The Feast of the Six Fishes

She's flown in from Chicago
to see her godlike father
right in time for the King of Kings.
You feel it in the dank
calling the kid
to clean up the afterbirth.

Christ was born tomorrow.
You'll be 33 soon.
Like an Oliver Stone film
it makes too much sense.

There aren't enough candles
to burn off her eyes
at the quiet of your table.
You wonder what your soul's worth;
wonder where it went.

If you had the brass you speak with
you'd take the ride to Warwick
if only to drive by.
Instead you wander the floodplain
kicking embers to remember.

Prayers have changed
since childhood.
God has met his match.
Don't drink from the tap
in a town that has no river.

Currently reading:
"The Same River Twice" by Chris Offutt.


Highest Safety Rating in Its Class

It was hard
to wrap his head around:
Someday he would answer
for more souls than his own.

It was easy
to wrap his car around:
The tree had stood
for decades, mostly unnoticed.

It was omitted
from the report
that he never hit the brakes.

We take what we want--
Whatever the stakes.


Bringing Home Monticello Mud

Froze all day
for the sake of selling hours.
Came home wearing
dirt of a different color.
Ran the water too hot
and the tub lever dropped.
Stepped into a scald
and realized I haven't felt
feet burned by sand
and beachside pavement
in six years.

Lonely like a library
I play snapshots in my head
while rinsing, not repeating.
Maybe this spring
I'll take that vacation
to find shells
too small to live in.


Down a Lane

The contents of the pan
crackle and spit
as the sausages brown
in the bacon grease
saved from Sunday.
Bratwurst destined
to steam in beer.
My father used to tell me
how the smell of fresh pork
reminded him of visiting
his grandfather's meatpacking shop
as a boy. The old man
sent from Germany, early 1900s
came to this country
with the trade he knew best:
stuffing pig into intestines
and peddling swift death.

I light a scented candle
to brighten a dark corner
not realizing which conifer
the label represents.
Balsam fir permeates the air.
I'm brought back to hazy summers
camping in the Adirondacks
with dad and sometimes mom.
A six-by-four pillow
sold as a rustic souvenir
forgotten until now
sits atop a bookcase
a loon stitched to its front
filled with needles from the tree
the wax is emulating.
A sniff gives no sensation.
A squeeze, another snort.
There's nothing in the needles
left to tug my wanting nostrils.
It's now more useless
than the day of purchase.
I sit to eat the bratwurst
and make due with Village Candle.
No wonder they turn a buck.

If I had a home
I wouldn't write to it about my meal.
Sitting with a crisp glass of white
I spark a cigarillo
marketed with a gangster's name
that was gifted by a flame.
It's short and unfiltered
like the best lives.
Something Clint Eastwood would chew.
Tobacco smoke catches my nose
before being sucked
through the box fan in my window.
My mother's uncle used to burn
a similar brand in Puerto Rico.
He was a hard man, a knife scar on his cheek.
I've never known his name, only heard its
foreign syllables whispered in shamed tones.
A drunk, a gambler, a beater of men
he caught his end with baseball bats
walking home one night from a bar.
Maybe over money.
Maybe over a girl.
Maybe over a guy he decked
after a game of dominoes.
It's not something spoken about
in front of the women in the family.
I've never met him
but tonight I breathe him in
one drag at a time.

Some say that smell triggers memory.
If the merchants knew that
they'd charge triple.


Spanish Inquisition

Maiden name, maiden name:
I will ask you twice the same
though I can't commit tomorrow
without canceling today.

Dancing in the ambulance
like meat between her teeth.
The antidote's for sale
if your stomach's not too weak.

Remunerated polyglot
is not in love with what he's got
so wine and cheese and jungle rot
creep and crawl and aim.


A Hen in the Foxhouse

Arms was wrapped.
Legs like twisted roots.
"You haven't rocked me
in so long," she said
through the blackness
lyin' in bed with the heat set low.
What she didn't know, Jamie
was I was rockin' myself.
A trick I learnt last winter.
Gotta be right with yourself first
to give it.

But I don't have to do as much
for or to myself these days.
She been takin' care o' that as well.
Even gave me somewhere else
to go sometimes, but only at the end.
Only at the very end, goin' easy.

See I'm fixin' not to be like you, Jamie
though I respect whatever Hell's left in ya.
I know it's the challenge I was chasin'
back then, reverse engineerin' a heart attack.
Had this knife behind my eyes
that carved what I wanted to see.
Made women what they wasn't.
Crystallized an altar of lies
somethin' fierce
doe-eyed and too wise
for they own good or mine.
Li'l signs here-n-there
done told me different.
You ever meet that shaman-lady
she'll show ya what I mean.

Blood-bought joy's the finest in the valley.
Read 'em and weep, Jamie
but I gots to go now.
Demons is best fought in the dark.
You'll see.


Truck Stop Existentialism

Are those clouds
or purple extensions
of the mountains below them?--
setting where I'm heading
at a steady 75.

A trooper yawns
in the median
where he can turn around
but we can't
and that's fine
since badges ain't everything.

The pickup's paid off
unlike the one ahead
its diamond plated tool box
bolted to the bed
blinding weaker eyes than mine
through reflection of the sunset.

This is the closest
that I'll come to God

Those who can't do
get out of the way.


Sunday School and Rabbit Holes

To learn of grace
help your father's wife move out.
To learn of repentance
confess to your friend
you're the last one to leave
most times
if not always
the quintessential piano song
declaring the night's end.

What if you don't want
to reproduce?
What if breakfast should be optional
depending on your headache?
What if it was a mistake
to send the love of your life
halfway across the country
because she changed her mind on children
after having that little scare
and you couldn't look her in the face again
without wondering what else was a lie?
What if that nightmare you had this morning
about driving to Warwick, your own Vietnam
was more than the gin leaving your bloodstream?

There's a sign under water
posted for zealous scuba divers:

"Do not go beyond this point.
There's nothing in this cave worth dying for."

It's right.



Folding my laundry
in the basement of the house
where I started to grow up
I see a Cub Scout uniform
hanging from one of the many pipes
I've worked on over the years.
The boy's at his mother's place tonight
but I can see his smile at the pack meeting
as the cycle of preparedness and duty
repeats with similar hitches.

Our father, who art in Limbo
hands me a bag
of ziplocked dark meat
he bought from Price Chopper
regardless of their non-Union status.
We discuss our separate
and unequal Thanksgivings
from our respective perches
on improvised furniture.
He rises to hand me a second package
of leg-and-thigh
possibly out of guilt
imploring me not to let it grow hair
in my refrigerator.
I reassure him
that nothing goes to waste.

Simon & Garfunkel play their Greatest Hits
for a private show in my apartment
as I trim the flesh from the bones
with a filet knife
from a lousy set bought by an ex
keeping one hand free of grease
to answer the silent phone
and sip the speaking wine.
These songs always remind me of my mother.
I haven't seen her
since before her hip replacement.
She took her husband back.
She forgot that Italian word for "fake"
that I taught her.
Darkness speaks again
over fingerpicked chords
on an acoustic bound for the zoo
and awkward late-night missives.

Lines about rocks and islands
make me wonder how Jackie's doing
in Chicago, but I'm not drowning
deep enough in the grapes to ask.

Through the window
of my three-storey walk-up
I hear a bottle smashed outside
in an alley too good for itself.
The cigarette crackles
while the box fan draws its smoke.
In the trash can
turkey bones keep secrets
not meant for you nor me.
My last-dead grandparent
laughed in Spanish
when a stumbling cousin
brought a post-holiday carcass
to her home for making soup.

Some meat's gone.
Some meat's saved.
And that's what it's about:
Cutting off the pieces
that might help
make us whole.


Stendhal Syndrome Between Sips

The two of them came
from one of my Vietnams;
far enough up the Thruway to be safe
but close enough to know
that one I should have roped.
It was the night before Thanksgiving.
Regret was on my mind.

Invited to their table
I took the bait
leaving rotten friends
to hold up the oak.
Eight minutes in
I realized it wasn't me they wanted.
I'll never see
the rest of that partially visible tattoo
or learn where those feather earrings hang
when not being worn
or suffer through a bursting bladder
while curly hair is straightened
behind a bathroom door.

"Can you find us some coke?"
the pussy huckster pleaded.
"Just a gram," clarified her friend
not wanting to seem greedy.

"Sucker" it must've said across my face;
or "Desperate";
"Clearly understanding of
addictive personalities".

I smirked like a pastor
resisting heinous laughter
at this dirty joke
and rose with my pint glass
in search of better heroine.


To Shake These Zipper Blues

A nasal Billy Corgan
whines the lyrics
of "1979"
through eight-year-old speakers
crackled by ash
and silica dust
as tail lights
on the bridge
lead the way home--

for an instant
like when those
misplaced words
and chords
made sense
back then.


The Results of Blood-Bought Gaslighting

I'm standing at the sink
washing the week's dishes.
My bare foot finds
a brittle strand of pasta
from a night I'd hit the wine.
It cracks in half
against the cabinet
making me wonder about a stranger
I'd glimpsed at briefly in the darkness.

