Polliwog Sonnet

I live a desperate
rifle shot from the foot
of a mountain.
No one's ever tried.
It's another rich assumption--
a posthumous treatise
on the merit of an uppercut.

Over six years here
and this new noise has arrived:
a creaking back-and-forth
like the rigging on a frigate.
I know it's only copper
of the heat pipes rubbing wood
but I'm grateful that it's waited.
For this I would have paid extra.

You think that you're the only one
who's asked these arms for waking?
Sirens in their songs
don't deviate from form.
Regardless of the calendar
they start to taste the same.

In dreams they all forgive me.
We sleep, and nothing more.


Cuffing Season

Though the cold spell's
frozen birds to power lines outside
Hector feels the sun
on his shoulders and his neck
as he gently flips eggs
on a morning.
The rest of him
is chilled
by the shade
in his apartment
but where the rays land
he's warm.

There's got to be a word
for this, he thinks.
There probably is
in Spanish
though his grandmother's
long dead.

From the bedroom
behind him
Hector hears
the tossing and straightening
of sheets.

He scoops the better eggs
onto a plate
for Rose of No Man's Land
or the most convincing facsimile.
In his dreams
they all forgive him.

You're either here
or you're wrong.

Currently reading:
"Jubilat" (Volume 31).


So Much for the Deposit

I'm rinsing
a lightly used muffin tin
when it dawns on me:
I don't miss
the newly absent
cabinet door
that for six years
hung next to the oven.
It had been rigged
twice before
once by the tenant prior
but the last two screws
I drove through its flimsy panels
while late for medication
on Christmas Eve
split the remainder
sealing its dumpster destination.
Unfastening it from the hinges
I straightened the pots
and pans inside to make them
more presentable
to any potential guests.
At peace with this latest state
I continue to wash the dishes.
What's a cabinet
but a shelf with a door?

Since I don't have television
I can better hear the sounds:
brick settling;
rusty water gurgling
through inefficient baseboard;
the aloes on the windowsill
slurping down their pints.
No one in Bridgeton
knows why I'm in Bridgeton
least of all myself.

Out of boredom
I read my prescription's description.
It claims to contain a chemical
that suppresses the portion
of the brain that triggers coughing.
What other parts
can scientists pinpoint
and subdue?

A Yuletide airplane
glistens through my dusty window
and I wonder when
the overdue meteor
will arrive to deliver mankind.

Don't let the textbooks
and strategists fool you:
The best place to be
is backed into a corner.

Currently reading:
"Anthem" by Ayn Rand.


Racing Improves the Breed

The cough syrup
goes down much smoother now
than it did as a kid.
You remember how your mother
always said a Spanish prayer
calling upon the names
of Fathers, Sons, and Ghosts
as you took your shot
obediently, unaware
of what would later haunt you.

Your fever dream delirium
brings news of another overdose
a Jezebel from long ago
whose death was overdue.
In the incubation of your contagion
you've been quarantined for days
lost in an algorithm
like a whore who lies about sailing
to anchor more free drinks.

The infection's moved to inner ears.
You feel it creeping from your throat.
While the hacking rasp is painful
you've enjoyed the lack of speech.

A woman you've never known
delivers soup and festive cookies.
Another whose anatomy
you could draw left-handed
from memory begs to pay a visit.
A third you should have married
thirteen lucky years ago
ends her day with invitation
to her couch, and tree, and more of that soup
but you decline for her sober sake
since the season of giving
doesn't preach of influenza.
It's mercy in old age;
attempted redemption.
Self-imposed solitude
brings in the Yuletide
with your greatest fear.

You think back to that prayer's preamble:
"Holy Father, Good Father..."
its Latin praise trailing off
and wonder if those words would still work.
Your mother never caught your ailment
though that's since
she wasn't afraid
back then.


Kill It in the Crib

Common to the ones
who came closest
is that coy look
cast along the right shoulder
before descending
the streetbound stairwell
with hopes of learning each step.

Burned into what's burning
the ancient lumber creaks.
It's laughter on the back porch;
a tire swing of the mind.


Careful, Icarus

Counter-rotated vertebrae
scream Mandarin obscenities
through a spine that's prone
to weakening
for imposters on the body.
It's frontier justice
in the sanctum sanctorum--
an aggressor from within
that cares not for confessions.

That concubine on the gurney
tasted like home
for a moment
as the defrocked sodomist
made apologetic gestures
to atone for party fouls.

Daggers drawn from backs
slit a few throats in turn.
Is that a sunrise or a sunset?
The photo fails to suggest.
Plus-one invitations
mean ample wine is catalyzed.

Crafters of killing-steel
put blood gutters in blades
through mercy.
Don't be taken
by subsequent sleepyheads:
Your enemy's enemies
are your enemies
as well.

A man with a bigger head once said
that matter can neither
be created nor destroyed;
Things don't simply
or do they?

Currently reading:
"Poetry", May 2017.


