On A Country Road

Rosie was eleven years old
she told us, as the overweight bulldog
began to wheeze near her feet
while a television program murmured
in the living room

A tree had fallen on the property line
so now she was all alone
except for old Rosie here

He was driving their big-wheel tractor
with the mower deck running off PTO
maintaining 28 acres on an August afternoon
when suddenly he succumbed
to a massive skull fracture

She warmed the other’s coffees
but she didn’t need both her mugs anymore
so she sent one out with me

‘No more air piano,’ she said
trying her best to smile
As we bid farewell to Rosie
and left them both
with the upright grand we’d come with

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Bygones

Suddenly
there was a shrill sound
cutting through the autumn air
as triumphant as it was discordant
summoning in me an unease
I had not often felt
in the comfort of my father’s home

I rushed to the doorway
and flung the storm wide
to the bright lights and horror
to the siren sounding louder
to the smoke a mile away

They were flashing over head
a half-dozen at a time
less a swarm than a saber
slicing and buzzing
and bringing bright lights

and I stood like a statue
on the front lawn
of my father’s home
as the roof fell to the foundation
as the bright lights overcame me
as sulfur filled the air

rainbow swimming badges

rainbow swimming badges
and sunlit freckles

passionate glances
during reveille

tiny pebbles skip across
a glacial lake
in backwoods michigan

(won’t you keep me,
broken memory?)

the sun never sets just
the same
as on a kayak race
to an island
that you never seem to reach

take on heat and
pay in sweat

long for the cold so
you can help build
another cabin

learn of kindling
and the fire

(you can only do this once
you are going to fuck this up)

shrug it off
take it hard

watch butterfly
migrations.

devilry

i dreamed i was an ohian farmer
thinkin affront a mechanical breeze
my taut muscles and hard callouses
rotting within my hands and shoulders
and gasping for air like old flames

i sat atop a great machine
like a giant chugging black tar
emitting a putrid smell and noise
among otherwise silent fields
from each coast, a million giants wide

we each had taken plots of land
and bought guns, and put up walls
flattened hills and forests
squeezed the dirt while crying and praying
it was a crime of passion

and i was paid a healthy salary
it was insured against poor production
to grown corn, and nothing more
we let a lot go sour in the silos
but the government man never cared
long as our ballots fell to him each year

my son died from pancreatic cancer
he had worked the land every day since
he was strong enough to lift a till
and as good as any man
at pulling richness from the soil

i was told it was two years
since a sickness had changed his basic chemistry
and i thought on how the devil convinced men
that it was will power that kept them alive
but i saw the red ink ledger lines at the end

and all debts will be reined in

Railing

I dreamed I was a Bangladeshi shipbreaker
toiling in the tropical salt air
with taut muscles and hard callouses
with cuts on hands and shoulders
with burns from oxy-acetylene flames

I worked on the deck of a broken ship
a behemoth with no back half
like a tuna with its tail removed
floating dead in the shallows
in a harbor with a hundred ships like it
on a sandy coast with no end

There were thousands of us working
stretching our rice-fed bodies in the heat
flattening tanks with mallets
taking torch to hull
glancing at the sea a hundred feet below

I was paid in cash each week
enough to buy a bit to eat
and pay for my worker’s flat
a room in a building off the dockyard
where the company provided one bed each
for only two-thirds a month’s wages

My brother died the week before
he was working a few ships down from me
tearing pipe from a plumbing run
pulling copper from rusted conduit
loading pump parts on a limping wagon

I was told it was eleven PM
that a chain had wrapped his ankle
that the other three men faltered
and dropped the bilgepump engine block
off a deck that had no railing

it had long been cut away

lift off

the shower’s a warm blanket
but the cold lives in my spine
if only i could see
then i wouldn’t be so blind

tell me i’m not fine
tell me not to cry

the president’s a virus
and my family is the host
they pull all of their pants down
to get lashed by the holy ghost

castigate my mind
tell me that i lie

my father is a rapist
and my mother cries all day
the sun dances in the window
but has nothing much to say

i’m starting to unwind
i’ve nothing but the time

let up
lift off

zen

holding everything I can see so
loosely it could all fall out of my hands
and loose enough I would be okay with that
just standing here. arms full. barely holding on

because gripping too tight is too big a commitment for things so unsure

a few thing here, in this pile, look so shiny, I’d love to pocket them
but that would be to assume they won’t eat through my pockets and fall to the ground when I’m not looking

no

I need to hold it so loosely it could all fall out of my hands

zen. I tell myself.
fucking zen.

head down, focused, no longer hoping for the best but believing in it nonetheless

the hardest thing about knowing too much
is understanding the impact it may have on
those you’ve worked your ass off to support

but you push through because you also
know that often you don’t have all the info and there have been doezens of times thus
far where you knew what was coming

the doom

and it never came.

the hardest part about knowing too much
is dealing with the pain you will someday
inevitably cause

there is a positive outcome for everyone if we just push long enough, hard enough, and don’t give the fuck up.

can I hang in there and not give the fuck up?