It was 5:23 in the morning last week.
I was traversing the bridge
on my way to work
when I saw yellow lights
spinning in the shoulder.
A highway truck was crawling
behind a walking woman
with no apparent rush.
I checked local news sources
the next day
to find out if she'd jumped
but no one said much on the matter.
How many cases go unreported?

Once the last of the forks is rinsed
and dropped in the rack to dry
I crouch down to pick up the fragments
of linguine, curious if her neck snapped
when her body hit the Hudson.

The rest of my Sunday's been chipper.



It was the first time we were meeting
and she'd already asked me to rescue her--
more to do with the balding forty-something
seated at her left near the TV
than my own be-denimed measure.
"He called me a racist," she said at introduction
referring to politics he'd foolishly brought up.
His Boston accent hit my shoulder blades
reminding me of our prior acquaintance
at the bar across the street months back.
An Adderall bookie real estate mogul.
A wet dream of Big Pharmaceutical.

"Let me buy your first drink," he implored.
"I've insulted your lady and I'm very superstitious."
He was wrong about half.
I tried to joke my way out of his money
but he insisted, I was too tired to fight.
I pictured her naked
while listening
to her talk about her kids
(since that's what dating is)
until she left to pick them up.

"My girlfriend moved out today," he sobbed
into his lager. "My friends bet me
25-to-1 that she isn't coming back.
The bastards know I can't resist.
Do you think she's coming back?"
A pile of taproom lottery tickets
sprawled out among his currency
sang an affirmation.
"How many times in how long?"
I asked.
"Four times in a year."
"There's your answer."

"One more," I told the barkeep
not wanting to stay, but feeling for his addiction.
He hinted at pool hustling.
I played him, for free, and chastised
his letting me win.
"You're no fun," I told the shark
after every intentional scratch.
"I want to give you long shots.
I want you to feel good."
Uneasy eyes burned deep
so I offered to drive him
to the gin mill where he swindles.

In the lot we saw my landlords.
The brothers smoked thick Turkish cigarettes
while their boys photographed two new vehicles.
My intended passenger tried placing bets
about racing with a car he didn't own.
I saw their Eastern European disdain
for this cripple of a sinner
and pulled him away towards my truck.
"I'm sorry," he repented
when I told him
that baiting teenagers was wrong.

Outside the pool hall
in the dome light of my truck
I reminded him--David--
that she'd left him for his vices.
"There's good in you. Don't fill the void."
He shook my hand three times
and went to beat some fools
since that is what he does.

I found out, hours later
that she can't ever have kids.
A gamble--meeting people--
since that what dating is.


When to Fold 'Em

There are 7 billion people in the world.
There are 7 people out there
who look exactly like someone else.
I slug down my seventh gin-and-tonic
of the night while I weigh these statistics
against Jackie's doppelgänger
sitting near the taps.

Knowing my own tendencies
I signal for the check
far before Last Call
calling it quits
to avoid

the futile effort
of pleading with a ghost.

Lavender Underbelly

Cruise control's fair game
as there's no one else
on this remote 2 a.m. highway
who doesn't deserve to be hit
aside from feeding deer.
The heat's cranked
in an effort to purge out a chill
that's deeper than skin and bone.
Dry air attacks my nostrils
making it harder to breathe
like this cigarette I don't want
but need.

New warmth makes the blood
from my knees flow faster.
I feel it through the denim
congealed against my flesh
regretting nothing
of the recent friction
endured on that floor
of a make-shift bedroom
where relative strangers
vented their best.

And to think
if I didn't fear exodus
I could share a world
that you wouldn't believe existed
keeping you eating
from palms and pockets
the voyeur that you are
no better than this harlot.


Tiffany Teal

She says she loves me
but she's technically married.
She says it's over
but she needs health insurance.
She says I'm a dolt
for needing more than evenings.
She says she's shaved
that bush I begged for.
She says a lot of things
that drown between these ice cubes.

I say what Lefty Gomez preached:
I'd rather be lucky
than good.

Dancing in the Ambulance

Tease not of the antidote
with meat between your teeth.
Consider useless wisdom
like "Turn into the skid."

Ration what's left
to spoon-feed the kids
who choke on Cohen's death
too late to know his life.

It makes you want it all
and it makes you want nothing.
It makes you want a time machine
or a ticket to Chicago.

Currently reading:
"Preacher" by Garth Ennis.


With Mouths Full of Teeth

It might be prior tutelage
or unfortunate abuse
turned green
like weathered brass:

As we get older
they want it harder
gripped around their necks
but my rough hands
can't comply.

Some nights I wish
I'd changed
how she'd wanted.


'The Walking Dead' for a Thousand, Alex

It's the annual night
for fledgling ghouls and goblins--
All Hallows' Eve
whatever that means.
Timid young parents
walk gentrified streets
with their miniature witches and warlocks
heroes and objectified female royalty
reflecting in shop windows
while the sun sits safely down
and mocks their quest for candy.

Little do they know
that true evil lurks
two miles west
in a city whose demons aren't painted.
That sidewalk hosts candles
unsheltered by pumpkins.
Two budding lives lost
in a shooting
two nights ago
but it's not too late
to reflect on the themes:

We're only as good as the way
we treat strangers
and only as blessed
as the fates of our kids.


Gigolo Inertia

The phenomenon has many names
with varying connotations:

process of elimination;
trial by fire;
ridding it of one's system;
glorified hermitism;
imposed isolation
brought about by
the systematic alienation
of those left who care
perfected by dope-sick strippers;
selective reality.

The natives have no problems
with hat hair on the warpath.
You can teach anything
as long as you have the answers.

Are we there yet?


Misguided Attempts to Repair the Mothership

"They're banking on my death,"
she tells the airbag
encased within her steering wheel
after an abrupt stop at a traffic light.

That word, "Supreme", seems hypocritical.
The polls have been floundering:
Blues and Reds and Battleground States.
The country whose Law she presides over
has devolved into madness
in the wake of a social cocktail
soured by discontent.
Her pending grave
has been reduced to a bargaining chip.
The road signs on her street
also come in threes.
Justice itself seems a joke.

Her garage door rises
as surely as the warheads
allowing her Mercedes
to trace its oil stains
on the cement.

"Little do they know of our Deal,"
she says to an invisible Stranger
standing in the doorway
waiting for His due.

Counting as her check clears
while laughing at a populace
she wonders what the media sold
to dupe a once-great nation
to sleep through Armageddon.



Woke up
to a nightmare
the revelation
that we die
how I sleep:


Karmic Blunderbuss

It's the last thing I expect to see
when walking through the lobby
of my storage unit facility
which doubles as a makeshift art gallery.
My boots glue to the floor
in front of the massive portrait.
but I don't know which words
can respectfully finish the sentence.

The soccer-mom-sentry sitting behind a desk
cluttered with smutty romance novels
homework forged for children
and unfinished job applications
speaks on my behalf:
"...One of the homeless guys in town."
The way she puts it
grinds my teeth.
I prefer to refer to those gentlemen
as "permanent outdoorsmen".

"A lot of people ask about that photo,"
she continues
as my pupils absorb the aura
enhanced by a crafty lens.
His blue eyes glisten
a story all their own
from their perch above
his beard that's long and gray
but perfectly managed.

"I give him a few cigarettes
whenever I run into him,"
I tell her, the busy patches
on his tattered denim jacket
drawing my attention
south from his countenance.
I'm sure that some were earned in Vietnam.
"He always nods his head
when I drive by."

She scrawls some minutia
on a form before her
and informs me of the reason
for this unexpected meeting.
"The owner here
is an amateur photographer
and asked to take his picture."

I wonder if there was monetary compensation.
The way he's reduced to pronouns
brings forth my next query.
"What's his name?"
I feel guilty for not knowing already
since we cross paths so often.

"Patrick," she replies.
"Tell him he's famous
the next time you see him."

I will do no such thing.
I will claim no authority.

I walk up to my 5' x 7' garage door
on the second floor
of a building with heat, locks
and strong lighting
then ponder what Patrick would do
with $79 dollars-a-month.


Representative Sample

The Hunter's Supermoon didn't help.

Riding home
he still imagined comets
and other astronomical signs
despite the brightened sky
while witty dinner jabs
and moments of parking lot vulnerability
mistaken for the path
played over in the thickest skull
this side of the Prime Meridian.

If ice had struck his tires
he'd turn into the skid
but he'd never admit the merit
in conquering oneself first.

She was magical in person.
It plucked and played on strings.

He swore he was storming Normandy
when returning to the crime scene
in that scholarship town
an hour north through red-leaf peak.

The story of Waterloo will confirm:
We lead several lives
in the breathing time we're given
and waste just as many
mining for more dirt.


Punch Buggy Red

Part of me wants to toss off the wrenches
and patent inventions to solve problems
that don't exist:

The Tooth Fairy Glue Trap;
Quadriplegic Sex Swings;
A trampoline designed
specifically for dope-sick strippers;
An app that texts your exes
as you take that first sip
of your fifth adult beverage.

Oh God, I could change the world
all right
but I'd rather be lucky
than good.


Big of Us

That plumbing we threw in
on a Sunday:
I'll have to rip it out
and replace it
when family's gone.
There in my old man's basement
we used what fittings we had
to make it work
like we do for a living.

Now I see that piping
whenever I do laundry
and wonder which deep, dark
of mine
you'll be telling first--

But not really
'cause you'd never
like I thought I'd never
lose your respect.