Seeking Conquistadors

I can't explain to you
why I'm suddenly in the market
for antique Spanish swords
from our war against Iberians
in Teddy Roosevelt's Caribbean
but here I am
hoping that geographic cures
will work--
A call to arms
that only the wounded
would heed.

It hurts to be so sober
on a Friday, half past eight
scouring Bannerman catalogues 110 years old
for militaria that one can no longer purchase
though if your love has left you
then perhaps you can relate.

A product description
catches my eye:
with blade and scabbard broken in two.
Probably done so as not to surrender
complete sword.
Blade is Marked...
Captured in Cuba.
Price $6.00."

Instantly I want it
but the time machine required
is almost as improbable
as Jackie coming back.

We Spaniards are so stubborn
even in defeat
and some of us still breathing
never came back from battle.

Currently reading:
"The Rough Riders" by Theodore Roosevelt.



You walk the line
of sycamores shooting forty feet
straight up from the sidewalk
and wonder which was there first.
That's how it works
in this world we've created:
First in, best dressed;
possession is nine-tenths of the law.

The same holds true
for this city itself.
Those who've moved
to its ranch grid of tree streets
and exposed brick walk-ups
have claimed it for their own.
An invisible gate
of vintage rack gentrification
has been conjured in the minds
of the visionary elite
slamming shut as soon
as they've paid their rental deposits
to keep out the rest
of those who would dare
to add to the roster.

You cross a busy intersection
beholding the non-bohemian behemoth
responsible for social outcry
among the congress of conquest.
The smell of the plywood
sheathing the incomplete
first floor hits your nostrils
but doesn't sting as smartly
as the wind that's brought November.
You wonder if the facade
is not the right hue of red
or the intended residents' demographic
doesn't wear the proper flannel.

Why the commotion?
Is life that bland?

A couple in their thirties
approaches the new building.
The woman snaps a photo
that she'll post soon from her phone
as her beau holds the leash
of the dog raised as their child.
It's wrapped in a plaid jacket
to fend off the season's bite
while across the street
in a gas station parking lot
two homeless men wear
a combination of piss-stained denim
and tattered army surplus
from a war with clearer lines.

One of them's named Patrick.
You've given him smokes
and bought him pints
at the dive on the corner
that lets him in
even though he doesn't care
about the game on either screen.
You've listened to his stories
and asked him where he sleeps.
None of this makes you a better person
but it angers you that the mentality in town
is more focused on what they deem an eyesore
than the people who need coats
more than some privileged cats and dogs do.

The menus are vast
and the rent is paid early
but this isn't a place
that you'll ever call "home".


To Buy a Man a Knife

A ditch near a Garrison pine row
reminds me of the time
we helped a driver from the Russian mob
out of a snowy rut one night.
We slowed at the crooked tail lights
of the black Mercedes sedan
which somehow didn't seem his
when we spoke to him through the window.
There was someone he could call for help
but he was afraid to dial.
We could tell.
His hands were shaking as hard as his English.
Maybe he'd just offed somebody.

Barely old enough to buy booze
we shouldn't have been stopping for strangers.
None of us carried steel back then.
We thrived on immortality
and false promises made in song.
Shin deep in salty snow
the three of us pushed stubbornly enough
at that costly bumper to get our Russian friend rolling.
He kept his momentum going--
not a honk, not a wave
not a wink in the side view mirror.

Specifics of the evening's remainder unclear
I can state with firm candor
that details be damned
we chased the elusive unmentionable
and one of us managed to find it.


Happy Hunting

My hands still smell like limes
from squeezing the night before
when I scratch my face
after buzzing her in downstairs.

She clatters by me
as though she rents the place
in a whirlwind of bags and winterwear
giving half a kiss in passing.

I stand in lucky boxers
and hungover bewilderment
unfairly agitated
that she never removes her shoes
at the door

but I sober myself
that I haven't swept since summer
and she hasn't arrived
to inspect my cleanliness.

It's quite the opposite
thank God.

Currently reading:
"The Regulators" by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman).



"Tear right in,"
she says.
"I'm not the one
paying for it."


Mentors and Monsters

It used to be
that the deepest cold
I'd known
was at age 10
with my father
in the darkest time
of morning.
I prayed
for a premature sunrise
to a god I still believed in
and mistook every squirrel
crashing through leaves
for a buck.

There are people
cropped and cornered
who are watching
for your fall.

Make them wait.


Surviving the Transplant, Verbatim

She bounces back up
at the ping
possibly her boyfriend
as I notice the mark
on her forehead.
"A resident hit me,"
she says of the red
bobbing back down
for silence
more than me.

I tune out nerve endings
to hone in on the pattern:
A symmetrical stitch
perfect in its rendering.
She coughs mid-stride
so I make her laugh
against our stubborn will:
"Enter sickly Jew, stage left."

Afterward I inquire
of its origin.
"A bible," she protests
predicting my sad ecstasy.

