Soul Sommelier

A liver-spotted old-timer
wearing a blue veteran's snapback
with wings and ribbons on it
crosses the macadam in front of me
at a red light on Main.
He smiles through my windshield
with mustard-colored teeth
and puts his hand on the hood of my truck
as a silent blessing while shuffling by
en route, I assume, to the mom-and-pop pharmacy
down the block.

It was the best goddamn thing
that happened to me all day.


Unionistas on the Sabbath

We fill a field he owns
with brass, hot from expanding gas
and the Sunday May sun.
For three-and-a-half hours
we forget a few faces
by putting holes in paper
and random scraps of steel;
lead therapy and thirdhand smoke.
Towards the end of our session
there's a propensity to dump magazines
as quickly as our fingers will allow.
I wonder if we're picturing the same
in our minds.

From our time packing gear
to the ride back to my truck
I pull 33 ticks from my clothes and skin
between bits of shop talk and
locker room exploits from a jock that never was.
Their exoskeletons crunch between my fingernails
and the blade of my pocketknife.
"I want to settle down."
"But can you?"
"Sure, if I'm not settling."

We return to his homestead
where his wife will roll her eyes
and check his back for burrowed parasites
once I've hit the road.
Back at my apartment
I've got a few mirrors
that will function for the task
as long as I don't look too hard.



Gypsy blood
and righteous tongues
didn't cut it
so he put his war paint on
the night before
to skip more antics
and episodes
the next morning.

Traffic was jammed
on the bridge.
There was honking
like it mattered.

Three miles north
they found him
according to an article
but do they ever truly
find them?
A man of the cloth
would speak of pearls and swine.

The hat that hangs
in my dining room
falls twice
and in that
I spot my answer.


A Hallmark Omission

My old man rang this afternoon
kicking a rock
a question
posed as a statement.

He dropped words
about intentions
to call his ex-wife
for Mother's Day
to thank her for being;
dropped tears
when he said
how grateful he's been
to know her.

I didn't drop my telephone
like I didn't drop my stare
like I didn't drop my six-gun
when the last one shot me down
as in that song by Leonard Cohen
that I want played
when it's time.

We hang places:
up, down, around.
I get on with my day
meeting my other maker
for late lunch and vodka
veiled by tomato juice.
She speaks of his message
briefly, yet in stone.

I remember to stare
without dropping.
I remember that I
was made in love
and precisely what
my star-crossed duo
has taught me:

If you've loved them once
love always.


Achilles at His Best

Contractually obligated
to be the deepest redeemer
like coral reef Christ in Key Largo
you look up the meaning of "madrigal"
and decide it's got nothing to do with you.
Sometimes even a rain delay's
a win.

Gypped by her wide-set eyes
--soft, demure, and feline--
you're cussed out by the snot
that's oft mistaken for trench art.

If enough folks say you're wrong
then you're wrong
like that twenty-something kid
who said he won't learn shit
on a jackhammer.

Damned is the sea wall
since the ampersand arrow
knows just where to strike.

They don't want what's left.
They only want the piss in you.
Timing's a real cocksucker
in fairy tales.


The Lost Art of Eyeliner

You wash down the salty
with the sweet as always
and $90 (plus tip)
then wake to a cat's inquisitive face
three inches from your own
though you don't have any animals.
Part of you wants that nightly domestic company
but your rational half would feel guilty
for adding another crutch to the stable
so you refrain and drown in words instead.

The room is darkened by blackout curtains--
something else you've clandestinely desired.
At 33 you should know better
than to be a burning dog
but we live in a world so detached from itself
that cuddling contractors exist in major cities
a-dollar-a-minute the going rate, with clothes on.
"Need" has become an ugly word like "hemorrhage"
and "almost" in this age of bars with no bouncers
where overserved sailors sift for a second shot
in all the right places but home

so you walk there
before she wakes.