Homely Happy Hour

We're texting in Spanish
like code talkers
since our naturalized tongue
would feel too real
for the topic at hand.
She tells me I'm like her--
"hard-headed", in English.

I scoff at my mother's accusation
turn up the Tom Petty
and the sizzling chorizo
seeing no one all night
but the drowning aloe
she gave me
on the sill.


The Magnificent Six

My favorite local outdoorsman
bends outside a gas station
cramming two bagged tallboys into a jogging satchel
that doesn't attempt to match his raincoat
reminiscent of a film noir detective.
I should give him some useful detritus
from my vomiting closets
but right now there's not even time
to pass a smoke through the passenger-side window
before the light turns green.
A mental note is made
to have him up one evening
for a cocktail and a shower
and a lifetime's worth of stories
crammed into 20 minutes.

An elderly couple readies to cross Main Street in the rain
as I kick mud from the treads of my boots against the curb.
The groom grabs his bride's quivering umbrella arm
urging her to wait for a rapidly passing car
in this world that sped up too damn much
over the course of their dedicated decades.
We never stop trying to fix and save
our lovers, though it's luck of the draw
and a wink from above
that determines most of the hand.

There's a dead katydid guarding
the front door of my building.
I'm not sure why it'd care so much.
Shane Killoran has a rubberbound stack of
mail on the steps--some first-class, bills
a package the size of a lost lover's diary--
though I've reason to believe
he moved out weeks ago.
My mailbox, like my Saturday, is a void
that can't be filled with hope nor redemption.

The sour aroma of my neighbors' dirt weed
hits my nostrils at the landing
well before I ascend to the third floor we share.
Oh Christ, it's getting worse.
Is it them or me?
What's the fucking difference?

Ramblings of a writer
must seem mundane to most.
Do you live your life or see it?
Which would you prefer?

Currently reading:
"Salamander #42".


The Great I Am

Our creator of Sunday mornings
should be kissed by prosperity
given an island off Cuba
or receive a free parking voucher for life.
(We don't speak of long-gone virgins any longer.)
In the meantime I sit in this symphony
of highlighted dust particles
floating through my living room air
the sun's angle sharp enough
to accentuate every missed sweep.
No one's here to judge my lax housekeeping
the limp I've walked with for weeks
too stubborn to get that ankle checked out
or the fact that I've let the kitchen faucet leak freely
despite my claimed profession out of doors.
The Latin espresso I've brewed
tastes like the heart of my dead grandmother
singing church songs to me in Spanish
before I'd picked a language of my own.
My father has news that he's neglected to share
the last two times I've called
so I'm bracing myself as best as I can
while these charlatan snowflakes
swirl around me on the couch
in a safely sterile world
where words like 'cancer'
and 'abandon' aren't allowed to exist--
But damn this coffee's good
and that first butt will be better.
I think I'll hit the park with a book
and pretend to read
while searching for a woman
walking her dog with a bag in her hand
who's as sick of filling the void with shit
as I am.
Ain't life grand?


Need a Lung, Too?

Thrown together as the day fades
we encounter fellow time bandits.
Don't ask about the weather:
The sun's dying.
The air's thinning.
The flood's coming
for all of us this time.

Bumming a smoke
from a soul who was a stranger
20 seconds or 20 days ago
even though your own pack's
in your pocket
is the best way to get closer
to whatever God who dreams us.

What's said will be forgotten.
Don't trifle with semantics.
Taste the chosen poison
of another for five minutes
since the seating after this life
is undoubtedly assigned.


Ode to a Union Pipeline Hand

They cut those inner seams
at the bottoms of their jeans
to accommodate their cowboy boots
since the real ones cost extra
and per diem ain't enough up north.

Town cops don't know what to do with them
when their gypsy ways lead to late-night altercations
in the motor home parks and dimly lit dives
where they spend their shortened nights
and overtime on suds
shoving singles in the jukebox
in search of country-western.
Once the paperwork's complete
they're locked in cells for an hour or two--
harmless, hard-working vagabonds
with too much sweat and whiskey
embedded in their flannel and denim.

Their women don't smoke
but like the smell of cigarettes
and men with that lingering stench
since it reminds them of promises on hold.

Snuff costs more above the Mason-Dixon.
Bills keep coming in.
The farms and rigs aren't paid for yet.
Their youngest kids have forgotten
the faces of their fathers
but that sin seems worth the check
and the alternative.

Wives back home in the Bible Belt
wonder, worry, get lonely.
People are only human.
Replacements are asked to pull out.

America needs its natural gas
despite what the protesters think
and pipe doesn't weld itself.

If only it was all as simple
as snipping that seam
with some scissors.


A Ramekin Blemished by Wedlock

"You're the first person
I thought to call," she
after her neighbor's pit bull
attacked her, even though
we'd sworn each other off
for the eighth time
in five months.

I talk her through police calls
unsavory pet owners next door
and animal control
since I'm not as fanged
as the swearing prophets claim.

Two days later
she's throwing banana nut bread
in the trash
as though baking a loaf
could erase the acid spat.

There are two types of fools:
Those who know they are
and those who don't.

Sweet tooth or not
I'm neither.

Currently reading:
"jubilat 29".



Maybe he savors the swelling
somewhere other than his head.
Maybe all that purple
reminds him:
There's still blood.

Crooked as a preacher's son
his ankle bends toward Heaven.
The other wounds he's working on.
For this they make a pill.


You Need to Speak About Going Lone Wolf 'cause That's What's Killing You Fastest

I work with talented brutes
whom I love, though
they'd never understand my saying so;
Come home to a barren apartment
where woman nor cat purrs my name;
Go out in a town that gets off on itself
full of artsy charlatans
and imports duped by articles
who don't notice my tall gin;
Can't tell you the last time
a drink was bought in my honor
for more than my hefty tipping;
Forget what a campfire feels like
while warming bones I'd ignored;
Curse the place I came from
while missing those
who can't afford the bridge toll.

I'm the loneliest man
whom you pretend to know
but I swear my stories
are better in person.
[It's the smile
I've mastered in mirrors.]


Saved by a Dull Blade

During a planned pipeline blowdown
you sit in your truck and smoke
while natural gas spews out
of the two-ton relief valve
a hundred yards away
wondering how far
is far enough.

Jackie moved to Chicago last year
but you still spew flames
for miles every night
with or without
her knowing.

Spark up.


Domestic Flesh Wounds at 2 Vanamee St

I'd contemplated it for months
en route to another's abode:
Pulling down that side street
where we almost bought a house
together five years ago
to see what ever
came of the place.
Work ended prematurely today
and the sun was on my side
for once so I swerved right
for the sake of burying the unknown.

The lawn was still in need of the manicure
that your green thumb would have given.
Boxes of shingles cluttered the doorway
in what could only be an ominous sign
of the type of leak inside
that these plumber's hands don't fix.
A few haphazard lawnchairs circled
a makeshift firepit implying informal revelry
despite the need for labors of love

and therein laid the problem
bold-faced and blatant; italicized:
We gave up working
at building with bricks
we were too busy
throwing at each other.

The impenitent shall not
inherit the Kingdom of God
but a night doesn't pass
that I hope that you've found it.


So It Goes

Everything you've wanted
walks into a bar.

You buy her Jameson all night
since there's no way
she should pay
well aware that it's only
pleasant conversation--
safe, fleeting
and forgettable
like the punchline
to the one
about the priest's untimely entrance.

At least the clergy
would call you back
the next day.


Too Hot to Smoke

Our one hot date
when she sat on my face
left nothing in its wake
but some well-placed
magnets on my refrigerator:


Of all the half-decade's
I think that's where I came


Open Season

Not old enough to buy a 6-pack
he's pacing in and out
of the streetlight's yellow ring
by the time I arrive around the corner
behind the bar where ice is melting
in my unattended gin.
Yelling at life's unfair lessons
more than the foes before him
he rips a rag in half to cover his knuckles.

I've never said two words to the kid
prior to tonight, but I know him
since I've been him
so I know my words mean as little
as the fact that I'll walk him home
still shaking, adrenaline dumped
in our stomachs.

Currently reading:
"Poetry East", Number 86 (Autumn 2015).


Blood Work

Unexpected company
comes and lasts
like Caesar's tariffs.
He almost has her shooed
back through the door
with vagabond hands
and silverdipped alibis
when she makes way
past the frame
to pick up her son's pistol.
There isn't time to scold
and she tenses under pressure
so he plants his perch
crossing fingers and toes
in a perversion of faith
outside the cathedral.

"This is heavy," she declares
lifting the chrome six-shooter
from a marble-topped table
he'd bought from a local junk merchant.

"Stainless," he says, ready to swoop
should her thumb get ambitious
and head for the hammer.

"Is it loaded?"
Her face turns gray
the jovial smirk reneged
as the whites of her eyes grow.

"What good would it be
if it wasn't?" he explains
considering confession
to crimes uncommitted.

The .45 back on his furniture
her hand reaches now
for the brass knob instead.
"See you next week," she says
as his mind drifts to red meds
and comatose slatterns.

It matters not to some
if those who must suffer
suffer less
but a gentleman expects
to kill cleanly.


