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

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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

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.

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

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.

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

The Queen A Muse

I came to on a slab of hard rock
my eyes adjusting to the soft blue light
peering through a thin crack in the cave roof

Seasoked clothes clung to my skin
as I rolled my sore body to the side
working slow to stand before gazing around

You were there next to a gentle pool
there was a glow about your bedclothes
and a gentle brightness in your smile

We stood in the cool of our breathing
until you stepped forward to touch my shoulder;
I couldn’t say a word

The King A Prophet

I made tracks through the sandy beach
closing on the vast blue sea
which calmed and quieted with each step

There was only a yard between us
when the sea became stock still,
the air a perfect chill, and silent

I stopped a moment, hearing only my heart,
the quiet breaking as the sea exploded,
thundering upward in a great pillar

The watery monolith roiled as it blocked the sun
“Hello, old friend,” I whispered in its shadow;
it shuddered once, then crashed down to consume me

Gates of Paradise

I made my way through sand-set grasses
beneath the heat of the high noon sun
falling forward with each soft step

The salt-air harassed my hair and clothes
The rumble of the unstoppable growing louder
I found myself on a short dune-cliff

The sea stretched out immeasurable
rolling softly beneath a nearly cloudless sky
its vista unmarred by passing ships or seabirds

“As cold as it ever was,” I murmured
as I dropped my pack in the yellow stand
climbing down to the beach below

God was a Sailor

My body rose first the next morning
awoken in part by the rattling cold
I stood watching the sun a horizon away

The tin kettle was near the top of my kit
the black grounds in the bottom were thick
“Just a taste sometimes,” I muttered, stoking smoking coals

When I descended toward the water
it was full on oats and coffee
and with steps unsure as they were careful

By the time the sunrise had ceased
I was half-way down the mountain
with only the great blue sea in my sights

Breadth of Heaven

It must have been twelve hours
Though the dark laid useless my pocket watch,
I could have counted clacks

As the car slowed beneath my flour-bag perch
I pushed the slide-door wide
leaping to beat the bulls

I rolled to and stopped in a pile
my eyes finally finding me on a mountaintop
overlooking a great wide sea

The dusk set in as the freighter set out
“Mountain’s cold as scorn,” I mumbled gathering fuel;
I found no serpents under fallen brush

Northport Angels

In the afternoon sun
I could have heard my fits of coughing
but for the freight train’s clatter

you were somewhere near the ocean
“I’m sure of it now.” I said from my knees;
My feet found ground beneath me

My pack lay heavy on my shoulders
the blood nearly reddening my cheeks
my tracks leading to the freighter-line’s

the clatter had ceased by then
and it was just a short climb inside
to the long ride up the mountains

The Devil Went West

In the autumn dark
between silence and sleep
I’d thought you could be found

I fumbled with my switchblade
When I heard the racket
Just beyond the edge of the clearing

there was a rustling then
a whisper to the din that had come before
and the viper slid up my leg as carelessly

“What did you do with her?” I asked unanswered
while the fangs found my deepest reddest vein;
I was dead by morning

Hanna

What do you say to me?
you asked me on night by telephone,
when I call you you crying,
how do you calm me down?

I tell you that I love you,
I replied from atop my car hood
behind No Fun House,
and that things will get better.

You always kept that sugar
in the back of your throat,
and it fooled folks in to thinking
that you felt better than great

Four years is a decent stretch
for two friends to fail to connect
but I guess it makes good sense
that we failed the way we did

When you called me at 1am
three winters ago, I wish I would
have spent more time telling you
that I love you like I always had

When you called me at 1am
three winters ago, I wish I would
have taken just a moment to say
that things were going to be OK.

I guess I would have been a liar
but I love you still – it’s still easy to love
And I’m sorry things never got better
Even though I always said they would

If Time Could Travel Backwards Part 7

All the money in your pocket
for a brand new ’79 Ford truck
with custom ordered everything
with a radio that wails
nearly as loud as the gasoline motor
burning rubber beneath a Carolina moon
You’ve been drinking a little
and so has the man to your left
but you get home safe regardless
and didn’t hurt that truck of yours
as it sits rusting in the driveway
just like it has
For decades
It’s 2017
and you haven’t seen your oldest son in 4 years

Billy

Billy lost his thirties
To hard drugs and cheap booze
And a wife that didn’t love him

He lost his money because
He couldn’t stop himself
When the crack-pipe came around
And besides, the boys on Cork street
Always treated him right

Billy lost his stride to gas station food
And he lost swagger to head trauma

He even lost his luck on pawn

And now he’ll lose his forties
To the tumor that’s growing
In the roof of his mouth
But he’ll never lose that look in his eye,
not that horrible broken one.

Not til the day he dies.

if time could travel backwards part 6

I would knock you over
before your new soft skin
ever touched the fire

I would let you slide
when you needed to
even if I hated it

Instead of snapping back
or head-butting
I would take more hits
more stoically,
I would take your lashing
with much more grace

But later when your skin was tough
I’d let you take your scrapes head-on
without an unsolicited word,
with all the fury of a desert storm

Fury there would be

And I would hope and wish and dream
that when a cold-front came in
you would thrash beyond it’s milding

You would burn bright forever

and sometimes I would light my torch with yours

If I could make time travel backwards
and make you whole and even
I’d give you everything I could.

Everything.

Summer Cold

It’s the cough that kills me.

‘Too warm for this.’ I think
to myself out loud as the shiver
sets deep in to my bones
– just for a moment –
as the crickets chirp
just outside my window.

This old blanket serves
just as good as new
for to swaddle me up
and keep me warm in this
65-degree-Fahrenheit night

And I lay awake wheezing
and wiping clear snot
on to the back of my hand
until it’s saturated enough
to flail to find my kerchief
– an old cotton T-shirt
that I’d already worn.

The chirping seems to swell
with the unconscious chatter
of my arms and guts – and
everything, as far as I
can tell – and it would
fade again, I’m sure,
if not for this headache.

‘Ain’t it just the way?’
I yell to the uncaring crickets,
‘Sore throat in the middle
of Goddamn June!’

It’s the cough, though,
the stupid fucking cough,
that gets me every time.