Union pipefitters don't leave blatant leaks of combustible materials in high-traffic areas in their wake. Smoking saves lives. My work here is done. Carry on. 



We were fueled by rampant hormones
and an awe of unknown sins.
Those with true experience
had the least to share
while the boys who bragged of conquests
romanced their own hands.
In the locker room we pulled on shorts
and T-shirts like thin armor.
Earth Science had bored us
right until the bell
but that period of basketball
gave us time to vent.

There were teams picked
based on strategy.
The Spanish kid was fast.
The Mormon had a three
and socks up to his knees.
Those whose parents didn't come
to conferences were best.
I was never first
but I was never last.

I threw my weight for rebounds
since I didn't know the rules.
No one ever called a foul.
It didn't get us ready.

Fourteen was a funny time
of change and mass confusion.
I wonder where those kids all went
and if, like me, they find themselves
still playing in their dreams.



It's a good thing
I wasn't born
a woman.

To be expected
to throw a baby shower
for a friend or relative
the same year as my miscarriage
or abortion--
they don't make a bourbon
strong enough for that.

To be slowly, unsurely
entered by a man
who barely knows himself--
what can be more frightening?

To bleed for days
without death;
to live for decades
without a level table;
to stare at false perfection
dictated by children's dolls--
such standards would crush
a lazy drunk like me.

Tonight I take my whiskey
like unholy communion
thanking long-dead cells
that met to form a louse.

With hair unkempt I'll sleep it off
and wake to imperfection.


Eastern Standard

The hands read correctly.
Her living room is right.

"Did you fix the time?" she asks
like such a thing is feasible.

"No," he says
with grapefruit on his breath
and ruffled hair.
"Twice a day
even broken clocks 
can pull it off,"
as he tugs away the blanket
they've been hiding in
all weekend.

The forecast called for snow
though windows seem so far.



"Leave it for the Emperor
of Doggerel," they threatened.
Coke off college toilet tanks.
Clinging to an era.

The angel wings on shoulder blades
you slept between were flawed:
heavy-handed shading
not centered on her spine.

Wine obscured her recollection
of the time she grabbed your hand
walking home on Main Street
both too gone to go.

But she always wiped her makeup
to spare your favorite pillows
and she understood innately
why you left her for a chance.

Currently reading:
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde.



His mother sends a message:
something vague about
the status of feral cats she feeds--
how they're freezing
in this record-breaking February--
and a birthday, coming like
taxes; asking of his plans.

"I've got somewhere to be,"
he says, leaving out key details
that imply his girlfriend's insides.
"And besides, I haven't seen you
in three months. How's Monday

She retaliates in form
throwing guilt likes balls of shit.
It doesn't matter.
His family's changed
to men who pull wrenches
and a kid who still pisses his pants
when he's excited.

"Spend it with your cats,"
and he means it
feigning nothing.

There are homes
without an address.
There is love
that doesn't break.



Shamefaced and gelded
the aspiring numerologist
drowns himself in fever dreams
Rivers That Have No Names
and the milky discontent
of a dozen ex-lovers
poised for cruci-fiction.

(You'll conjure yourself
in here somewhere
so I beg you
to refrain.)


Noble Slings and Arrows

I used to play guitar;
sold most of mine to strangers.
Now I lend lines to the faceless.
It seems a better fit and pays about the same.

My favorite chord has mostly been A Minor (Am).
I've written songs around it. 
People left the room.
I plucked its notes in solitude.
People left my life.
It came to be my friend.
It came to be my life, for awhile.

Some would compare it to E Minor.
They'd be wrong again.
A Minor requires more digits.
A Minor necessitates more work.
Isn't that more admirable?
Besides, even lifted fingers find it just fine.

A Minor only uses five guitar strings.
It says more with less.
Isn't that the aim?
That's another one you don't answer.
I loan the lines--remember?

Maybe you play already.
Maybe you'll learn someday.
The next time that you strum that chord let it be for me.


Cold War Carcinoma

All points west--
The women come
from sunsets
and tongue sex

too much of life dictated
by ersatz stunt doubles
and dry Irish pussy.

For fuck-stains:
hydrogen peroxide.

A mess of succulent sin and semen.

The only feat harder than finding her
is leaving her in the morning.