For Lack of Combat Hospital

Watching grainy clips
of broken-nailed debauchery.
The actress is familiar.
The mattress is the same.

Shaky-handed camerawork
exceeds the poor direction.
The script that wrote itself
loops like alibis in hell.

Bracelets clang and jangle
for a score without an orchestra.
She pulls her hair behind an ear.
An artist at her best.

Laying on a flank
lethality in hand
until is milked an offering.
Stalactites hang
like dish soap.


Lessons in Convalescence

It was one of those late-night cigarettes
where you're hungry
and get a thin layer
of saliva on the filter
so it never sticks right to your lips
and nothing about it's enjoyable
except for its end.

He'd considered endings
for months, bleeding through bandages
kissing hands and shaking babies
in an effort to take the edge off.
The sheets changed for scandalous reasons.
He'd dealt with his transgressions
like a cat burying shit
while foulweather acquaintances
solicited for pills.
No one left gets it, he hummed
as he jingled his keychain around in his hand
pursuing the one
for the front door of his building.

It didn't appear.
He thought about Japanese soldiers
falling onto blades
equally forged of honor and steel.
It was well after midnight
on a Thursday.
No neighbors were returning
who could help him get upstairs.
He walked around back to the parking lot
but his car key was missing, too.
He thought about necromancy
and his grandfather's rifle cabinet.
And then he kept on walking.

Don't be alarmed, but
the rent's now two months overdue
they towed his car five weeks ago
and police knocked down his door
when the stench of his rotting trash can
was mistaken for the odor of corpses.
The landlords aren't happy
and tacked the repair bill to his rent
muttering of a security deposit.

There are rumors hydroplaning
through circles feigning friendship;
southward sweeping seas;
the spiral down to heaven.

If you see him
tell him I get it.
Home is where you're wanted.

Currently reading:
"Suttree" by Cormac McCarthy.


An Ounce of Gauze and Gumption

Being unable to walk
has shown me where I stand
in eyes with whom I sat
to talk
when others ran.


Designated Hitter

Lifting couch cushions
in search of bygone artifacts
I find a handful of change
among the ephemera.
Aware it's not mine
since I pay debts with plastic
I wonder what poor dame
left her quarters, dimes
and dignity
at the end of this regrettable ride.

Like a carnie scanning for money
shaken from roller coaster patrons
I palm the spoils of brief entertainment
and toss it into the jar on my dresser.
It's a slick business, a tight ship
a shimmering panacea we run.
Step right up and swing that sledge.
The endorphins will last until breakfast.



Unable to master
originality either
she told me
she didn't want to be a poem--
"Relegated", she meant
without saying it.

"So don't," I could have answered;
or, "Me neither."
The two-syllable replies
are innumerable
in the shower
months later
with a cocktail nested
in the soap dish.

I've represented us
as the mockingbirds
we are
mimicking others
and better versions of ourselves
with virtuous intentions
bound to slaughter strangers
while mothers weep in evening
for the sin of repetition.

Currently reading:
"Spoon River Poetry Review" 41.1 (Summer 2016).


The Perils of Dating the Artsy Type

They'd make such great co-conspirators
crafting garland out of my guts
but the fact here is that
waxing candles with fat
culled from lovers
means that they're nuts.


The Only Time I'll Type a Poem About Politics (Though I'm Not Hard Up for Material Yet)

Whatever the outcome
whichever evil prevails
whoever shames our nation greater
when moving into the White House--

We, as a country divided by media moguls
will get what we deserve
(in real-time, streaming live).



When's the last time
you were yelled at
by the goon in the guard tower
drinking white wine?
Maybe too long.
Maybe never.
Maybe this is your lucky night.

What I have to tell you
is fool's gold 'til you burn it.
What I'm here to share
can't be stored in silos
for a later date
another life
a second chance at rapture.
The blood on the pages--
Don't fight it.
I've willed the man in the kilt
into coming;
forewent the aphrodisiac
and grabbed your gods by their throats.

All attractions are fatal.
A C-section mother knows best.
What made man modern
was the ability to make fire
bought and sold for two dollars
at the nearest filling station.

We sing our dark harmonies
trying not to touch off the acetylene tanks
with our shattered high notes
as the straw boss makes his paces.

It's about time you steal photos
from the albums cloaked in dust.
The hands have crossed redemption.
All that tics will toc.


Cells to Ourselves

In what fiction
could never muster
she and her father
went through chemotherapy
at the same time
lying on the carpeted floor
of their basement
laughing whenever
one of them puked into a bucket
until mom came home
and they asked her to order pizza.

I think to myself
how my family couldn't weather
paper cuts together
without the grace of God
or at least a Harvest Moon;
but that, more than anything
is what family boils down to:


Heart of Palm

He lived on the third floor
of a brick-and-mortar walk-up
with windows facing east
absorbing summer sun.
It was like a sauna
where he sweat out prior lives

She felt for his discomfort
and purchased dark blue curtains.
"This will keep it cool in here,"
she said, the proud philanthropist.

He bit his lip, wiped his brow
and confessed the point she'd missed:
"We all need a dose of sunshine."

She shook her head
and parted the new blinds.


Ritchie Valens and an Airplane

Elbow against the oak
knuckles against your lips
mojito against some mint;
"Get out of your head,"
her eyes say as she sways by
with a fresh round for regulars.

The jukebox plays "La Bamba"
your grandmother's favorite hit
but you've got no captain's bars.
You're a sailor at best

though complacent
since discovering
time travel's real.


A Victim Who's Not You

Three young boys splash
in lake water up to their shins
so I take my rod and reel
down the shore.
It's 95 degrees
in the shade
and I'm jealous of their lack
of jeans and work boots.

I drift the plump half of a nightcrawler
still squirming under water
by a swath of weeds
where I'd hide from the heat
if I were a bass.
My bait disappears in the glare.
I feel several tugs, jerk the tip back
to set the hook in its jaw
and reel in a sunfish
the size of my palm.
Veins of turquoise
festoon its orange flanks.
It's swallowed the load whole.
Some men would rip the hook out
along with bright red gills
but there's been enough carnage
to last one afternoon.

I cut the line and drop the sunny
back into the lukewarm soup
a shard of steel still buried in its throat.
One of those kids laughs a little louder
as I tie off my frayed line
to a loop in the pole.

This fishing shit's not for me any more.


To Build an Hourglass

Gene had been drinking by himself in a shack of a flat for days; nights, really, since nothing worth remembering happened when the sun was still scorching--not that the bottle aided his nocturnal memory. He'd been dreading that ugly word which had always plagued him:  Almost. Regardless of the law, he knew what he'd seen on the mountain that day.

The air was so hot that the ice cubes in his cocktails melted before he got halfway through a glass and his sweat ran out of salt, as bland as his father's cooking. "Inefficiency's a sin, like Satan sinking in," he recalled from melodic Sunday school classes he'd been dragged to feebly by parents yet to part. Pints of water poured from his pores and soaked the thin layer of cotton that remained on his supine body. He cursed the man who'd swindled him into taking rooms on the third floor, though the farther away from the public eye that he stayed, the longer his freedom would last.

"At least they've got plenty of ice made up where I'm going," he laughed to himself beneath a squeaking ceiling fan that pushed more dust than it did air. His mother had always given him credit for making the most out of Aces and Eights--a trait that she'd claimed as her genetic offering. After her funeral, once everyone respectable had left to their houses and horse barns and preconceived notions of what it meant to pursue happiness, Gene approached her freshly buried grave and plucked a few flowers from arrangements that meant nothing. "Mary Lou will like these fine," he explained to his silent mother. Gene wasn't a superstitious man, even back before the gods got him good, but he swore he heard a mourning dove signal her agreement; or maybe a mockingbird. He'd always gotten the two as confused as lust and love. "They sure won't have this gin there, though," he said, referring to that big house full of ice. "Better enjoy it now."

At least there wouldn't be Sunday drivers. At least no fireworks would make him miss Mary Lou now that she'd gone to visit others conjugally instead. At least there'd be hope, his second-favorite amenity--next in line after a little black dress. Perspiring into a rented chaise lounge as stained and tattered as his life, Gene waited for the knock and accepted his fate with a swig of warm spirits:  He'd rather be loved than right.


Westward of Eastwood

It's one of those epics
that I can't claim as my own
like David slaying Goliath
or gravity, or Gatsby.
Maybe I heard it at coffee break;
read it in the G section of the liquor store;
saw it in a Spaghetti Western
with Guineas painted like Injuns
and a mostly forgettable plot:

A man who wears enough grit on his skin
to make his detractors think twice
reaches into his jeans
tosses a .38 Special round
at the hopeless fool giving him guff
and warns him--
"The next one will come faster."

I thought about writing it into a scene
but decided to err
on the side of integrity.
Instead I'll tell you
like a lame man showing his crutch
before a long walk
off a short pier
as my father used to say.

A writer's nothing more
than a careful recorder of contraband.


A Sleuth and Consensual Sodomy

The drink's served
before I settle into the stool
whether or not that's admirable
or implies a lack of discernment.
Three later, after dodging several faces
I notice a moth
the diameter of Washington's familiar likeness
circling erratically two inches off the light strip
that encompasses the ceiling's circumference.
Its limited path makes it seem
as though it's tethered to the wall.
The empathy passes
like women en route to the restroom
and I resist the urge
to buy a bug a drink.