A Flicker on the Mountain

Sifting through junk mail
and debt consolidation offers
at my cluttered kitchen table
I receive a rare call
from a friend alone in Amsterdam.
It's midnight there
and I hear the whiskey
from across the Atlantic
as he breathes into the airwaves.
He tells me I need to vacation there
with an empty notebook
sometime before I die.
A few weeks ago he mentioned
the beauty of love's ending
offered up as a theme
should I run out of steam.
That's unlikely or it's happened
depending on whom you ask.

We spew false promises
to make time when he gets back
as if that can be done
without the need for quantum physics.
I let him return
to his foreigners and bourbon.
We hope and we wait.
In the meantime we make.
It's his poem to write--not mine.


Swallowing Swords

An amateur DJ fighting off a hangover
announces that the final film
with Robin Williams will hit theaters soon.
He voiced a dog's character
in a British sci-fi comedy
before taking his own life--
the two events presumably unrelated.
I've read recently that his wife
hypothesized that his choice
was due to the declining grip
on his mental autonomy--
the final sad act
of an actor who feigned laughter.
I feel for the family
and wonder how this last hurrah will hit.
The radio doesn't seem safe so early.
I switch to the disc in my stereo.

It's a mix made twelve years ago
by the first man I loved platonically.
All of the songs seem hypocritical now.
Even the playlist's title is accusatory:
"You've Made Your Bed".
I remember this old friend
blessed with charm that could conquer any soul
and cursed with lies that even he bought into.
Those are the most dangerous type
but believing his lines
was a favorite drawback of mine
so I sing along now
like I did then.

The coffee, too light, rolls down my throat
as I try to wash down the bitterness
seeping from my speakers en route
to a job I've come to hate.
My tired tongue presses against
the back of my incisors
and I swear I feel them move.
It doesn't matter which blow loosened them.


Johnny Retread and the Hubcap Queen

She calls me an outstretched Adonis
wrong in her assertion
and her stubborn choice to be here
with fingers burned
by a curling iron
for naught.

Ten pounds overweight
of my usual rotundity
due to desperate drive-thrus
in a land bereft of lunch spots
I feign a layman's ignorance
of ancient Greek mythology
though the grade school I attended
emphasized its worth.

The sheets are overdue by weeks
but she pays no mind
as I smirk and let her acclimate
to the comfort we're reduced to.

So what
say what
you don't want to be in print?
It's the only way to outlast sand.
Your make-up is a waste
since my god is also false.

An Overshared Surrender

Our code names are defunct
having died with our crash
replaced by mental images
of aerial maps poorly drawn
by a hostage cartographer
on useless blueprints
and sandwich wrappers.
It plays on the brain
how long it will take
to sell all those secrets
to enemy ears
and in what sequence.
Name, rank, and serial number
are never enough for inquiring minds.

Uanswered questions
posed by oblivious allies
tighten their death grips
on an unshaven neck
while wondering in retrospect
if the high altitude recipe
printed on the batter box
would have produced
better pancakes this morning.

Erroneous Endeavors in Rocketry

No wasted movement.
No wasted motion.
Fluid in the way
you squander your days.
"Be water, my friend,"
said the dead martial artist.

To wait on reinforcements
is an error in your tactics.
The benchmark moved west.
Redact the best actress.
The blood of an Englishman's
what you smell now
while meeting your muse
in premature dreams.
Angry:  She's evasive by nature.


Winner Take None

"Ouch," she says
washing up before bed
under the assumption
that I'd tossed her toothbrush
after weeks of absence
stubbornness on both ends to blame.
I tell her I'd saved it
out of sight
since it's easier that way
and pull it from its place
behind the dusty mirror.
When you live alone
it's best not to pretend.

I run out the door in the morning
donning dirty boots
for a day of dirty work
whether or not they deserve it.
When I return twelve hours later
to the sound of crumbling brick
landing on cracked linoleum
I beeline for the bathroom.
"Ouch," I say
when I see that it's back
in the medicine cabinet.
When you live alone
it's best not to pretend.

Currently reading:
"The Disappearance of Gargoyles" by Mary Makofske.


Randy Resurrection

My father taught me
the word "turgor"
at an age too young
for most to understand it.
He's always been good
at breaking down the language
for ease of simpler access--
perhaps from his career
with the mentally retarded.

