Previously published by Literary Yard.


Man, listen. You can petition the Lord with prayer, but that’s not going to change anything. And deep inside Joey knows that, even if she doesn’t admit it. She is well-aware her prayers, sparking votive candles, isn’t going to crack the sky open, recruit warrior angels for her plight. There are no angels, no damn hallowed horns. But Joey is a mother. And mothers will move mountains, reroute rivers, and slay three-headed dogs to help—to save—their children. Honor Roll students, brats, even the wild ones. Even the lost ones. Doesn’t matter. A mother’s love is as illogical as Joey dropping loose change into a metal box and playing with matches in a darkened building. All in hope, the Great Magician Jesus might volunteer his grace. Shit just doesn’t work that way.

The coins from Joey’s bingo purse echo loud when they clatter into the donation box. Makes her head go ding-dong. Makes her look around the cavernous room she has found herself in, to see if she is disturbing the peace. Or the priest. Nah, nothing and no one is there. Peace caught the last rail out of town. Father Whoever, who knows? Vacant. About as vacant as the Madonna face Joey looks up at.

The holy-paradoxical Virgin-Mother holds an offspring of her own. And, hell, we all know how that story ends. Maybe Mary should’ve been more careful about who she let Jesus hang around with. I mean that dude Judas was a bad egg from way back in the sandbox days. Joey could’ve learned from that fable. But she didn’t.

Before she departs the church, Joey half-kneels, half-sits her large ass in a wooden pew. Butchers some prayers she hasn’t recited since catechism days. All without shame. Not so sure about pride. She thinks about being home alone, late at night, with nothing to listen to but the yakety-yak-yak on talk radio. Insipid chatter she swears makes her mind melt and her ears bleed. But what else is there? The cadence of her life has become ragged. Ragged, indeed. Joey leaves the funhouse of worship and drives toward her desolate dwelling. Home, sweet, home.

Joey is clueless. Masquerades on, blind. Never learned doubt and faith cannot coexist. She possesses an intractable non-belief that bad occurrences happen to good people all the time. The self-help, self-parenting books, audio tapes, and reality-television-self-proclaimed gurus all prove to be the frauds they are. False prophets. Nothing more than that whole wolf in sheep’s clothing con. Bastard money changers who never return on her investment, return her daughter back to her.

Joey is controlled by ignorance. That’s how she lives. Exists. She has tried hypnotism, meditation, professional counseling, even advice from the blue-haired seers at the local beauty salon. One time, she burned sage throughout the house—at a televangelist’s urging—and nearly burned down her home. Has even read twice, the Amazon-gifted book received from her mother—Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. More like chicken shit salad for fools.   

To her great demise, Joey lacks any inkling of imagination. Self-introspection. Fails to understand the final product—the result—is never the tool. That people can’t be saved, only loved. Yet, she trudges onward through her morass of solutions for a problem she cannot even identify. Doesn’t want to identify. And just like the echo them nickels and dimes made back in the church; Joey creates her own. An echo of nothingness. An echo of her thoughts, going ding-dong once again in her head.


How can a seventeen-year-old girl straight-out of intramural-twirling end up hooking and shooting drugs? It’s your fault, blame yourself. No, that’s not really it. Can’t be it. Probably the school’s fault. Them liberal teachers. That weirdo guidance counselor, Mr. Babbitt, who always wears them flooders and I swear to Christ he ogles all the students, boys and girls alike. It’s society in general with them fucked up Netflix teen-dramas and dirty rap lyrics. The horoscope in Weight Watchers predicted this shit. Remember? Said a turn for the worse was coming for someone close to you. You’re crazy. That bullshit ain’t real. Fucking real enough now. Chicken soup for the soul, my ass. Did Uncle Philip molest her when she was young, and no one saw? Asked to see her privates, saying, you know honey, down there. Was that it? He ain’t right in the head either. Fucking sex-maniac. Going through women like nobody’s business. I’ll castrate that bastard. Let me find out.


This is when Joey should’ve understood life isn’t always fair. But she can’t grasp that second-grade level-logic. Not many do. Unless of course they’re forced to. Lose control of the wheel and recognize fast, Jesus ain’t grabbing shit. Better do something quick or the car’s going to crash. And the booze? Well, let’s just say that whole whiskey bottle, wing, and a prayer nonsense usually ends up not too good. Regardless of how cool it sounds. And Joey pouring vodka down her throat is like a windstorm for a prairie fire. Burn, baby, burn.


It’s not just fate, shit don’t just happen. The shoe doesn’t just drop. Fucking boots been stomping all over this damn house. What’s that supposed to mean?  It’s your fault. No, I love her. Always did. Don’t you dare start thinking about what was or what could’ve been, should have been, was supposed to be. Remember way back in the crib? Smiles for Grammy and coo-laughing like only a baby can. Fuck no, don’t do that. Don’t go there. That shit’s just going to send you deeper into the black. Damn, that Stoli-Dew cocktail taste like fire. Made it too strong. What I need is a cocktail, minus the tail. What’s wrong with you? How can you think like that at a time like this? Fucking Dingoes. Fucking Netflix. She was such a cute baby.