Restaurant Review of County Fare in Wappingers Falls, New York

Stopped in over the weekend with an old work buddy and was not disappointed. I knew we were in good hands as soon as we bellied up to the bar and I recognized the man in charge of mixing from several prominent pubs in Beacon. After introducing him to my colleague, the menus were pored over. It was difficult to narrow down our selection since so many items sounded delectable, which is a backhanded complaint which only means I'll have to return again soon to sample other offerings. We both opted for the Steak Frites and enjoyed every bite. The sauteed onions brought a sweet mix to the subtly seasoned steak. The meat was very tender and cooked exactly how it was ordered, sliced and displayed in an appealing presentation. With french fries as the side it was hard to go wrong. My meal was washed down with a special beverage, the Hopvinebling beer from Beacon's new Hudson Valley Brewery. Advertised as a "Dry-Hopped Berliner Weisse", the drink is best described as a mix of a sour with Hefeweizen. It went down smoothly as a summer drink should. A few nearby denizens poured some out into shot glasses to try. It doesn't get more "local" than that. Our dining experience ended with differing desserts. My guest opted for the cheesecake. He said it was delicious and I don't doubt his assessment, though my chocolate craving required me to try the nut torte. It was one of the best desserts I've had in a long time and is even gluten-free, in case any patrons have Celiac disease. My sweet tooth was satisfied, though my curiosity about the new establishment is still not totally resolved. I plan on returning in the near future to find out how some of those appetizers fare.


Romanticized Misinformation

Maybe she got
those awful tattoos
so she couldn't
cut there

When the Cordite Mixed With Blood

Straight from a film
I'd want no part in seeing
I stand ten yards across
from a six-foot splinter
lodged for a decade--
her husband
and daughter
watching backyard fireworks
that my friend
who's her neighbor
has staged for the sake of the holiday.

The invitation meant well
but now it's gone to madness.

My cocktail's clutched
in a death grip
as the sodium burns between us
clearly defining a Maybe that was
from a Never that strides in my Levi's.

The show ends, the sparks fade
and memories fizzle out.
Many smirks were meant to be
but this one
isn't one of them.
Part of me is pissed
that she didn't stick
to Olivia.

Currently reading:
"The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Haruki Murakami.


Or Best Offer

Light your filthy cigarette.
Don't treat it like medicine.
A corpsman, not a song
will save you with a tourniquet.
Lung blood from young bucks--
copied fools and rushed in.
Now they wish the ones they miss
weren't the ones they trusted.
Who will be your brother's keeper
if you tango with the Reaper?
All the best lead with the left.
Save that right for once, kid.


Eisenhower Mile

There's a Cold War myth
still propagated
by the hopeful and precious
that one in five miles
of the Interstate Highway System
was built arrow-straight
for the landing of military planes
should action be taken
in case of invasion.

Whenever one is noticed
I light up a smoke
like a tender votive candle.

Let the meek have
their comforting fallacy.
There are worse lies
on the airwaves
produced by lower men.

Currently reading:
"Dirty Work" by Larry Brown.


Pillory Alibis

When Pat Jenkins told us that he was heading south to work on the Panama Canal we all believed him. How were we to know that he'd been drinking on credit for weeks? He wasn't the type to get inside your head and ricochet off bone like a brazen .22 round. That time he mentioned his desire to design a kaleidoscope for that new female friend of his we laughed for a song-and-a-half on the jukebox and suggested that he check the antique shop in town. Nothing ever came of it--his gift--and he swore off trinkets and blondes for awhile; possibly until Doomsday. It was around that time when his mother's card came in the mail and beckoned his better senses. After a few gins he whispered that he could smell her perfume in the envelope. It was almost enough to lure him back home, but that definition had changed in Pat's mind. The rest of us knew it before he did though no one had the heart to tell him. What happened back there could have never been avoided since nobody got close enough to smell it on his breath. As far as I know he's living in a hut on a Pacific beach with a shovel and a shotgun propped up in the corner. When Pat Jenkins told us where he was going we had no reason to doubt his intentions.


Many Sons Had Father Abraham

We're sharing the brand of stories
you save for rainy days
or times with too much time
on your hands.
He's up at bat
while my guts are still rolling
from the last one I told.
We've needed this.

His voice alters, impersonating
the passionate hesitation
of an aging Frenchman
with whom he worked years back.
"The best way
to make love to a woman
is to
caress her thighs

He falls out of character
for long enough
to make it real.
"I hope Claude's still alive,"
he confesses.

I claim the invisible microphone
and take a turn at the helm
letting my friend's mind churn
over our mortality.
The three years between us
is enough to draw a line
though I won't cheat his development
by consoling his voiced fear.

Guys like Claude never die for long.
They only switch shoes
and learn a different laugh.


Letting Go and God

When nervous
he sings under his breath
the only half-line
that he knows
of that Beatles song
about being born
and undersea exploration

though what can you claim knowledge of
based solely on a fraction
of a verse soaked in acid?

Brando declined
his Godfather Oscar.
Salinger drank his own urine.

There are limits
to what we can understand.
Humming replaces the rest of the words
until we're impaled by the chorus.

Clear your throat.



The kid's perched
on a rock wall
between the sidewalk
and a church--
two unsaid ends
of an invisible spectrum.
I picked him up
under his armpits
to put him there
as he bashfully
pretended to decline.

He looks to his right
face lighting up
as two ants wander the flat stone
shared by the six-year-old.
His sneakered foot twitches
before he moves to lift it.
"Don't," I warn
with love and firmness equal.
"But I like to squash them,"
he protests.

I hold the tip down
feeling his tiny toes
through the rubber
and tie his shoe
since he's unable--
a late bloomer;
a precious gem.

"We respect life," I tell him
doubling the bow for safety.

Our pizza's still warm
though we arrive
ten minutes late
to claim it.


Lunar Libations

It looks more like
a retirement party
than a Friday night bar scene.
The yacht club members come here
resting on sabers and rattling laurels.
Three blue-hairs to my right
one of them with the white shirt
and gold bars denoting his rank of sea captain
tell fuck-stories of yore
when the bartender
half their age
is busy on the far end
mixing remedies for the elderly.
They comment on her cleavage
as she bends to wash a pint glass
pretending not to hear.
Her tip jar is the only thing
that she wants them to fill.
I laugh at one of their livelier tales
and turn my back on their debauchery.

Two old salts are seated to my left
sharing a bowl of questionable peanuts.
The shorter of the pair
a man called Moon
with a body like a crumpled receipt
for shoes hastily picked that didn't quite fit
kisses the barkeep's lapdog
and comments on the fecal smell of her breath
but continues, acting surprised
when I tell him of her sex.
"In that case...," he jests
implying the obscene
with as little regard for judgment
as he has for his own health.
He coughs into the crotch of his elbow
while his pilsner goes flat in front of him.

The taller man at his side
stares at his cohort's namesake
through the window
and reassures the establishment's proprietor
that he'll walk Moon home later on.
It sounds like it won't be the first time.
I take a swig of gin and wish for friends like that
should I make it to their age.

The barmaid's shift has slowed enough
to allow her a drink on the other side of the oak.
She sips her straight vodka inconspicuously
trying not to sit too close to my arm.
"He's a poem," I tell her
in reference to the diminutive man
with dog ass emanating from his pale countenance.
"Do you want more stories?" she asks me.
"No. Only what I see."

The cover band plays its final request
though Alabama's sweetness is far from this place.
"Look at me," Moon says to no one in particular.
"I'm still alive."

It's a relative term.
An argument could be raised in opposition
but I'd rather get lost in the reflection
of the bridge's lights on the Hudson.
Tonight, instead, we'll share a river in silence.


On Babysitting

In the Florida room
there's a wooden spindle
autographed with Sharpie
above a cedar window frame
from our father's recent, unofficial
high school reunion.
Multiple handwritings
cover its four sides
all of them different
but decidedly from Westchester.
They wear a confidence
he never had.

"I have no idea why that's up there,"
the six-year-old says.
I do, vaguely, but don't share my hypothesis.
It looks like part of someone's front porch.
My imagination wanders
as he plays with his blocks.
I smirk at the possibility
of our father making mistakes
being human.

In the basement I fold laundry
while he finishes his homework upstairs.
"A bird just crashed into the window,"
he proclaims from the top step
Crayola in hand.
"It happens," I mumble.
And it does.

Here we are:  brothers
26 years apart
and teaching
what most will die without knowing.

Currently reading:
"The Walking Dead:  Compendium 3"


Umbilicus Minimus

He enters the arena
no longer looking to draw swords
but catching furtive glances
over rims of pints and tumblers
from prior adversaries
who didn't bleed out in the dust
like movies make-believe.

There's no such demographic
as retired gladiators.
Survivor guilt means less
than wasted olive branches.
The thumb of judgment hangs
like the buy-backs that don't come.

He'll take his latest lovely
to the zoo next time instead.

Kentucky Windage

"Don't park there,"
he warns the striding stranger
as he pulls out of the lot.
"It's not clearly marked
but the ticket's $80.
They think it's the City."

It's happened to him.
He knows.
He's learned.

"That's the best birthday gift
I've received today!" she yells
walking towards her sedan
to move it to relative safety.