I think of his functional definition now
while watering a wounded aloe
on the kitchen windowsill
with hope that its turgor returns.
Its longest leaf was guillotined
a few weeks ago when a well-meaning guest
opened the window without installing
the beer bottle prop that's kept in the corner
atop trim painted thick with decades of white.
The glass came crashing down minutes later
during our preoccupation.
After she'd gone I noticed the smeared pane
and the severed tips of the gift a girl had given
to liven up my quarters in her simple, subtle way.
I salvaged the clear mess and rubbed it on my calloused feet
in an effort to make use of its medicinal properties
but it didn't work much magic.
Rubbing blood on another wound never does.
I felt guilty for the accidental amputation
and foolish for that shame.

Watering it now--a pint glass every Sunday--
feels like an insufficient apology
unaccepted by the scowling sun.

Another week has passed
another pint's been poured
another chance is wasted
on a stagnant theme:


Dreaming in Damascus

So the boys are swinging
their denimed dicks around
in hunting tale conversation
at the mouth of the job trailer
after wrong egg sandwiches and spat-in coffee
brought by a senseless apprentice.
We're all choking on our smoke
from laughing so hard
at scary shit
since that's what we do for a living.

Then this humble motherfucker
who's made me like him quickly
chimes in with his painfully true bullshit
about hating the sin and loving the sinner
that he lives too well to deny.
Says his son shot a blue jay once
fucking around with a pellet gun.
This righteous prick in a button-down
made sure that once was enough.
He told the kid that they use what they kill.
Made him pluck it, cook it, eat it.
When the overzealous marksman
asked his old man if he'd feast as well
the answer was as expected
from a guy you'd follow blindly into battle
armed only with torches and wrenches.

He told us heathens sucking down nicotine
like it'd save us from the tools and pipes
waiting inside for our extended break to end
that the bird tasted like shit.
The rest of the crew cracked up
but I saw through the haze we'd created:
This guy, bound for promotion
in more ways than one
was about to see me at my best
whatever that is
God damn him.

Currently reading:
"The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton.


Shower Power

I fully accept April
once I see the clusters
of daffodils greeting morning
along roadside lawns.
They remind me of prior beginnings
youthful calves with just enough visible thigh
to stay respectable
protruding from a floral dress
bent skillfully above a pool table
at the dive bar next door.
I don't go there these days
six years after moving to this town
but that yellow procession
still promises a chance.

She had a funny name for them
that landed in the title of a playlist I made for her
before I went to work beside Lake Ontario
for six weeks, though I can't seem to find
that disc for the life of me.
I won't tell you the name of either.
My ambition outlasted reality.

I've been parked midway to work
for six minutes, my thumb sore from typing
in an early stage of carpal tunnel syndrome
induced by a cell phone upgrade.
Illnesses or none
it's time to start my Saturday
in a realm I've not betrayed.


A Mule and a Monkey

Good neighbors turn heads.
The best mend their fences.
Live in a bubble
where nothing gets shattered
as those spread too thin
will poke while they scrape
together the clumps
of stew that still matter.

We can watch our young men
shoot death in their arms
and practice our frowns
for the next time we'll need them
or did this disrupt you
enough to disarm
a phrase that takes lives?:
"I'm no brother's keeper."


Deliberate Demarcation

I'd dropped off a coworker
from out of town
at a roach-whore hotel
since his truck
had been impounded
due to woes we all ignore.
Rain was pelting
the foreign metal
of my vehicle
with such force
that I turned off the radio
to give it the reverence
it deserved.

In the median
of Monticello's Broadway
two women stood
under umbrellas
waiting for impolite traffic
to pass
still in their workday's pantsuits.
They were trying like hell
to cross the thoroughfare
en route to a congregation
forming on the porch
of a bargain rate funeral parlor
in a town that died
with the advent of air conditioning.
No one had halted
their means of egress home
to let the mourners pass.
Microwaved dinners were calling.
Television had reality to share.
Spouses were poised
to fail expectations.

I pressed the brake pedal
and waved apologetically
for a race that forgets
where it's going.