Two sodomites giggle
in the throes of late white wine
as I chant "King James Version!"
and pretend to slap a face
that I'll never earn
in earnest.

[This is how the terminally ill
joke about the terminally ill
with the terminally ill
and we're all terminally ill
you idiot.]


A Fool for the Wounded

But when it was her turn
she needed me to maneuver
in a way that hurt my back
during and afterward
so I stopped giving her turns
and mine stopped coming, too.

We keelhauled our contagions;
should've killed them in their cribs.

All too familiar:
She looks like her
or close enough.
The smell would throw the illusion
but it can be made to work.

Susceptible miscreants
run from the huntsman.
I think I died
sometime on Wednesday.

Tell 'em "Smile."
Tell 'em "Sorry."
Tell 'em anything but the truth.



It took six years
to notice
of the marble Christ
at night
on that side street
where the church
spent dough
on spotlights
accentuating arms

in the stone
are afterthoughts
in low beams
there only for the timid
who pass
by day and legs.

An arm span
for measuring
two football
an arrow
pointing downward
and those who fear
will follow.


Avian Anatomy

I cross the street
to greet him
as he stands without purpose
outside a corner bodega.
He gives his standard:
"I haven't seen you."
I give mine:
"I've been working."

Pulling my pack
from the plaid pocket
above my heart
I pass him a smoke.
He reaches for it
with unwashed hands
the dirt under his fingernails
a different type entirely.
It's not the job debris
I'm accustomed to scrubbing
or paint from a local drinkslinger's daytime endeavors.
It's the accumulation of time spent
sipping from bagged cans on sidewalks
and sleeping on benches
while tourists take photos of the buildings
that the homeless population can't enter.
I shake his hand
despite the hundreds of times
he's used it to hold himself in alleyways
since his last gas station sink bath
splashing like a day-drunk bird
in grandmother's backyard garden.

"This is harsh," he says
inhaling the clove cigarillo far too deeply.

"You get used to it,"
I tell an expert on wear and tear
who's aged without grace
in a city of fools for the wounded.

I leave the intersection
and forget all about that bearded apparition
as soon as I place my order from the stool.

You can only owe someone
for so long.


What They Don't Tell You About Becoming a Writer

[For a brother in arms, Phil Bram.]

Your childhood's speed bumps
and sharpened learning curves
will become pen fodder
that you'll exaggerate as thrifty therapy.

Even if your dog ran away
at Fourth of July fireworks
when you were five
due to your dad's innocent mistake
on paper it died in your arms.

You'll do less wrong
than a politician's conscience
since there's got to be a hero
even here in hell.

A teacher or two
who nurtured your budding talent
will be verbally deified
despite the fact
that they'd now shake their heads
while reading the words that you sling.

Your siblings will be mirrors
and means to fix bad blood.

Your first true love
and every other fake to follow
is in for a case of typecast tinnitus.

Every time a piece is published
that praises or curses a bedmate
you'll taste the wrath
of your muse that same month.

Your father will be blamed
for his years of anguished absence
although his own demons
appeared and pulled their rank.

Friends and acquaintances
will fear what they say
since all is fair game
in your desperate twisting of lines
while pursuing an answer.

Colleagues won't fathom
your switch of vernacular
when you fall out of character
for fleeting moments of clarity.

The cadence of time
will be warped 'til surreal
whipped into submission
for the sake of your story.

Yarns too rife with grit
will have to stay untold
despite their priceless merit
saved instead for deathbeds.

Your mother, who secretly reads
to know her distant offspring
will hand you a bag of leftovers
with a handful of condoms in the bottom.

An editor will befriend you
enough to tolerate your trash
and you'll feel like a toddler
in the lap of his father.

You'll be accused of untrue desires.
You'll be denied the right to privacy.
You'll view the world through a different lens
and document its beautiful flaws.

People you cherish
will hurt for your alleged art
while you, the ignorant creator
will selfishly wonder why.

The biggest misfortune
the largest lie
omitted from the brochure
by gods who seek sick pleasures
is that you had any say in your calling

But if you're worth a damn
then you'll grin through the madness
and rejoice that you were born this way.

Currently reading:
"Glock:  The Rise of America's Gun" by Paul M. Barrett.


Conversational Catnip

We the dearly divided
celebrate our birthright
to a vigorous Indian summer
sticklers for the paraphrased
when seeing a man about a horse.

The remnants of a hurricane
that killed dozens
and decimated islands
in the Caribbean
reaches the Atlantic Northeast
giving us a pleasant breeze
for perfect working weather
where the crane cable swings
and the treetops sway
and it still takes a diamond
to cut one.

Sweet tea tastes like diabetes
and a failed Confederacy.
There are only so many bridges.


The Danger of Dealing in Absolutes

Seven unlucky years ago
marks the last time
I stayed at a dirty motel
in a New England state.
Our love was on the lam
while were on our way to Maine
and stopped to sleep in Vermont
just shy of New Hampshire.
The bottle of Montepulciano we split
enhanced a joke we'd made on the highway
where lyrics from the songs she'd picked
didn't yet resonate.
She snapped a shot of us laughing
in those yellowed sheets
that she'd later start to paint
though we didn't outlast the canvas.