He lets off the brake
raising his window
to light a smoke.
That's the saddest thing
he's heard this week
until today's Top 40
plays through hidden speakers
at the gas pump
hours later.


Nurse Inertia

She remembers
keeping places
for those undeserving--

woebegone maladies
like one of the Carolinas
or a crooked crucifix.

The crystal ball repairman
called out sick again
with the vices of a boomtown

since soul food ain't the same
when it's eaten by oneself.


Feeling Lucky

You take an oiled rag
to the rust spots
where the salt of your sweat
attacked the pistol's sights
and think, slightly richer:
Clint Eastwood never mentioned this.

It's not every day
that you get to watch your father
don his armor.
No one around
has change for a twenty
but there's good news post haste:
Our shadows leave at noon.


A One-Tree Forest

Finally finding
the ancient Greek's grave
archaeologists admit
that Aristotle's teachings
yielded few friends:
2,400 years laid to rest
and not one clay wine jug
propped against his headstone.


Dapper in Denim

She caught me in my cups
crossed two bridges to do it
had her hair up
in classic Hepburn fashion
like she knows I can't resist.
While I smoked outside the taproom
she made small talk
with those characters
she'd only heard in my stories.
Too cowardly to validate her
I'd never shared my Saturdays.
It must have been empowering
and disappointing, as most midnights go.

Seeing my sloppy state
surely brought back vivid images
of the man she'd left after a decade
a house, and no promised offspring.
The next morning
through the ginhaze
I read her final message
not recalling
the ride she gave me home
or that sealed, four-page letter
I'd handed her from my safe
before she left to sleep
in the bed she'd made her own.
It was short and sweet and fitting.

There will be no more dinner at Marcia's.
There will be no more "Breakfast at Tiffany's".
And I, no white-clad Bogart, will never ask Sam
to play that tune again
though I'll always know her smell.



The first time that she hit me
I was launched to outer dreamspace.
Her second volley
a year later
woke me to the sizzle
of crisping skin
and car horns blaring
in the background.

And that's where
I'll remain:
between hope and knowing;
between gain and loss;
in the interim's perdition
that comes with eating apples.

To know a goal exists
and wait for our messiah;
those who say it's foolishness
have never heard her snore.



You swear it's a ghost
or that you're still ginned
when he assaults you
with a hug
that raises your partner's eyebrows
for that first time
on the job.
He always had a stereo
and a grandpa joke
to pass the day.
His number's in your phone
though you never stopped by
like he invited.
It's been seven years
since you've seen him
and you're shocked he's not
collecting his pension.
Electricians can work longer
since their bodies have been spared.

"Did you marry her?"
he asks once the smiles
fade to words.
Your boots turn to concrete.
You'd forgotten that young love
which radiated from
the face of the apprentice
you once were
before the quest commenced.

You have no leaking pipes
for the remainder of that day.
You laugh at the expense of others
as your tribesmen do.
But you never quite recover
from that dose of recollection
that brought you back to innocence
when hope was not your drug.


Pissing in the Wind

He wraps
his tobacco-stained fingers
around a stack of coasters
on the oak
between us
and squeezes
to perfect the tower.

I knock them askew
take a sip of gin.
Pisa for paupers.

That old friend
glances at my grin
over his lager
and nods.


Nominal Fee

Another letter came
from the dying little bald kids.
"Partners in Hope"
it said at the top of every page
of the free notepad included.
"I can relate to that,"
I told them
and their marketing reps
but I only signed a check.

So then I set traps
that killed all the ants in my apartment
but I didn't feel relieved
and I didn't feel alone
and I didn't feel like God--
I only felt guilty
and poured a Pinot noir.


Separated Psyche

A spinster in the making
she'll always be
one of my favorites
silhouette of lithe limbs
careening across her living room
a vodka dangling from her hand
and that heart almost large enough
to fit one more song and dog
had it not been
for her husband.


To Pistol-Whip a Face Like Truth Serum

Even if
it ain't meant to be
you've got
to give a girl
her poem.


Box Fan Blues

I remember the flashing lights
of emergency vehicles
through my kitchen window
but thought it was a drill
like that coworker who joked
about suicide
in a stairwell after coffee break.
He was kidding.
She wasn't.

A local shopkeeper
told me they'd found her body
in the dilapidated building
next to mine
a week after the lock
of the front door had been changed
and a sign was displayed
in the storefront window
announcing its availability.
"Squatting", they call it
but that implies deliberate action.
Some folks just
have no place else to go.

In absentia.
In loveless memory.
In eager anticipation
of another girl
finding her home.


Clearing Out Closets

It's not until our boots hits the gas
that we feel what's left of the cramp
in our calves
from a night awakened
by a day of dreaming.

All along the interstate
the raptors pick through maggots
looking for the meat
that these motorists have found.

We don't want to go out
the way we used to go out.
We've looked for blood in the water
and found it.

It's been so long
since something drastic
with passion
with our names carved actions.

"We Deserve This,"
the exit sign says
as we ease up
off the right.


Batteries Not Included

I'm talking to a 23-year-old
from Long Island on the sidewalk
who answers a suicide hotline
when she isn't tending bar.
The obvious similarity goes unstated.

"One time I heard a man in the background
trying to talk a jumper off the edge of a bridge.
He gave up and the line went dead.
The police were called
but never found her.
We assumed that she did it."
The euphemism goes unquestioned.

We pass a wine bar
filled with young women in red dresses
taking photos for their bachelorette party.
Salmon in a barrel, though I'm glad
to be preoccupied.
A few blocks later
another thirty-year process comes up.

"My father collects sea glass.
At the beach last summer
my boyfriend gave him a piece
but it was fake."
She explains the litmus test.
Her old man put it in his mouth
to wash off the salt.
It was no longer opaque.
"He threw it back into the ocean."
Her boyfriend was confused
but I was not
and did the same
at the next intersection.


Leonine, They Walk Across the Embers

My father, ever the pragmatist
used to voluntarily sleep in jail cells
of one-horse towns
when riding his motorcycle
between his home in Port Chester, New York
and Ohio's Bowling Green State University
during the time when love was free
and law enforcement was on our side
as long as you weren't colored
and on the receiving end of a firehose.
He tells that tale as if he lived on the fringe
a la 'Easy Rider', but I know it was
merely the primordial state of his frugal nature.
I let him have his folklore, though.
Compassion trumps being right.

He's a social worker now;
works with the "developmentally delayed"
as the latest textbooks and experts call it.
I jokingly say that my blue-collar occupation
is similar in that sense
but I envy the depth of his dedication.
Last week, when he turned 65
he told me that an autistic man
he'd met once eleven years ago
reappeared in his roster of clients
remembering the date of his birthday
and the day of the week on which they'd met.
His grip on the wheel tightened
as he recounted the scenario.
"That's common," I said. "Like in 'Rain Man'."
He pulled his eyes from the road
and replied, "But it's never happened to you."

For that moment
my father
(lover of the forgotten
bride of Christ
cell block sleeper)
seemed scared
of what his Good Book can't explain
and what I already know:
There is genius all around us
pulling wrenches, drooling free.


Their Price of Comfort is Cancer

The sole reason for your recent sanity
sweats through his shirt
so you come down on him verbally
as only brothers can.
"I wear deodorant, not antiperspirant.
That stuff gives you cancer."

After eight hours
you go home and read the label.
Aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex
sounds carcinogenic.
That middle word is fake
like farmed diamonds
and true love.
You decide not to tell anyone
if either fate comes to be.

A pain under your arm
sends you to the mirror.
You sterilize your nail clipper
with your latest black Bic
and chop off the fresh skin tag.
It takes two attempts.
There isn't as much blood
as you'd imagined
though you still have the wad of tissue ready.
You've learned to be prepared
from more than Boy Scouts.

After your shower
you remove some telephone numbers.
It hurts less than your bathroom surgery.
A trickle of red runs down your rib cage.
The mild soreness that flares up
after both amputations
is doused well by the pilsner
while the moon smirks triumphantly
despite its incompleteness.


Men on Macadam

This city's becoming a City
making magazine articles honest.
Spring bursts with culture
and shop doors are propped open.
Friendly gusts of wind
blow sundresses taut and high
on the Main Street sidewalk
that will never hold
a folded ten for me again
so I take what I can get
in the form of a glimpse
at someone else's headache.

A curly-haired kid barely twenty
goes for the Dylan look
with an otherwise urban vibe
complete with faded sweatpants.
His tenor sax is sadly yearning
for the brand of loss he hasn't learned yet
but I drop my only single in his can regardless
with a subtle thumbs up
as I pass the pet store
that serves as the backdrop of his performance.

A few blocks down
I find a bench across from the parking lot
of a food market
that will provide enough pedestrian entertainment
if the book runs dry.
There's a man on an adjacent corner
who's bet his last five
on the government's gambling racket
more times than he's slept in clean sheets.
I'd wager my pension that he knows
the longest, darkest alleys
to empty a full bladder in
if the midnight stumble home
is too long to wait for porcelain.
I should've saved my change for him.
It's not the first time I've given prematurely
to the wrong person
though I'd rather be mistaken
than lie like a budding bluesman.

An hour goes by harmlessly.
I mark my page and walk back to my apartment
edging my way between wards of the state.