The highway entrance
couldn't come
quickly enough.


Winter White and Eskimos

Most times he nods above his pint
from ninety-degrees away
his back or mine to the wall
depending on whose luck is better.
Tonight we're seated side-by-side
since all other stools
and pretty ears are taken.

It takes awhile for him to kick it off
but by my third we're talking shop
from opposite sides of the union line.
There's a heaviness in his eyes
that even his rare prevailing wage gig
can't remedy.
Neither of us mention
the harmlessly psychotic spinster
who's taken us both home once--
honor amongst thieves;
God protecting drunks.

A female prison guard
seated to his right
grabs his arm and blathers on
without a break for air
and the barkeep grins
at my smiling eyes:
"Better him than me."

A few songs later
after one on the house
for his listening servitude
we go out for a smoke
unintentionally together.
He disappears around the corner
so I assume he's stumbled home
though he slants back into sight
explaining his relief
in the alley or the trees
safely out of view.
The quintessential gun-shy move
comes as no surprise.
Neither does his failure
to say goodbye
once he's downed his last cheap lager
but that's a flaw I overlook
while leaving shortly after.


Carapace Arithmetic

Unsure of my intentions
I sent her the article
that had fallen in my lap
about plans for that dilapidated attempt
at a diner to be torn down.
An eyesore, the journalist called it.
The locals agreed
that the riddance would be good.

It took her a day to respond
but she did so in multiple modes
of modern miscommunication.
The third caught me
like a wide left turn
made by a hungover motorist.
Rolling off gin-dreams
in dirty Sunday sheets
her name was the last
I'd expected to see
on the face of my digital captor.

"Why'd you send it?"
she asked, clearly in the same state.
"Closure" was the best
I could come up with at the time.

I told her how I remembered
watching her wash the coffee pots
with salt water as she stood
behind the counter
her back to me so innocently
unaware of the treachery
a boy of 21 can deal--
the latter half of the recollection
implied, though omitted.

Through teeth flecked
with late-night fried chicken
I congratulated her newfound comfort
reiterating my speech on refusal to settle
when her turn for pleasantries came.
Concepts like signs
that say "Will Build to Suit"
and the merit
of increased surface area
brushed across my brain
before realizing that she'd hung up.

When she called back
three minutes later
I didn't answer.

The building will be gone soon.
Marlboro, like the two souls
seventeen miles apart
will be better off.
Hydrogen peroxide
and cold water
will get out the rest.


Glasgow Smile

We'd been fighting
the entire vacation
as always. Not once
did we fuck on Key West.
At night I walked the strip alone
gazing into cathouses
and sifting through sharp trinkets
with sweat running down my back.
Hemingway's estate was impressive.
Direct descendants of his favorite felines
roamed the property at will.
I drank a beer at Jimmy Buffet's joint
and left a bigger tip than I should have
since the barmaid's smile
was close enough to real.

On the ride back to Miami
we went on an airboat tour
through the Everglades--
the world's slowest death
atop the world's slowest river.
Both of us considered feeding
the other to a family of alligators
though the photos don't suggest that.
There were too many witnesses
for our calculating minds to justify.

At the airport gate
I tossed my keys into a plastic bin
for a badged stranger to inspect
before walking through
the metal detector.
When I picked them up
I noticed an addition
to the janitorial clutter:
a brightly stitched seahorse
clung to one of the dozen rings.
I looked at her and smirked
ashamed of our transgressions.
We'd read at the aquarium
that seahorses mate for life.

I've grumbled when people
have asked about it since then
passing my keys back
with an eyebrow raised.
Last week it finally tore free
of the madness
mingled in the handful of change
I dropped on my dresser
at the day's lackluster end.

It took six years to undo four.
Nothing lasts forever--
even in the sea.


Antiseptic Contenders

The boy asked
about shooting stars;
how to spot them.

I lied and said
to watch the sky.


Wait Faster

We've both got Glocks
hanging from our belts
within a foot of the guns
that get us into trouble.
His boots are caked
with snow like mine.
The end of our similarities
is punctuated by the passing
of my license and registration
through the window of my truck.