Mount Washington was closed for the season
when we passed the entrance the next day
so I never got one of those bumper stickers
to put on the back of my truck.
The sex that had us
in that Bar Harbor bed & breakfast
was more out of habit than love
but I've learned three lessons
since those more patient days:

Shotguns are for times of peace
rifles are for times of war
and mysterious cigarette holes
in cheap, rented bedding
are made by men years later
as they finally understand
the difference.



And then 
in the morning
when I focus 
to flip our eggs
since that's how 
she wanted them
I tell her 
she's getting too close
for the first time 
in saying so.


Homewreckers Disguised as Amateur Phlebotomists

She insists on turning
the light on for me--
overhead, how I hate it--
though the sun won't rise
for another two hours, if ever.
There it is in white watercolor:
hers and mine;
salt from both bodies.

In her too bright bathroom
I notice that I've forgotten
my bachelor bag of toiletries.
Months of work fatigue
have knocked me off
the trails I once knew so well
and what was required to take them.

A ghost current from Saturday prior
jolts through my skull
like her godforsaken light bulbs
that show all nicks and flaws.
The poor, beady eyed sot
at the end of the bar
with two pointless pints
in hands bound only for himself
stared blankly through last call martyrs
in search of happy hour philosophers
and willing philanthropists long gone.
His dangerous disbelief in divine misfortune
spewed forth across the oak
as even I felt pity for him
over ever having taken home
a strong six at his highest.
I tipped my standard bill and left.

The same subtle genius
who first insisted that a servant
take his place among the ranks
deemed needed for warfare
by the crown
must've also invented the brilliant evasion
of sending a check in lieu of attendance
at a wedding for which an invitation came early.

I hear her packing a poorly insulated lunchbox
with more food than I'll be able to eat in a day
and reach for the toothbrush
standing in the sinkside mug.
I think through the first few strokes,
My mouth's been worse places than this.

Do any Catholics still go to confession?
If so, do they feel that it works?


The Growing Southpaw Minority

There's more eyeliner on her pillowcase
than what's left of her face.
Her arms are scratched
like she was attacked by a feral cat
in her sleep.
The bed's coarse
with a thin layer of dirt
from the pot that's pulled
desperately to her chest.

That cactus he'd bought her
punctures the sheets
as deftly as her skin.
She's slept with it
ever since he stopped
when he found those orange caps
strewn about her apartment.

It's aerodynamic rebuke
and inspired clinomania
from seeking the face of God
outside katydids
through street lamps.


Staccato Like It Should've Been

He hits the Taconic
at 84's 16th exit
denoting 15 minutes
'til Beacon.
Six years ago
he'd call Kristen then
so she'd know
when to reheat dinner
that they'd shared
for four years
two of which too long
for the one month
he could stand it
before he switched
to zero dependents.

Now he passes
that parkway
six days out of seven
but no clock, road sign
nor odometer
can tell him
when home
will come

and that last curve
felt faster
than the state's
mandated limit


More Than Might

Suture scars
from futures gone
and a Caddy
with Montana license plates.
In dribs and drabs
caught unawares
like an alibi
claims business
in Thailand.

The way the taste
of your saliva changes
as you start to fall asleep.
How it seems so safe
in the forest beyond the fence
where there's laughter.

In the end
all we have
are you
and you and you.
In the end
all we have
are bouncing apostrophes.

Chivalry's not dead--
just limping.


Right on Red

The sun tries its best to lighten the air
as rumors fly in the parking lot
like germs between unwashed handshakes.
Mostly clad in black
true troopers find ways to laugh.
The rounds are made with tactical dodging.
Women cry in tandem
while those gone gray feel guilty.

Two boxes of photograph prayer cards
perched above the book of names
are empty, but an usher reassures
that more are being made.
It's his job to offer falsified comfort
short of shallow hugs and a drink.
An employee choked by a crooked half-Windsor
is cursing at the printer in an office no one sees.

A wandering vagabond smiles with eyes
remembers the shots of Sambuca at Larry's
while loitering in a room of folding chairs
that's carpeted like the Titanic
and freshly festooned with flora of the purest.

"Hot off the presses," that usher jests
when he sees a laminated likeness in hand
unaware that his flippant remark
is a bullet
the same as that needle
that brought us all here.


The Corner of Broadway and Prospect

In the building trades
we die a hundred times
see a thousand murders
and a few dozen tasteful suicides
once a brother's had enough.

Each layoff is an ending.
The next job brings rebirth.
That check will come again
after another safety orientation
and the meaningless doling of stickers.

We're immortal
and building America
with our livers ironically dying.
We go home to wash off the road
and expectorate lies told on tax forms.