Modified on a Cocktail Napkin

My Quarterback arrives
eighteen years too late.
I played Left Tackle;
poorly watched his blind side.
Here at the gin mill
I can defend him even less.
It's every man for himself
and the ball's knocked loose
for a fumble--
as it always has been
though they never told us.

He leaves before I can buy him a drink
to apologize for those sacks I let slip.
There were a lot.
I wonder if he still gets headaches.
I watch him ascend the staircase
but can't recall which number
he wore between his shoulder blades.

Eighteen more years
and the squandered college funds
of the kids we'll never 
put on the field.
One of these days
we'll laugh about it.
Until then there's the tonic.


Plenty of Fish

He beats me
to our chain coffee joint
six days a week
and parks his Blazer haphazardly
in the only handicapped spot.
The wide-brimmed camouflage fishing hat
atop his long graying hair
is the first feature anyone notices.
A fanny pack wraps his waist
under a parka that's overly warm for the season.
Next to his shameful satchel
a sheath holds a blade
too ominous for an old man to carry.
Its black handle is bordered by a silver pommel
before the descent into six inches of murderous steel
thinly masked by cheap leather.
Perhaps that's part of the fisherman disguise.
I'm never awake enough to solve the mystery
at that hour, before caffeine.

His order's on the counter before he's next in line.
He pays in exact change, grabs a dozen napkins.
Four are spread out at his table near the door--
one in front of every chair
though the other three are empty.
Whom is waiting for?
Do they ever come?
I always leave before the heartbreaking answer.
My truck's running and work is waiting
but not like he is.

Currently reading:
"A Man Called Ove" by Fredrik Backman.


Sit With the Shadow

Saturday's crumpled cocktail napkin
wears a scrolled name and number
unsolicited and unexpected
staring from beside the ashtray.

Ingrid Bergman begs Sam, a suited Negro
to play "As Time Goes By" on his piano
despite Rick's rule.

Mouthfuls of Spanish red
wash over a scrap of salty venison
stuck between two teeth.

The pipes and the personalities
are waiting for that grin
they'll see approaching them tomorrow.

A cork swindled from the last bottle shared
sits on a bookshelf as a reminder:

People need to make their own mistakes
but it ain't so bad.
There's the kid.
There's always the kid.

That cocktail napkin
finds its way to the trash can
where it will wait for the rest
of what's irrelevant

and the wine tastes more expensive
than its label claimed.


Ode to Inigo Montoya

and distressed
with frayed cuffs
oil stains
elbows worn threadbare
by tables on ancient lunch breaks
his father's gifted work coat
keeps him drier
than his own zippered burlap
could ever right the rain.


Absent Arbitrator

You don't ask
because you know
so you leave the cork alone
tempting not a man immortal
coming down from mountains, nauseous.

Hating your own name
since it's shared with competition;
rueful of the river
and all other separations:
his arms;
his bed;
his jealous head;
some railroad spikes;
a crucifix.

The day and clock against you.
Her drive an hour north.
That souvenir was missing
from her mantle, as predicted.

"Does fire scare you, honey?
Or do you yearn to burn?"
Here's what you've gleaned
from sheets you've shared:
There's nothing left to learn.


Vinegar Strokes

"What's it say?"
he asks with torn desires
not wanting to crowd her shoulder.
She's clear on the definition of 'space'.
It isn't only the universe.

Their worthy ashes mix in the tray
on his table.
He wonders if that
will affect him
or them.

"You're not going to be a father,"
she replies through a sigh, ambiguous
as to whether she means now
or ever.

A row of black-cloaked Dutch Masters
smirks in unison
from her pack
while he feigns a forehead kiss
that he knows is uninvasive.

Ant Season

Flurries are falling in April
as the deathbed joke of a snowless winter.
The heat's kicked on
since there's an audible river
inside the copper pipes
screaming of inefficiency
yet comforting in its flow.

An ant carries the corpse of another
across a sea of linoleum.
Is it a fallen friend brought to burial
or a case of insect cannibalism?
A trivial difference to those without souls.
Cain failed to temper his alibi.

The faucet's been leaking
at its base for three years
but the plumber renting rooms
has fixed enough for free.
Remember that unpurged baseboard?
A bug accused of reeking
has been camping near the chrome
wise enough to find
the cleanest source of water.

Heels clack through the cracks in the doorframe
as a neighbor descends the echoing stairs
reminding the scene and its only witness
that unlike the snow
and unlike the bugs
and unlike the tradesman fed up with the rent
some of us know when to leave.

Currently reading:
"The Essential Rumi" translated by Coleman Barks.


Time in LA

The Amazing has mastered
the taking of lumps--
not that it's been
a choice to be made.

The Amazing has kissed
and has told--emptied lungs
in an effort to end
the redundant charade.

The Amazing climbs ladders
with razors for rungs--
meets the same person
who's got a new face.

The Amazing is tired
of beautiful tongues
that say, "You're amazing
but still--I can't stay."

The Wheelchair Mechanic

It's Sunday morning in trouble.
The novel lands on the coffee table
tossed aside, all familiar
next to a long strand of hair.
"You're going to find these everywhere,"
she'd warned after plucking one
from his beard
the last time she had come
mostly to unload.
He didn't mind those discoveries then.
Perception is a pendulum.

The follicle's flushed
a photo's ripped from under a refrigerator magnet
and hidden where it won't be bleached by the sun
or torn by the hands of the next copied key.
"Groundhog Day," an outside party called it
from an observation post;
the crestfallen repeater.

Losing himself in the search and a story
he picks his book back up.


Jilted and Jammed

Woke up with a ghost scratch
for the second time this month.
A line of red down my rib cage
somehow inflicted overnight by Egyptian cotton
with a 600 thread count--
a birthday present from last year's mistake.
It'll match the whittled smile
and enemies made for life.

April's biggest fool
chases breakfast with vodka
pondering permits required
to bulldoze the house and start over.
Traded like scalps and wampum
for a promise made too late
I slide the pan of bacon grease
to the furthest burner back.

Too often we forget
that love is our first contract.


A History of Seizures

I was a rookie then.
If you ask most patrolmen
I still am.
But I was new enough to wonder
why no one ticketed
that guy parked in the double-yellow median
on Dupont Avenue
as he sat there drinking coffee.

I pulled up once
rolled down my window
and watched as he ignored me.
Unable to get a copy
when radioing dispatch
I rolled, feeling confused.
His Grand Marquis
became a permanent fixture
immune to any law enforcement.
I was left perplexed.

It wasn't until weeks later
when reading a plaque
in the locker room
that it hit me:
That was Officer Rilo
slurping down decaf, retired
for a decade.
His partner had been killed there.
Drunk driver, no insurance.

There are still times
when I ask questions
though they never involve
the sins that we ignore.


The Gambler

The tattoo's honest.
I've held
Aces and Eights
in my games.
Wild Bill Hickok
carded the same
when he bought it--
six-shooter holstered;
back to the door.
I've taken that seat
this time.
It's worth the stakes.
She's got potential
to bite like an asp
but I'm familiar
with wrestling fangs
and shanty Irish.

Don't speak to me
of gambling
if you've never doubled down
on a hand you couldn't win
without the Hand of God

or locked your door
behind the person
you pray to share a key with

I've seen the eyes
of men who've folded.
I'd rather take chances
choking on chips.
There's a face held in common
by those too stubborn to lose
and I wear it.

One day, hussy
we'll sing of this.


Pagan Concessions

What the Hell was that?
you ask yourself
at the rip on the rooftop adjacent.
That building ends a storey shy of yours
so you've never worried
about wandering naked
or racking slides in your apartment
with the lights on late at night.
The unit's for sale
and you've wondered if some Hipsters
from Brooklyn will break the roof hatch lock soon.
But tonight, exhaling smoke
at a fan perched in the window
the repetitive noise of slamming and tearing
on that rubber rooftop has you drinking faster.

It's the brand of fear
only made worse by acknowledgement.
If you look through your window
to identify the source of the raucous repetition
it'd be akin to pulling the blanket over your head.
You take a pull, wipe out a red ash
that fell to your skivvies
and try to appear unmolested
by what you do not know.
It happens again as if on cue.
It's a person.
There are people.
Moving now would scream defeat
so you sip your Spanish red.

Somewhere across the river
you've always lived along
another Unknown looms larger.
Last on that list, but not the best saved
that willow is weeping
and runs its own course.

Currently reading:
"Hearts in Atlantis" by Stephen King.



Field day was fun
in the fifth grade.
They carted us off
to a camp in the woods
for elementary parole.
Team-building tests
trust falls
obstacle courses
designed by smiling sadists
cleverly disguised as teenage camp counselors;
it was enough to fill a postcard to parents
though we'd be returning that afternoon.

I was dressed in camouflage--
full paramilitary regalia
to sate my inner Rambo.
The girl who'd taught me
how to use a combination lock
was on an opposing faction
poking her tongue my way
when applicable.
She's married with a baby now.
Her tongue has been retired.

There's one event
that's stuck in my head
like that witty reply
that comes to you
hours later
in the shower
too little too late
for the maelstrom.
We'd been tasked with creating
a device out of nature--
forest floor detritus
rigged to shield an egg
which the Powers That Were
would drop from ten feet.