Rollers in my rear view
remind me of being pulled over
within a mile of here
in the eastbound direction
two years ago on my birthday
the love of my life
having dodged the radar
as well as she'd dodge my ring.

I don't tell this six-two man
standing in the cold before dawn
next to the crumbling rumble strip
that a song Jackie liked
came on the radio
and made my foot heavy
though maybe that transparency
would have pierced his badge
and Kevlar vest
to find some lingering heart tissue.

He hands me the ticket
reciting his oration
injected with subtle advice
about how to plead
then mentions the respect I've given
resulting in continued courtesy
in the form of a few miles
knocked off the record
that should help me in court immensely
to avoid adding points
to my license.

His robotic delivery is livened up
by instructions to detach
the supporting deposition
at the bottom of the ticket
and make a paper airplane
or origami with it.
I thank him for being a gentleman
apologize for making him
come out in the cold
and refrain from saying I'm glad
to pay his pension and salary.

Some get you coming.
Some get you going.
Some get you coming and going
when they come and go.

Currently reading:
"To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth" by Jeff Cooper.


For Tommy Karamazov

I feel it building slowly
in tingling nerves and tendons
left mistakenly for dead:
a wind-up for a pitch
that takes its precious time
so godlike yet innocent
all at once on the mound
keeping the surprise
from the world up at bat
and even the man who's bound
to throw that red-stitched missile
despite his punch-drunk arm
and a strong disdain for baseball.

A few of you might cheer
from the nosebleed seats.


Memorable Holes

Grateful that the pasta
didn't boil over
dousing the burner
that'd spew gas into her home
(while she was in the shower
required after he left
for another last time)
which would've been ignited
by the candle she'd lit
in the bathroom
since the overhead bulb
was too honest for the mirror
she ate angel hair
coated with a thin, salty sauce
ignoring that ramen
was cheaper and the same.


Survivor's Guilt and Table Scraps

An Irishman belts through my speakers
about his recollections from a gorgeous day
reminding me of a time
when that hit was most ironic.
My brothers and I were coming in hot
from a shift down in the Bronx.
Clouds peppered what was left
of the sky's visible pink hue
as we traversed the Cold Spring flats on 9D
along a white-capped Hudson.
Tornadoes were touching down in the valley
their wakes leaving trees in the roadway.
I'd poked fun at the bad luck
that the driver's car held in its core
when we got a flat tire in the City once
but nothing had compared to this.

The song played out on the radio
as Johnny weaved through branches
across the double-yellow.
I laid low in the back seat
in case the forest came crashing
thinking of how I'd eulogize the two men
in the front of the vehicle
at the next Union meeting
since I was still immortal then.
We entered a tunnel that cuts through
Storm King Mountain and Johnny
expressed his desire to stay there.
"We can't," was the consensus
though neither of his passengers
mouthed the words aloud.
The line of cars behind us
deserved fair shakes
at their own battles with God.

I'm living proof of that day's victory.
Johnny and I went to the gin mill
upon arrival at our rendezvous point
near my apartment
to celebrate our prolonged lives
wrenches and taxes be damned
while our third high-tailed home
grateful to have made it
without the need for drink.

Five years under a spreading belt
and I feel low-pressure systems
as they draw nigh in my ankles.
En route to mine mountains
for a better way of life
than what this thick skull's tried
a song that's won Grammies
reminds me to stay humble.

It hasn't all been beautiful.
A compass is kept in case.


Wear & Tear

There's this pretty myth
that like all the best
comes from somewhere
I can't pin:
A wildlife show I watched
with my grandma as a kid.
A medicated science teacher's
overhead projector notes;
A paragraph in passing
while waiting for a train.

According to the legend
those migratory geese
you see in solemn pairs
flying low
as opposed to massive Vs
at stealth aircraft altitudes
have been conditioned by genetics.
One is sick or tired or wounded
and couldn't keep up the pace
so the other has broken formation
to guide it safely down.
The Canadian Samaritan
will stay with its struggling comrade
until it's healed or rested or dead.
If you see one flying solo
then the last fate is implied.