A ball of gray fur caught the corner of my eye and bounced across the linoleum without the aid of traction. I picked it up, palmed it, and showed it to my father.

"Get rid of that before she sees it," the old man said, referring to his skittish wife reading in the living room. She was from the city. Mice were miniature versions of giant subway rats to her. To me he was an unexpected guest, but it wasn't my place to extend an invitation in the home where I grew up. I was a visitor in a museum that housed a separate story. There was no bed, no dresser--but the heat pipes sounded the same.

I opened the porch door and tossed him toward the yard, the arc his body made like a living howitzer round. It was a quick response to an old man's request, something done under the assumption that benevolent actions yield happy endings. It was before I learned that only cats always land on their feet.

I slid into boots after dinner, taking out a bag of trash as a convincing cover. The mouse was lying motionless. It'd escaped the trap in the pantry, but not my lazy liberation. I winced with executioner's guilt and tossed the corpse into the bushes, hoping my kid brother wouldn't find it.

There was much to learn on mercy. There was ice cream for dessert.

Lover Fell Late

Nose against cheek
her mouth smells sourly of me.
I rock her like my mother did
as we lie, digesting breakfast
thinking of good names
for the children
we've prevented.

There's a blister
filled with blood
that will rub off
with some work.
There's a time
for being stubborn.
There's a blender
in my chest.

Late is always better.
Great Ones don't look back.
Taste the wine of yesteryear
and deserve it every day.


The Drawbacks of Having a Vivid Imagination

Faces change, but
the Dream's the same:
-Pistols won't fire
-Cars won't start
-Legs too numb to run
from personified subconscious.

Waking in ripped sheets
to dial fathers, lovers
"It isn't real,"
you tell yourself.
Still, you load for bear.

Currently reading:
"The Dark Tower:  The Complete Concordance" by Robin Furth.



I'd lodge merciful lead in him if I could.
The dog's been hobbling, nearly bedridden for a year.
My father's wife won't put him down.
He pisses and shits on a pad in the kitchen.
He yelps and whines with no goal in mind.
It's horrendous.
Someone should make it look like an accident.
Instead they thread their needles blindly.

"They're collectibles."
"What's that mean?"
"Don't bang them."
It's useless.
The kid will do what most boys do.
My Hess trucks are six times his age.
Somehow they survived one childhood.
This second bout will kill them before long.
They were safely retired in the cellar for decades.
"Why's this one missing a tire?"
"Because it's twenty-five years old."

The ankle-biter whimpers in the kitchen.
I pick a bone from tonight's steak out of the trashcan.
It's too big for the wounded Chihuahua to lift.
I trade it for a smaller one.
He pulls it into his bed and stops crying.
The miserable pooch almost looks happy.

I hear a collision of plastic on plastic in the living room.
A wince hits me until my brother laughs.
My muscles loosen to a smirk.
Nothing lasts forever.
Nothing is collectible.
The only love that matters is the type that doesn't hurt.


Associated Press

An Idaho elementary school
sponsored a time capsule project
in which students, faculty
and denizens of the community
were asked to submit
their favorite personal possessions
valued under $20
which could fit inside a pill bottle
for burial in the town park.
Not one person produced an item.

"The experiment was a success,"
declared principal David Vargas.
"If people aren't willing to sacrifice now
then nothing is destined to change in the future."

No one else was available for comment.


Mal de Ojo

The badlander plods on
in search of castles crumbling
and a market for spare kidneys.
He's marching off demerits
assigned by decades gone.
There will be a line to urinate
on his grave a mile long.
"I'm all right with that," he says.
The dust forgets to answer.

Steel against his thigh
strikes a nerve within his spine.
He stuck himself in crazy
and flushed out the infection.
They want to see the proof;
he's not practiced, nor a preacher.
Inamorata, lovesick, waits atop a tower.


Rambos We Are Not

Sometimes you need advice
through liquored telephones
from the kid you built forts with in the woods
with plastic rifles slung over shoulders
and cap guns shoved into pants
as not much has changed
since puberty struck
other than death's proximity
and vaginal complications.


A Fear Jackie's Ready To Face

She's got real
fucking potential
to break it off in your ass
but you'll still be you in the morning
that way
and if you happen to shoot a load
at the elephant in the room
you might wake up
to a goddess
every morning
for the rest of your allotted sunrises.