My team was ill-fated.
No amalgamation
of leaves, vines, and moss
would protect our doomed yolk.
Not even that clever girl
who knew of locks
and other adult things
could figure out the riddle.

Cracked shells and yellow abortions
littered the ground
as the sun set on a day
that most have since forgotten
while now, before an omelette
the camo's deemed transparent:

It's not about the scorecard
but boarding that bus home.


Regarding Lucky Pliers

I was an apprentice in my second
or third year of the program.
It was a Saturday and I almost ran late for work
probably due to overabundant revelry.
I'd left my tools at home in the blur.
He gave me an old pair of Channellocks--
Model 420, missing the rubber grips
with a noble patina adorning the steel.
"These were mine when I was like you."
We completed whatever miserable task
we'd been summoned on a weekend to achieve
and I added that tool to my roster.

There were many days like that
back then; not the hangover--
that's increased with the decade.
Skills were imparted, jokes were shared
bonds were formed with men
I knew, admired, and came to love.
My father had stopped talking to me
due to his own vicious demons.
Seven years without a dad
will mess with a boy in his twenties.
I was grateful to be part of a fraternal organization;
perhaps more grateful than most
since family is something I've had to build as well.

I started carrying those pliers routinely
even though the teeth were worn
and gripping pipe was tedious.
No matter where I was
or what feat I was attempting
I'd always have that man
who took me under his wing
right there in my back left pocket
ready to answer any mental question I'd ask.
What would he do?
It was a token of appreciation
for the blessing of a brotherhood
bestowed upon me at an age when needed most.

Years went by.
I got out of my time, became a journeyman
learned when to figure it out on my own
and when to ask someone
with more burn scars on his arms.
The previous owner of those 420s got sick.
I was working four hours away
at a nuclear power plant on an allegedly Great Lake
when I got the news
that he needed an organ transplant
or would die.
Our traveling crew went out for dinner that night
and word of his illness was mentioned.
"No one would shed a tear if he croaked,"
someone flippantly said.
I put my fork down and calmly corrected him.
The procedure was performed.
That father figure from my early adulthood recovered.
I stopped lending those Channellocks out
to people who didn't bring their own.
"Read our contract," I'd say.
Things mean more to those who have the least.

On one job a kid I managed to teach
ripped the blue grips from his own
to make them match mine.
Circles are full.
Circles are round.
Circles are more than the ends of the pipes.

You can break my stones wide open
for something you know nothing about.
You can draw your pictures
mock my values
tell me I'm pathetic
for holding tight to what matters.
The pity is for you, my friend.
You've missed the point of unions.
We both get paid the same somehow
but I've had more to gain.



bastards that they were
father-daughter kinship
through the window
I realize as I peer
through my own
at the second consecutive
Yukon Gold of a moon
encased in bluest velvet
that their love of night
was more than literal.

It's a club whose scorn's
now cherished.
The sky is not the only cycle
we should aim to break.


The Blood Calls

"There was an accident,"
she tells me
checking the statement's validity
with her tone.
The subtle question goes unanswered.
It's safe so she proceeds.
"You were crying on your uncle's shoulder.
The old lady walked over to comfort you."

There's more to what she says;
more to what she doesn't.
That's how it is with one's mother.

Our matriarch's been dead and buried
for three years.
So many of these women I've loved
only live in dreams now.

There's a superstition
in her culture
our culture
what I've taken for mine:
A person is supposed to share a nightmare
to prevent it from coming to pass.

Here's to being cultural:
My brother will end up like me.


Vein Compensation

I'm eight minutes late
or too soon to be fashionable.
He's 75 so the difference evades him.

"Your handshake isn't as hard
as I'd expect," he informs me, disappointed.
"With your build and your trade and all."

I rub my dry palms, kept soft by gloves
requisite by asinine safety regs
designed to justify job titles.
"I hurt someone once," I confess
not telling him of the blue-collar dinosaur
much like himself
whose hand had been worn ragged
by decades pulling wrenches.
"It stayed with me."

We conduct our business.
There's a signature involved
resembling my own
though throughout the transaction
I dwell on my shown weakness:

Sometimes, with men
I've adjusted to folly.


Skid Marks at the Bend

He feels several factions
fighting for his soul.
It's the only thing convincing him
that he is not a deity.

Coming down from cumulus
aerobic respiration
seems another heartache--
With carbon comes decay.

Behold the nonplussed fathers
who chew on their dismay
while the constant blight
of paperweights
helps to build a harem.

It's waterlogged and sutured.
It's serpentine and slow.
Stolen kisses taste the best
and guilty heads will roll.

Currently reading:
"Love & Misadventure" by Lang Leav.


A Journeyman's Psalm

In your daily actions
and with your chosen words
never forget
that you'll work with these men
for the rest of your career.


To Bequeath a Meteor

My mother's missing hers
and this son has been aloof
tending instead to the stitches
most ignore--
but he listens, he reads
he hopes she finds the anchor
that evades the best of us.

"Remember that stone?"
she asks.
"The old lady said it came crashing
down from the sky with a flash.
When she walked to the spot
where it hit, this oblong rock
with rings in it was waiting for her hand
perfectly smooth and warm."

She goes on to tell me
how my grandmother laughed
as it spun like a top with minimal effort
whenever she twirled it on a flat surface.
I try to recall, but can't.
It's not a block
but someone else's memory
that's collecting dust on a shelf
in the house where I grew up.

Some people leave us
with the same bright burn
as that stone brought.
"Asi es la vida,"
she'd say through dementia.
Such is life, indeed, old darling.

When nothing else feels right
we smirk.

Vitamin D

The same sun
that reveals swirls of airborne bedroom dust
while you tug on layers of cotton
to face the nameless strangers

is the same sun
that thaws the countered frozen steaks
that you bought with two in mind
at a time when that seemed right

is the same sun
that blinds you, brass under your arm
which is perfect like the month
when you must have been concussed

is the same sun
that you miss
as you cross back over Main
to the shadow of the awning
that almost blocks the rain.

Currently reading:
"Facing the Music" by Larry Brown.


An Addict Relates

My mother used to date
pacing my apartment with eyes cast down
these guys when they first split
where the fuck's my lighter
and I get it now
I get it
she had needs
the bathroom matches will do
but all of them were younger
crawling on my hands and knees
and none of them deserved her
under the table while she drives home
one of them bought me a VHS tape for Christmas
it'll pop up as soon as I buy a new one
and I guess I haven't forgiven her for that
until now when my Bic's gone missing.


The Prizeless Fight

For fear of never learning
her favorite stretch of road
or how her sweat smells
when she's nervous
you'll chase a ginned-up legend
that revolves 'round parameters.

There's that red fleck in his eye
from a rage that never left
and canyons cut in cheek skin
that came with combing deserts.

Bullets riddle.
Cancer riddles.
He's riddled by a memory
that sank its claws too deep.

Kaleidoscope fantasies.
Fishers of men.
Those who don't cherish
a smoke after sex.

This scarlet sky at morning
proves blood has been spilled.
It isn't a threat--
It's a promise.

Currently reading:
"News of the World" by Philip Levine.


Prophet on an Empty Stomach

"I swiped it from a bar,"
she says, passing me the book.
A gift from someone who gets me.
I fan through the pages
like women wipe
and notice that one's missing.
The black wool coat
I've had for thirteen years
carries the novel
for the rest of our gin-fueled evening.
That knife I thought I'd lost
is discovered in a pocket.
More triumph on a small scale.
More belated redemption.

The next day
with my bank card forgotten
in the register where we left ourselves
I wonder if that page was so poignant
that someone had to steal it;
if I should buy another copy
or fill in my own blanks;
if it's time that I stop finding fault
in open books before me.

I pry the blinds apart
enough to peer outside.
It's unseasonably warm for February.
There's still no pity
for the village idiot
or men who've scuttled seaworthy ships
screaming of scripture and Socrates.

I decide against wearing pants yet.

Currently reading:
"Illuminations" by Arthur Rimbaud.


A Unicorn in Suffolk

I'd been working on the tip of Long Island;
a project with an alleged friend
whom I should have let struggle alone.
The ride was four hours of aptly named parkways.
A midway point was sought and found.
She liked sci-fi and fellatio.
I shared some of her interests.
We were two lonely souls
looking for love on the Internet
wondering why wheels were spinning.

Her place was a renovated suburban basement--
polar opposite of my third-floor Main Street apartment.
My transparency about the circumstances
appealed to her jaded sense of romance.
We both knew it was doomed
and filled those voids regardless
making Hannibal Lecter jokes
while waiting for 'X-Files' to end
so we could kill the lamp without shame
as soon as her glasses were placed on the nightstand.
I'd drive the remainder the next morning
and show up in Montauk refreshed
ready to build what awaited me.
Three or four times, always no snoring.
Three or four times, never a note.

A few months ago I looked her up
to see if she'd found a better arrangement.
She had, and I was happy.
Her fiance moved her to Portland
where they'd manage through the rain
for decades to come, sans cellar.
Graciously forgiven for dialing unfairly
I deleted her number and poured one.
Now, as she'd rather
I couldn't tell you her name
with steel between my teeth.
The wrenches still don't pull themselves.
I doubt they ever will.