Maybe that's why
the real deal hits harder:
We're accustomed to respawning
in some godforsaken elsewhere
on a different contractor's payroll.
"See you on the next big one,"
we say in jest when two envelopes come.

What happens when that joke can't be made?
In a lion's share of confusion
those left will scratch their hard hats
as further proof and cursing
for a safely unspecified god.

En Garde

Our old man's telling another one
about all the money he's about to save.
Those who know him tune these tales out.
The kid and I continue our dinner uncaring
like neighbors through the woods.
This latest plan involves solar panels
on the freshly roofed garage.
Our father pats himself on the back
for extending its dimensions by three feet
during construction, as if he'd seen
this lucrative energy endeavor coming
two years prior while dispersing the loan.

"It will cut bills immensely," he sighs.
"Indian Point is closing down
so electricity will go through the roof."
I think of the still unused generator and subpanel
he had installed in the basement for a small fortune
months before the Y2K Crisis didn't happen
and cringe at what some people squander on fear.

"I'm sad," my seven-year-old brother
blurts with rib sauce on his cheeks
after the need for more eastern sunlight is mentioned
by the amateur project manager
who spawned us decades apart.
No one acknowledges his sentiment.
It's a landmine, a potter's field
a storm worthy of song.

Dad points at folders of literature
on the dining room table and tells us
that this solar swindler wants him
to nag the neighbors about his enterprise.
I pity their foolish decisions to answer his knock.
We finish our Saturday evening meal
catching up from five weeks of overdue separation.
I conserve funds through selling sweat, not death.

Once dinner's done I take the boy for a stroll around the block
to promote more than physical digestion--
just the two of us, as it needs to be sometimes.
"I'm sad, too," I tell him as we round the corner
with forest newly cleared, absorbing our view of the Hudson.
The child's afflicted blessing is familiar.
He senses much for a soul of his age;
remembers what counts; responds.

"That tree is so big and old.
We'll have to take the hammock down."
His voice trails off despairingly.
In my own youth I pretended it was a ship
on rough waters while friends and I struggled
to keep its cords afloat, laughing like deranged sailors.
I should reach for his hand
as he walks the curb like a balance beam
but my own is shaking, too.

Our creator was affected when the row of stoic pines
along the summer house in the Adirondacks
where he spent his boyhood
had to come down twelve years ago
due to blight and risk of falling.
The similar impact of this undue evil
holds no bearing on his current decision.
Nothing breaks the cycle aside from six feet.

Feed a cold, starve a fever
manage to forgive the culprit's best intentions.
It's illegal to deny anyone
a glass of water in Arizona
though there's nothing on the books here
about felling a massive sugar maple
that's earned its place in the soil.


Amateur Phlebotomy

Neither of us are making much sense
at the oak in the witching hour.
He's homeless and I'm hapless.
Hook-nosed Guineas two-thirds of my age
one-third of his
fill the haggard taproom
with laughter so naive
and jukebox monopolies
that seem foreign
this sloppily late at night.

Neither of us envies the other.
Both of us are waiting to die
for the day.

"What if I'd sat next to her instead?"
I ask the rambling beardsman
halfway through his yarn
from thirty years ago
when he still paid taxes.
He claims to have hauled cable
three hundred feet
up the radio towers on the mountain
that we're all supposed to share.

"It was different then,"
Patrick prattles on, sipping the beer
that I'd offered to buy
though the barkeep had not the heart
to charge--even though it's imported.

"She didn't know," I say
of the offender's wife and kid back home
both unaware of the kisses
I saw doled through the prior bar's window.

I bum him a smoke on the sidewalk
and ask when he served
since it's obvious
ending our encounter with a handshake
that's overdue for both of us
unwashed piss germs be damned.

The second set of stairs
up to my apartment
nearly does me in
like the sickening sight
of gin mill adultery--
matrimonial musical chairs.
A verse comes to mind
from what seems a past life:
"But as for me and my house
we will serve the Lord."


Deepwater Backtrack

She said laughter's all we need;
that it heals a lot of things.
The dreamer in me decided
to put that to the test.

I opened the refrigerator
and chuckled at its contents.
A degree in English appeared on my wall
freshly signed by a man I'd never met.

Next I checked my bank account
with an app that reads my thumbprint
though I don't know my own blood type.
Another joke unveiled itself
despite my constant efforts.
A ring suddenly adorned my left hand.

I made sure no one was around
and unzipped my jeans
to look down at the small source
of so many large problems.
Jackie didn't conjure herself
in my arms as expected.
I'm too big of a prick
for that degree of magic
but Lord I'd gladly trade it
for all the paper mills in Maine.


Campsite Blues

This computer's on the top bunk
in the spare room of his trailer.
I'm typing standing up
not because Hemingway did
but due to the placement of outlets
and my need for a flat surface
that's almost as rare
as sentences sans cussing
here in the eye of it.