'Merican Sniper: A Movie Review

Let me start by clarifying my word selection. 'American Sniper' is not a film; it's a movie. The shame of it is that Chris Kyle deserved the latter. I don't blame Bradley Cooper as his performance was one of the strong points present in the project, though Clint Eastwood may have some explaining to do. One does not embark upon such a heavy endeavor without being sure that all bases are covered tastefully. It wasn't a complete abortion, but I expected much more. Before you continue reading allow me to warn you of the spoilers present in my assessment. I do not care about ruining any surprises for you. If you don't already know the ending then you haven't read the book, don't watch the news, and probably should stay home to masturbate to screenshots from a Clive Owen shoot-'em-up. 'American Sniper' was not supposed to be an action flick. It was supposed to honor a fallen hero--which brings me to another point. I'm not going to argue the pros and cons of any war we've sent men and women to recently. Any person who puts his life on the line so his buddies can make it home in one piece is a hero. Those in combat understand that mentality. When bullets are flying, it ain't about God, Country, Family. It's about the terrified bastard next to you in the foxhole with piss-soaked pants and not enough ammunition remaining.

There were some blatantly cheesy foul balls. The fact that a real infant could not be located for the family scene is appalling. That rigid piece of rubber used to represent a human child was about as realistic as one of those 1990s dolls that shit and pissed after some snot-nosed brat fed it fake food. Why would anyone want that thing anyway? Little girls are weird, which makes sense since they grow to be crazy women. Also, the 21-gun salute during the SEAL funeral was lackluster. While I appreciated the M14 being used for the tradition, the fact that the rifle closest to the camera did not actually fire once was too obvious for me to forgive. Shooting blanks is not that dangerous. Just ask someone who's had a vasectomy. The massive, Mummy-esque sandstorm which conveniently conjures itself during the final battle scene made me cringe with vicarious embarrassment, right down to the desperate hand-grabbing rescue of Chief Kyle as he ran to catch up to a briskly departing vehicle. I did appreciate the symbolism of the pocket Bible and bolt-action rifle being left behind in the dust, however. Chris was done hunting his demons--in this case the elusive enemy sniper who'd taken countless lives, American and otherwise. Therein lies another problematic sliver of the movie. The masked sharpshooter (who happens to be an Olympic marksmanship champion from Syria) scurries out of his bachelor pad to leap from rooftop to rooftop like a half-ninja version of Aladdin from the Sega Genesis days. Is that supposed to be believable? Even my girlfriend called bullshit on that one, and she's never shot a high-power sniper rifle, let alone pranced around with one after receiving a phone call as to the whereabouts of an American with a $180,000 bounty on his head. Speaking of head, allow me to back up. Since when would a redneck come home from a rodeo to find his girl having her back blown out by another goat-roping gentleman, only to kick him out politely sans ass-whooping? Since never. That's when. He tells her to pack her shit and leave, cracks a beer, and brainstorms with his asshole buddy on what is presumably the Meaning of Life (in Texas, where everything's allegedly bigger). I've seen 'Cops'. That's not how that story ends. There are at least 17 stitches involved and a few poorly-worded accusations to follow up said fisticuffs. I could go on ripping this movie a new sphincter, but I feel my point's been made. I admire the man, appreciate his sacrifice, and hoped for something better.

Here's the good part:  They didn't show him getting killed. I feel that added a level of respect for the man which may have been desecrated by the corny one-liners Clint must have chuckled at from the director's chair. The date is shown during that final scene so even those who went blindly into the theater know that something's about to "pop off". The creeper vibe of the murderous Marine is evident. The face Mrs. Kyle makes while seeing her husband off in the doorway alludes to our protagonist's fate. And then the portion that moved me commences. The file footage from the funeral procession and memorial service brought me back to the reality that I'd sat in that chair to see. This was not a man with a .308, a Hollywood hard-on, and Zach Galifawhateverthefuck's number in his cell phone. This was a real-life hero who died in the line of helping a brother in distress, though the soil was not from a foreign battlefield. PTSD is a very real issue that our society does not fully acknowledge, though I fear that in decades to come we will hear comparisons made to those who went to 'Nam and came back as shells of their prior selves. Bradley Cooper, for all his hungover tomfoolery, nailed this transformation.

Short version:  Read the book. Watch 'The Hurt Locker' instead.