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.