The trade publication
from my Union's international office
hits my mailbox
like an arm overloaded with grocery bags.
I sit on the shitter
and scan the death notice section
neatly softened
by the phrase "Benefits Paid".

The ages are posted.
I cringe at the kids in their 20s.
Last names I recognize
from distant Locals
pop out and make me ponder
if there's any relation
to Brothers I know.
A few funeral homes are printed
as recipients of funds.
With no Next of Kin
the Coffin Man gets his reward.
I think of the Loners
I've met pulling wrenches
and love them.

But then there's the 94-year-old
with two women listed
as collectors of his Legacy.
He got them.
He won.
I laugh and stand for the paper.

Flushing the day
and its transgressions
the magazine closes itself.


Mostly Coastal

Sleepless in Sullivan
the cadence of a boy's breath
reverberating in calcium
minutes after he trampled a suitcase
in the foyer with his Big Wheel
and growled--
"Are you a dinosaur?"
but only another ferocious snarl
in response
before his bedtime
and becoming who has burned
from New Jersey
the key starts the ignition
for a solid night's sleep
where sounds can be controlled
like "Wild Horses" on the ride home
that warranted a wait for the last chord
in park.



Harold's unimpressed by the gestures on the stage.
He and his date, fresh on the rebound
and looking for a hand-out, sit in the
theater's equivalent of nosebleed seats
as Marvin the Magnificent
butchers third-rate tricks before his captive audience.
The tickets were cheap.
Harold was tired
of tossing paychecks down the tubes
on dozens of first dates
with women he'd never see again
aside from awkward sidewalk glances.

"This guy's a hack," Harold mutters
to his company, too distracted by indignation
to remember her name.
She fumbles with the car keys
in her pocket and curses her coworkers
for telling her that dating was a good means
of boosting morale.

Marvin the Magnificent continues the abortion.
A dove flies from his cuffs; Harold sighs.
A card is guessed in a deck; Harold grimaces.
A girl is hacked in half; Harold chokes on his cocktail.
He can't take the farce any longer
regardless of the event's frugality.

"She's got a twin sister!" he yells from the crowd.
Harold's date is mortified.
She swears a life of celibacy
despite her ex's absence.
"That woman over there
is not the one smiling from the waist up
in the box."

The room has been quiet
but a different silence sets in
to stop time.
A child cries and is hushed by weary parents.
Marvin adjusts the microphone
clipped to his over-starched collar.
"Perhaps you could do better?"
he challenges from a dimming spotlight.
The books he's read on the art of illusion
never addressed how to handle a heckler.

"I'd rather not stoop to a duel,"
Harold says, downing his drink
as he rises from his seat.
His nameless date is relieved
that the charade's come to an end.
The two of them exit.
The show goes on as planned
while the marquee lies overhead.

A deluge has erupted to further doom the evening.
Harold and his guest ponder where
they've parked--separately, thank goodness
since the night has gone to shambles.
There's a car quickly approaching
a puddle in the street.
Harold sees it coming, predicts the splash
raises his hand with authority
and stops the water from hitting them, mid-air.
The droplets fall to the pavement
as Harold cracks a smirk.
His companion, clearly terrified, runs
a hand through the darker hair
near her scalp and strides for her sedan
without a look over her shoulder.

Harold lights a smoke
and cups it from the rain.
There's magic in the mundane.
He knows and loves the difference.


The Repentant

I don't think she caught me
inhaling her perfume
in the theater
with our feet up.

After the film
she asked why I gave
that kid in the parking lot
five bucks
for gas money
when he said he wanted to get home
though we both knew it was for heroin.
"He'd mentioned Matamoras,"
I claimed.

Maybe she caught me.
Home is a relative term.



You're always going to see her around town
lighting up the barroom with her laugh
and those eyes that pierce
through flannel and ribs.
You're always going to envision
that mane tossed across
your pillowcase
and ponder how she'd taste at 3:00 AM--
a devil's hour delicacy.
You're always going to wonder
about second chances
and how you would have fled
for the curtain that time.

Isn't that the rub
of a life you can't divide
into paths as wide
as your imagination?

The man of the hour's
a man of his word--
But damn, you bet
you'd eat well
for that lifetime.

Currently reading:
"Big of Us" by D.G. McLansky.


Mentioned Unmentionables

[The scene is an Italian restaurant:
the best he knows in that neck of the woods
halfway betwixt their respective towns
as per the unwritten rules.
Familiar brick lines the walls.
They're seated next to a steam radiator.
He turns the control valve down
to lower the heat
since he's already sweating
after the first sip of his gin Martini.
She wonders what he's fumbling with
but doesn't ask.
His steak's getting cold.
Medium rare has that tendency.
The lines are flying
like rockets over No Man's Land
with a white tablecloth
in place of barbed wire.]

"Single Russian women
line up outside the United Nations building
with marriage lawyers, waiting for
American men to marry them for citizenship."
He carves a morsel off
from his New York Strip
pausing for emphasis.
It's less than 16 ounces
but not the first time he's been misled.
"I've considered it."

"Why didn't you?" she asks
while forking her fish to a second death.
"You knew there was a girl like me
out there..."

"Fuck you," he declares
in delectable defeat
pulling the napkin from his lap.
"You win this round."

"I know," she says
while watching him retreat
to the men's room.

There's a message
from a friend
he reads in the mirror
after the urinal flushes itself.

He tips on his credit card;
feels badly about it.


Where You Want To Be

His brother had passed quietly
in a sterile room, cheaply tiled
with blue-flecked linoleum.
The rest of the week
was reserved for "arrangements"--
a word so vast in meaning
from flowers
to covering a casket with dirt
and letting go.

A card was passed around
in the break room at work.
People signed their names neatly
at the bottom of the encouraging words
penned and printed by strangers
thousands of miles away.
Most of us tucked a crumpled Twenty
into the envelope as well, though no one
checked to see if those who signed
The Honor System:
The Way It Should Be;
Often times different
from The Way It Is

like when you come to your job
on a Monday and have to pretend
that a touching exercise
in the form of a wad of cash
handed your way
can ever bring back
your brother again--
a lifetime chalked up
to a Hallmark you'll toss.

The Way It Is.


Miscalculated Countdown

None of us would resolve
to quit drinking, quit smoking.
I was the first one
to whip a lighter out all night
whenever someone
in our circle asked
and I was proud of that.

A girl I'd burned ten years ago
showed up before the ball dropped.
I apologized for the decade.
She told me, "We were kids."
Juniper berries never tasted so fine
and closure came with flying corks.

24 hours after the year's first hangover
a buck stares blankly from the kitchen wall brick.
I tear him down with fervor
as if he'd made those choices.
The December days he adorns
enter the trash can
with the rest of the year
below him, behind me
pages of lives reduced to a
re-gifted nature calendar.

It's months premature
for lions and lambs.
Preventative maintenance
is pointless.