That selfless devotion
makes for cheerful fairy tales
and pint glass banter
at trivia night
but it's conjured
like your tax claims.

Nature ensures but two guarantees:
We're born and will die alone.


Everything's Bigger Where Stars Stand Alone

I should have asked sooner.
The corks had been popped.
A third wave of guests
invaded the party.
I ran out of tonic.
The ball had been dropped.
A New Year's Houdini.
An ex for a taxi.

My timing was awful.
That's nothing new.
She'll scout out the South
for something like home.
My fingers found letters.
My testicles grew.
She'll cackle out loud
and say I'm a prude.

She's promised to call
from a pay phone in Texas.
(I know what you're thinking
but she'll hunt one down.)
She's got far more nerve
than your solar plexus.
(I know I've been drinking
but not on the town.)


The Coriolis Effect

When I was 17
I totaled my mother's Toyota
burying the hood
under the rear bumper
of a parked sport utility vehicle.
I'd left my girlfriend's house at dusk
in too-perfect suburbia
re-reading a card she'd given me
not yet having mastered
the art of split attention
when that damn truck
snuck right up.

16 years later
no wrecks, but no wiser
I'm still most distracted
by the parting of lips
the parting of thighs
the parting of ways
with bright hopeful eyes--
If nothing more
in the search for a life
with no hyphenated names.


Of Leeches and Landmines

False fandom
in the form
of a toothbrush
left so subtly
next to yours--
A contract bound
for breaking
to the native grin's

The difference between
Geminis and harlots
is a twin
to join the strokes.

They feign humiliation
if confronted
with their snoring
though truthfully
it shows their peace
their comfort
in your sheets.

Mumbling hyperbole
through mastered
muscle memory:
The softest slap;
A whore's line like
"You never forget
your first."


Doubting Thomas Peeping Toms

You've finally used
that oversized coffee mug
she gave you as a gag
on a shimmering Sunday morning
you'd rather face with lead.
It held the whole contents
of your stained French press.
Currently it's filled with soapy water
as you rinse the grinds that linger.
Without a thought you scrub the bottom
with a sponge that's overdue
passing over the forgotten message
scrawled in pink pen.
Your hands freeze in tandem
like two burglars shocked by sudden spotlights
as if a lack of motion
will resurrect that damaged word.
Now it could say "Yule"
"Yale", or "Y'all"
its tail end convoluted by redundant
points of exclamation
distinctly feminine, supremely unbelievable.
Her heart goes out to someone
nondescript thanks to your cleaning.
The message rings more true this way.
It's set to dry in a rack rife with tumblers.
You wonder if any other
will someday find this subtle missive
tap her foot, and ask for answers.
Details unimportant
you wager zero chips.


A Magazine Goes in a Gun--A Clip Goes in Your Hair

Stars fail to muster
as an alibi with eyes
spoken like a Spartan
layers the wood and glass
thick with dust

hence my apprehension
on which poisons to pick.

I gave her all I had
left over from the last.
I tried to sate her thirst
like Jim fucking Jones.
I cupped that little lapdog's head
its prancing not knowing goodbye.

Lips wet with gin
drop the night's last smoke
on thighs that part for carpet
and a burn that's accidental.

I was made in May
yet December's always promised.


Mayhaps in the Next

They picked me as their husband
boyfriend, horizontally insatiable
Opener of Fresh Jars
and Reacher of High Things
Who Won't Kill Stalwart Spiders
in the alternate lives
confined to their minds
outweighed by the ones
currently lived
more merely survived
alongside beautiful men
with steady State jobs
or aspiring corporate demigods
with justified gym memberships

so on days like today
same as the rest
except Hallmark stock's higher
I salute their stolid choosing
of a life that comes easier
soaked in reality
than openly loving
a man drenched in dreams
and top-shelf gin.

You picked right, lovelies.
Don't offer to get the tip tonight.


Caligula Manipulae

Caked in cosmoline
your vagabond histrionics
and left-lane ergonomics
perpetuate a culture of complacency.