To my right sits half a slice
of German chocolate cake
that I pilfered from some brothers
down around the bend.
A bottle of gin
labeled with the name of Jackie's town
is on the countertop
one room to the west
tasting like sumac smells
and without a lime to mask it.
I'll be so blessed
to never drink either again

Like the birds that started singing
when the downpour stopped this evening
unsure if it was morning
or just less of the night

But the air conditioner overhead
turns on and blasts away
to the thermostat's content
until the mourning lets us go;
Until it's morning.



Around that bend
a few miles back
it got too sad
to do anything
but laugh.



Scratching himself while looking down
into his new neighbor's curtainless window
[Here we go with the bullshit.]
he declares to no one in particular
that the Bloody Mary's been the best part of dinner.
[More horseradish.]

He picks up Kurt's novel long gone untouched
[Wait, who lifted it?
I did. I'm taking responsibility
for this one. All of it felt good.]
and hears a metallic bounce across his
[Fuck off; my]
floor, its frequency increasing
with gravity's constant victory.

That tapped ball bearing's suddenly remembered.
It was first found in his sheets
[Nice save through ambiguous wording.]
with the owner still in tow
but her piercing was ridiculous
so I didn't give it back
[Finally, a man of his word.]
even after I asked her to leave
[like you will].

It rolls under the longest run of baseboard heating
unused in this summer month
to be forgotten again until a thorough sweeping
when the bobby pins strike back
and the wine corks yell of murder.


With Option to Buy

Eyes that scream "Come hither"
freckles on bare calves
wine that isn't needed
like footnotes of our pasts

Fires in the iron
guns checked at the door
strands of different colors
on a class act and his floors

Out of season oysters
symmetry be damned
threadbare torn to ribbons
beneath two clove-hitched hands

Captives bound by plaster
a Monday sweeping dust
forever seems a short time
to fireworks like us.


Kill the Carrier

Something else that I can't do
is pull a smoke from my pack
that's mostly full
using only my lips
like in the movies
and conversations
with men who've got more talent.

One of them closes my knife
before handing it back;
says it would've been bad luck
otherwise, which neither can afford.
I take a proper gander
as he explains the lore.

On the ride home
I open the driver's side window
on the highway
to release a bouncing fly
that doesn't want to leave.
Are there creature comforts left?
I'm asking for a friend.

In my bedroom before rest
I listen hard enough
through the air conditioner
propped in the window
to almost hear those katydids
that she swears New York
is lacking.



We hadn't spoken
since I'd asked her to move out
a month into the experiment.
I chose an irrelevant alibi
about what to do
with her mail
mostly stock statements
from the various jobs she'd had
across the country
where I'd driven her
to bedsides of dying strangers
both parties dressed in white.

I was gone at the time
but more likely than not
what I really sought to know
was if it had been real
if another's touch had meant more
than the mutual comfort it's become
in this age of humbled delinquency.

Her answer was curt and pragmatic
words made of steel
that sobered a fool:
"What have you been doing
with it
for the last six years?"

I looked around
our apartment.

Currently reading:
"Deadeye Dick" by Kurt Vonnegut.


Same Disclaimer

Her naked shoulder's blue
with the glow of the TV screen
that she can't sleep without
as she tells me on her mattress
that lately she's considered
taking the whole bottle.
The laugh track misses its cue.

I know it's only
the wine-chased tequila talking
since bedhead blather's less seaworthy
than a decade of rejection
but it's enough to cancel Father's Day plans.

With all that's made her how she is
she'd never fuck in a gun museum.
I missed the bid and lost the auction.
There is no final line.

Currently reading:
"Out of the Woods" by Chris Offutt.


Pugmill Knives in Play

There's a slow leak in my tire
that makes me do my part
keep up my end of the bargain
for continued transportation.
When the warning light comes on
gentleman that it is
a race ensues to the nearest gas station
in hopes that there's an air pump.

Inside I interact with foreign men
to get four quarters
always having to purchase an item
mostly chocolate or a ginger ale
so they can open the register.
No gauge is true, I judge by eye.
Once the curve is straightened out
I verify with the absence of the yellow indicator.

I've done it thrice in two weeks now
perception trained to scan for air signs
that pop up like blue cars
the opposite of liquor stores and mailboxes
when needed.
I find a compressor tucked next to a dumpster
where I didn't look hard enough last week
and note my steady progress.
Oh, if they could see me now...

I'll keep it this way for awhile
though my mechanic owes me a favor.
The structure, the routine
the diligence of duty
and presence of the pugmill
as timeless as a woman
in a navy dress, white polka dots.
All around are knives in play.


Jerk Flow

GodDAMN you
colored reservist old friend:
you don't know what it's like
you don't know what it's like.

Hot-box the beat-down
take her to Pound Town.
This is what occurs
when left to your devices.
Running sneaks
worn like a joke and it's over.

Words are dead
if they don't rip at you
from the page.
Tell me everything
all at once
but take your time.
I'm all ears.

Sweat it out.
I'm down
for straight-down.