Surprise Street

We wandered through hard-luck places
exchanging change for bits of candy
at corner stores and chasing them
with peach soda under burned out letters
in the humid summer dusk

We’d found a couple couches
and dragged them in to the garage
so most of us could sit comfortably
as we passed the microphone around
putting stupid jokes to worn-out tape
for posterity

the snack food would run out eventually
and quiet would come just before the birds
with bodies snoring softly on every floor
dreaming of promises and plans
that never came when the morning did

One at a time we would come to
pouring 7 kinds of bowls of ceral
gathering in the living room
kicking children’s toys around
waiting for the van to park outside

I left Surprise the following spring
tying shoes and trying my best
not to forget my coat in the warm
my strap on the old classical
my CD in the system near the television

I never went back

Reptile

I would look for frogs near rotting stumps
in the summer evenings of my younger days
collecting them in jars for a few hours
until I set them free
or cast them against the pavement
to be fed to baby snapping turtles
else be let in the tank for the corn snake
to have her way, at her leisure

I was a cruel god then,
my subjects kept nourished
with the blood that I saw fit to spill

Woe are the frogs of the summer evenings
of my younger days, flailing in clenched jaws
or stunned and rent to shreds

I was a cruel god then

Frog that I am now,
I pray my god finds mercy.

weeping at the visage of our glorious leader

be wary those that are born
into this prison
and straighten your spine
and look forward
for all eyes belong
to the great gods of hell
who filled walls
with your dead brethren
and covered them in
the faces of their family

eat love and pray
under their holiness, I say
although
it may pick at your soul
to do so
the sun will shine on
endlessly
but men can
block your view.

Giving Ground

I.

The air was cement
in the afternoon sun

I counted the stains
on the upholstery
on the backs of chairs
until The Law walked in

I was brighter then
I am warmer now


II.

At Eleven O’Clock
the pain set in

I clutched your thigh
through gritted teeth

I’d heard what you said
I never heard you say a word


III.

The Law was restless
pistol hand on grip

I tried to keep my eyes down
as her visage shook my soul

The air in my throat
grew thicker still


IV.

There were just us three,
two tables and a pistol between

You stood to leave with elegance
as I floundered, chair to floor

I spat your name as the door swung


V.

The Law saw my despair
and her pistol hand was mercy;

She shot me twice

and waited

for the light in my eyes to go out

estelle

a summer dream
we speak of love
in birdsong

do not poison
the air with your
“sentences”

do not focus your
“attention”

i would work a lifetime
for 5 minutes more

with her

The Devil Never Settled

I sat for perhaps a lifetime
my hands clutching nothing
as I rocked in the perfect black

I found my feet slowly
When finally I could breathe again
and found the pool more slowly still

“Further West, I’d wager,” I whispered
as I eased in to the frigid water feet-first
and filled my lungs with all the air they’d take

In a moment I was submerged
in another I was swimming under sea and stone
It wasn’t long before I saw the sun again.

pretty sure this is the end

of a thing i’ve labored over for a long time now
and while it’s not yet a reality—the reality of it is sinking in
the foolishness of what got us here
the failures and the lack of sleep

we’ve built a thing of which we’re damn proud
and it will be time to lay it down and walk away
and we thought it was years in the future
and now it’s increasingly clear that it might be weeks

the failures and the lack of sleep and
the foolishness of what got here are
never far from my mind

sleep will come though, i say with some confidence
because long before the thing itself ended
resignation came.

keeping to my self

i noticed in
the back seat of your car
that you do not breath
but beg for life

sucking in and
pushing out

and i am a minute counter

it is for common courtesy
that i waste this time with you

s
o

how many notes
am i to play
in your silent
composition,
susan?

for what should i solve
in your bad math
equation?

i frantically try
at the right words to keep yours
from coming

but our energies repel

and i like it that way.

Almost Paradise

“You’ve come so far,” you whispered
as you wrapped me in warm arms
robbing all my breath from me

“You know I can’t come with you.”
I felt you say in to my chest,
my arms finally overlapping yours

“I swear you’ll see me again.”
you crackled, tightening your hold
even as you began to fade away

You took the light when you left;
With hands and knees I found the cave floor
and laid my tears there in the darkness

in over my head again like last time but this time a little deeper than last time hoping no one notices that i cant even hear them because i’m so far under

a big step up comes with a massive serving of humble pie
and this time it’s mixed with pecans and sweet potatoes
so i’m probably not going to be able to avoid binging on it

there is a way i feel about
things i cannot control and
when i put my arm out
hoping to stop what’s in motion i
find seatbelts were created for a
reason and reason is usually in
the way of doing what’s actually
good

so i wake up again and head back in, stuffed full of pie
and carrying along my now worthless broken arm in a
sling across my front trying to look professional

professional: a difficult look for someone who has learned
to live contorted in to a pretzel with foot firmly stuck in
mouth.

professional: a difficult look for someone who has learned
that fighting overconsumption of self-induced humility is a
lost cause i’ll never win.

professional: a difficult look for someone who never wears socks
and finds the thought of underwear overwhelming.

but this is a big step up. a big step up they tell me. for reasons.