The hypotenuse cluttered
by nesting dolls
a generation of men
who kept rubbers in their wallets
for the sake of tonguing their toothaches
crossing paths with fellow suitors
who'd tap a midnight window
in case of episiotomy.

Much of it's like boxing:
They only remember
your last fight
and whether or not
you took the Government cheese
having lunch in a daytime bordello.

Refrigerate after opening.
Kill the messenger and its parents.
Don't shrug.
Look it up, you scoundrel.

Splitting the difference
won't squelch a braggart's lament.


A Children's Pome

Don't overcook my scramby eggs.
Burn my breakfast, break your legs.
Most important meal all day.
Don't overcook my scramby eggs.


Brotherhood on Coffee Break

Did you hear?
I heard.
Who hasn't?

I'll call him tonight.
Me too.
Me three.

I had him as a first-year apprentice.
I taught him how to solder a vertical joint.
He owes me six bucks for a cocktail ten year ago.

They did him dirty.
I can't believe it.
Everyone saw.

It sounds like a witch hunt.
They think he's conceited.
In two weeks he'll be thirty-three.

I'm going.
Me too.
Nothing good on TV tonight.

It shouldn't have come to that.
It did.
Who won the Super Bowl pot?

Currently reading:
"The Good Brother" by Chris Offutt.


Rattle-Can Hazarai

Half past midnight
she sings drunk jazz
in your shower
while you wait your turn
in orange glow
emanating from an end table
the sweet stench rising
from what has petered out
and you can't complain
of that layoff, man
with bartenders after hours--
snap snap
roll roll
snap snap.
New song.
Sugar and salt look the same.

Currently reading:
"Barrow Street" (Winter 2016/2017).


Cracking the Relief Valve

It used to aggravate me:
The sound of water spinning
through copper baseboard piping
in my third-floor apartment.

Air's trapped in the lines.
The boiler needs a purge
but I'm barred from the basement.
Heating these rooms
is loud and inefficient
much like trying to fill them.

A nap on the couch
gets interrupted
by a sudden call
for hydronic reinforcements
made by the thermostat
that I installed myself
to keep the landlords out.

This trickling clamor wasn't audible
when her laughter bounced from brick.
Now it's enough
to cease some Sunday slumber prematurely.

I haven't had a lease in three years.
though the semantics are of no concern.
Our stay is never permanent.
We're only selling hours
to whichever fools
are dumb enough to buy.


Unfashionably Late to a Funeral

It's no wonder
that the full moon affects us
drawn like the tide.
Textbooks profess
that we're 60% water
the rest mostly corn.
"Split the difference,"
the scientists would say
if they'd been born
to pull wrenches.
It's a tradesman's euphemism
for "make them both a bit wrong
for the sake of seeming right."

On my way to sling pipe
one guilty Sunday morning
I spot a dead hawk
in the shoulder of the highway.
It's close enough to the guard rail
to say that some maddened motorist
had aimed for it.
There are sicker souls
than those who would work
on the Sabbath
or put metal in their genitals.

With the quarry next to the predator
three feet beyond
the white line that means wrong
I nod and take note at 75
that there's room on the cross
for two.


When Paper Mache Carries Clout

Allow me to draw you a square
in the sand that's been poured
from every nearby vagina
within a two-town radius
and across a crumbling bridge
o'er the Hudson.

Let the first line represent
the time wasted
waiting for action
inhibited by prolonged
teacher's union health insurance benefits
and the sad comfort of shared pets.

The second line is for
animal magnetism--
The way we fit so right
physically, anatomically
in the stillness of either bedroom
with the box fan on
to supply white noise
since I've conditioned myself
to need it
in the absence of other consistency.

It makes the most sense
to carve the third line
in honor of that weekend in Manhattan
I had planned in my head
when she'd sell off her rings
and we'd celebrate
new beginnings
possibly involving
pleasantly naive offspring.

The fourth can be
anything really
though for the sake of this exercise
I'll dedicate it to the lap dog
I miss more than the spite
that tainted every angry word
spewed in fits
of mutually frustrated confusion.

Now I'll draw a 1 in the center
of the square we've fashioned
to appease a stranger soaked in gin.

