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.