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.