That's where we are.

Desperation is an ugly color.
When's the last time
you called your mother?


Building a Bildungsroman

Harvesting scalps
of those less aware
is forcibly noble
to those who would dare.

You cursed the Colonel.
You'll have to hang.
One of these days
we'll know you by name.

Running is working.
Working is paid.
Sooner or later
the axe finds its place.

You cursed the Colonel.
You'll have to hang.
One of these days
we'll know you by name.

Sweat doesn't matter;
neither does blood.
Kiss all the right rings.
Shake off the mud.

You cursed the Colonel.
You'll have to hang.
One of these days
we'll know you by name.

Measurements falter.
Tools aren't the truth.
Mentors are chosen
by misguided youth.

You cursed the Colonel.
You had to hang.
One of these days
we'll know you by name.


Cowboy Science

I'd guess he's in Human Resources
the way he spills himself all over the counter
well after he's been handed
his change and morning coffee.
This pencil-pusher's sweater
is a few shades sour of caramel
the color of junkie vomit.
An equal sensation is conjured
in my gut by the way he festoons himself
atop the Formica, hitting on middle-aged women
whose husbands' hands alone
make more sense
than whatever this marital brigand
is spewing at 5:43 in the morning.

Two of his underlings
enter behind me
dressed in crisp uniforms
cursing at last night's game.
My toes curl under steel tips
as I fight myself from stating
that they sound worse than the men
they're allegedly paid to guard.

I recall visiting the local prison as a kid.
They'd walk my uncle out
into a large cafeteria full of worried faces.
There was a Pepsi vending machine.
Its giant logo with its patriotic colors
is what stands out most in my mind
aside from the concertina wire I saw
from the back seat of my mother's sedan.
She told me we were visiting him at his job
and in a way she wasn't so wrong.

"I'd rather be in jail,"
the amorous civil servant says
of his day's upcoming duties
to the woman who stirred his sugar;
added his cream.
"It's death by PowerPoint presentation,"
he chortles with undue pride.

I wonder if any of these men
these hooligans with tin badges
had a hand raised in wrath
against the inmate murdered
a few years ago.
It could have been my uncle
had he not been released in the 80s
after doing 15 years.

Back in the safety of my truck
the heat vents blasting away
what remains of the frost
I take a sip of coffee
followed by my first drag
that somehow cures
the smoker's cough
for now.



Using the mirror
that backs the bar
loaded with untapped top-shelf
I monitor who passes my 6.
Deprived of depravity
I opt to tip heavily
and head home
on snowslick sidewalks
dodging squad cars
and unneeded eye contact.

Jacklyn, what you've taught me
of thinly shaved Manchego
supersedes all I've shared
with every fresh apprentice.

Currently reading:
"Last Sext" by Melissa Broder.


Fed Exes

Emptying the night stand
on her side of the bed
into a box again
was the easy part.
Her last words my way:
"Remember what you want."
I didn't give the same privilege.

Her car was running
in the driveway
when I dropped off
that cardboard
I'd sprayed with the cologne
I've worn since 14.

The plan was paint-by-number
but I wasn't ready
for the little black dog
that always followed me
standing at the storm door
shaking without barking
her head cocked in perplexion:
at what we'll never know.


Cardboard Sarcophagus

Nah, Freddie, Jesus--
You're reading this all wrong.
When they don't ask
for their shit back
you know they're finally gone.
It was dry and self-contained
with no wet spot
left to dodge.
Think of all the Sunday sheets
you'll never have to wash.


Life Sans Genitalia, Day 47

It's a hard thing--
seeing the curtain
drawn too soon;
watching your heroes
bleed out in the dust
with guts keeping
bankers' hours.

[Christ omitted
for spatial purposes

He said something relevant
about more than
fixing that shotgun:
A sucker for hard cases
nodding like a god
at the lost souls
around him.

Blessed with many fathers
we have also
many sons.
Time has been squandered
naming constellations.

The surgery was useless.
The tailbone cyst came back.
All that faith in friends was lost
since medicine is practiced.