Promises Made from the Windows of Fast-Moving Cars

Park benches.
Sun showers.
Never having been so jealous of denim.
The ground is lava
but no one's heading for higher terrain.

Daughters born of rape
pose for zealous photographers.
Left-handed books
are plastered to the alleyway's asphalt
by stale rain
returning to the white pulp
they came from
while women who reek of ashtrays
turn off honest men.
It's accepted since it runs in the blood.

Last-known coordinates
get swallowed for safekeeping.
"See, that's where
you would have failed anyway,"
a stranger mumbles to his collar on the sidewalk
before vanishing around a corner.

To share wisdom
is to sacrifice power.
The latter is the meaning of love.

Currently reading:
"Poetry East (Number 87, Spring 2016):  London".


Quotient Marginalia

I was three or four and five steps down the sidewalk
walking from my grandmother's apartment
while my mother completed her Spanish goodbyes
rooted in Catholicism that our family had abandoned.
Something shiny caught my eye so I picked it up
to learn its nature as any child would have done.

My mother came screaming down the cement
once she saw what I'd found and grabbed.
I remember how she wrestled it
frantically from my hand.
The blood only came
when she tried to wrench it free
from the grasp that I so firmly
had placed upon my quarry
unwilling to let go of what right or wrong
felt mine.

The aptly named safety razor's
been mastered since then
though the principle holds true
as far as the taking and bleeding--
a lesson etched in fingerprints
for a payment other than cash.

Currently reading:
"Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy.



You come.
You come, you come. I come.
You come. I come.
You come.
I come.
You go.


Winner's Guilt and Buckshot

I'd been watching the auction
for a week from my computer.
No one had touched the starting price.
I thought of where to hang the piece--
a relic of a shotgun built in 1896.

An hour before it was programmed to close
a faceless stranger from the Internet
tried to stake his claim.
I chewed on the rim of my coffee mug
and refrained from chiming in.
I'd let him get comfortable
and swoop in at the end.
If bidding was like battle
then the idea was to win
with as little loss as possible.

With 18 minutes left
I fired off my offer.
The adversary must not have noticed.
He didn't counter once.
The clock ran out and I won
for half of what I'd paid
for the same item two weeks prior.
Though I'd technically done better
I felt like I had cheated.

I'd be an awful general.
I'd sacrifice to earn.
I know my favorite of the two
will be the one I fought for.



Whenever I inadvertently hurt myself I spew racial slurs combined with homophobic accusations. Do the math. Don't make me say it. I don't know why, it just happens. I hate stubbing my toe while stomping around my apartment because a remarkably nice black gentleman lives across the hall from me with his pleasantly thick white girlfriend. I don't resent the physical pain of my infraction, but the offense I might cause if my neighbor or his beloved overhears my shameful reaction is appalling. I also regret that I forget his name--though he always refers to me by mine while passing in the stairwell--and have relegated his being to a description of his character that subtly implies surprise due to his appearance, as well as a latent need to drag his old lady into it. What's wrong with me? Not enough years in the building trades to know better. The perfect amount to succumb to its crass trappings. In my defense, however, I bet none of the boys have analyzed their verbal shortcomings to this extent and aired them for catharsis. Clap for me. I'm worthy. Did I mention I'm 33?

And that's the rub:  I do that. Observe, transcribe, process, compile, compose, repeat. Is it the mechanism a mostly only child's developed to fit the Universe into neat boxes arranged at his feet, or a way to fill time that's not as self-destructive? I won't pretend to know the answer. That's not my job. It's yours, but don't remind me. There's a glass of Pinot noir at my right and a dwindling clove cigarette at my left, but the notes aren't laid out before me for a change. I'm winging it. I'm typing. When I punch the keys they form words, sentences, thoughts, implications. I can control them, if nothing else. Maybe that's where the gun fascination's derived. When the trigger is pulled--if nothing is rotten in Denmark--then the cartridge will consistently fire. Steel is reliable. Lead runs its course. There are definites and absolutes in the world still. Most people will let you down, though Samuel Colt was not one of them.

The funny part is that I'm no better. There are good souls in my corner whom I constantly let down. I wonder how they go about defending my actions to naysayers on a daily basis while managing to call me and check up as seen needed. Maybe they recognize something that I don't, or maybe they've been duped like my parents. Can someone be called a narcissist if he readily admits that he's wrong? Pleading for mercy equates not to sainthood. If I had it figured out I'd share the winning numbers. In the meantime there's transparency. That's the point of my modus operandi. If the cards are laid out then how can you be angry? If everyone said exactly where they were then we'd all be better off. I'm terrible at guessing. I'm worse at pulling triggers. The guarantee is there, though the outcome remains a mystery.

