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.