With one life to live among many possibilities it's terrifying to know that we're only given a single chance. That was my second-to-last tattoo:  a revolver cylinder with one round in a chamber. Have I squandered it yet? It's too soon to tell. The choices have varied in their merit and yields, but I accept the responsibility. That's where many veer incorrectly in their assumptions. Accountability is paramount. "Be impeccable with your word," a wise book given by my ex's therapist said. I read it and it stuck, like when my eleventh-grade English teacher wrote "Keep writing!" in red ink at the top of an assignment. I have. I will. Tonight it wasn't poetry so it's not quite as convincing. I won't hear from any unavailable women I'm courting after this mess is aimlessly consumed. The paragraph, the stanza, the way I still can't come up with a title to punch at the top of this meandering diatribe; they're all just as guilty as my right and left hands, my mind for forgetting the name of my neighbor.

I'm grinning into the hell-hot filter now. Honey, there's always tomorrow. Fish on.


No Need for Cloning

A sunshower worthy of Florida's finest
rolled through the valley this afternoon
but God saved the thunder and lightning
for tonight
like the final bite
of a dish that's been craved.
The magic was doled out
in increments today.
Her lack of glasses
mistook the afternoon moon
for a cloud, though I only corrected her
for the sake of hearing her laughter
as she hopped over expansion joints
to preserve her mother's spine.

I'm grateful that the contractor
renovating next door
has yet to affix a gutter system
since the water dripping
from the two-story roof
across from my apartment
falls to a wider drum skin
of asphalt and street dust
enhancing its effect
between blasts of thunder.
My mother used to tell me
that it was the sound
of angels bowling.
I believed that for longer
than the myth of Santa Claus
or perfection in a person.
Its melt value was less
than its sum as a tale
like the ring that I gave
the wrong person as a kid.

Earlier this evening
between the two storms
swallows circled my building
for the first time since I've lived here.
Six speeding years
without that sailor's sign
and they pick my favorite day
in many to arrive.
The best muse, like the best news
and a peaceful late-May thunderstorm
is always unexpected.

With nowhere to go tomorrow
it's not too late to crack a white.
I light a smoke, but don't perch
the box fan in the kitchen windowsill
to exhaust its trail as usual.
The sound would drown the symphony
whose worth outweighs the lingering smell.

I open a second window
to absorb enough of the weather for two
hoping that she hears it
from the basement where she lives.
Car sounds abound
as the clouds roll over the mountains
and head for a waiting Connecticut
as I too sit with patience
for what's been overdue.


You purchase her art
since it's all you can have
of her, for now.
Her skin
thick with sea salt
can't be shared
and you'd be lying to say
you remember enough of her laugh
to make hymns of it in your head
but her photography
can be hung on your wall
as a reminder
of what it is to pray.

The caller of seers
grinning and skinning
has but one chair
preferring to sit alone
until the tides are right at Montauk
and Moses enjoys his beach.

Currently reading:
"My Father, the Pornographer" by Chris Offutt.


Marketing for Dummies

There was a time
when cultures would burn
something beautiful
to keep themselves humble
and make room for growth.
Now senseless chaos
justifies destruction
if it gets a lone gunman
his seconds of fame
and helps politicians
rally for votes.
We've strayed so far
from morality
in pursuit of tainted ideals
that our dogs wear clothes
while the homeless are cold.
We've seen and reviewed the movie.
Fuck the book and its author.

Perhaps postmodern women
who've suppressed their need to procreate
are the unsung, honor-bound heroines of our era.
Figures lie and liars figure.
Heretofore infertile
the damned now seem our saviors.

End the madness
or let it ride.
The sun will come for all of us
if the rising tide falls short.


Holy Roman Empire

It was short-lived
and confusing
like the breath of many masters
but held a simple beauty
that the footnotes can't deny.

Once my left arm went numb
or my downturned shoulder was sore
I'd roll over to face the box fan
instead of her slumbering back.
Whether it was a cognizant decision
or the equally appreciative will
of a mind at war in dreamscapes
she'd always turn around as well
and slide an arm my way.

Subconscious or not
it was the closest I've come
to reciprocated effort in years.

Currently reading:
"Kentucky Straight" by Chris Offutt.


Drilled and Tapped

The rig cost me a fortune
and what was left of my marriage
but the boy understands;
the former, at least.
He seemed disappointed
to wear those service blues at first
though the day I ironed on that patch
with his name above the breast pocket
he started to take interest
in what became our family business.

Community school was a waste of time
for both of us
so now he helps set up the auger
and watches for signs of danger
while I run the levers
as the homeowner
--unfortunately off from work--
spies from cracked blinds
in a house without running water
and toilets that don't flush.

The best of them know that much:
To stay inside
avoiding stupid question time.
If they've called me--us, really--
it's because their well's run dry.
They need us--our rig, really--
to tap into what
they can't obtain on their own.

And that's what I tell the kid
after the man dressed down
in the polo shirt
and crisp dungarees
hands him a crumpled twenty
behind my back:
The tip is only there
because the blade's tip is sharp.
It's harsh, but it works.

At night he gets the file
and heads out to the shop
while I make sure that our ad's still printed
inside those yellow pages.

Currently reading:
"Poetry", October 2016.


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.