If anyone asked Cherry how the dope made her feel, she would’ve said, “Like melted sunshine.” That she could smell tranquility and hear beautiful Sirens from distant shorelines. Ain’t that shit cool? But the cold concrete and stench from the filth that surrounds her says, “We’ve determined that’s a lie! You are a junkie.” The sad truth being, though—the real truth—is the dope-lies are more honest than anything she has ever been taught or told. Wisdom is weird that way. It can be sought and found in the strangest of places, by unknown unorthodox means. Especially for those who live on radical rounded edges. More so for those whose edges were first sanded smooth, then chipped away over time. Like Cherry’s. Just like that. Just the way it is. The way it’s always been. See, early on, no one could have foretold, been made aware of, the emptiness that lurked below her surface, monsters who lived underneath her bed. Even an unrelenting scouting of all the corners, around all the blocks in town, would have failed to detect the danger dogs who patiently await.

Cherry’s childhood was a pastoral doctrine of suburban sterileness. Shared family dinners, school, and a warm and safe house. Play sports, stay out of courts. Do your homework, don’t take candy from strangers, never accept a ride from someone you don’t know. Yet, random chance, unscrupulous serendipity, infiltrated her Saturday Evening Post existence. Not the girl next door, not the boy up in his treehouse, but Cherry. Cherry, who lies prone and high and hopes she’s sober enough for her next shift at the Artful Dodger Strip Club.     

She’s so currently fucked-up, she isn’t aware someone is shaking her. Unaware of salt water injected into her veins. She only wants to know why she is being slapped, wants to stop the obtrusive hand upsetting her high. But Cherry doesn’t want to move. She floats on all-too-real fluffy white clouds. Paradise. Ecstasy. Golden slumbers. Everything everyone ever told her about the beauty of life, but she never saw. All that noise, manifested and embraced in an abandoned basement of an abandoned tractor factory on the bad side of town. Life is so simple. Life is wonderful.


At her childhood home, Cherry’s mom, Joey, tries hard to unscramble her three-minute egg mind. Stop them damn bells that ring in her brain. She needs to figure this shit out. And fast. Needs to save her daughter. Maybe just love her.


You should have recognized the signs the first time she got jammed up shoplifting the cherry flavored gloss—is that where she got that goddamn name from—who the hell calls themselves Cherry? Fucking tramp. Stop, that’s your daughter. When she stopped coming home for dinner, that was a warning. Was it when she called Mrs. Jones a cunt and screeched like an alley cat? Her scrunched-up mean face was so scary. Even scared you. Even you backed up after she hissed like some feral beast. And the look in her eyes. Such hate. Yeah, maybe that was the time. But at dinner that night she cried like the schoolgirl she is, sobbed she was sorry so much she choked on her own snot. I rubbed her back and helped her breathe. Remember? Maybe it was then. Maybe not. Fuck me, I don’t know. Don’t even matter, does it? Fucking Philip. Them teachers, that pedo-guidance creep. Nah, none of it don’t matter, ‘cause she’s still dancing and hooking over on Chestnut at that sleazy club. You should go over there and grab her straight off the stage. Call the cops. She’s underage. They’re going to blame me if I do. Say I knew all about it, way back when. Delinquency to a minor or some other shit crime on the books. Lock my ass up too. Fuck. You knew that boyfriend, Chester, was no good, but you didn’t say shit. Wanted to be the cool mom. Too old. Chester the molester. Ain’t that what you said? Yeah, you want a do-over on that one. Shut up. She’s probably shooting dope right now in that closed-down tractor factory. You should go over there. Right now! You did it before. It didn’t help. Call the cops. I can’t, that’s my daughter, jail is worse. Not worse than being dead. Maybe.


Cherry’s drug-induced bliss is off-kilter. Unbridled. Somewhere, somehow, in some deep recess of her being, she knows something is wrong this time. The nod heavier. The peaceful feeling of being underwater interrupted by a thickness like concrete poured over her. She believes she is still smiling, but that damn hand still slaps her. She’s twisted and turned. Sideways. Upside down. Angry shouts shatter her calm. She foggily tells herself she’ll be fine for her shift at the Dodger. But everything is so far away. Hang on to the high as long as you can, baby girl, hang on. Float on them fluffy clouds.

Cherry splashes in a kiddie pool. Water goes up her nose and her eyes tear-up. She spins on a round-about, see-saws high into the air. Other girls shout and scream as they run around and play kickball. Cherry is not sure if she wants to join in the game. Decides she should sit this raucous recess period out. Everything is so loud. No longer fun. She realizes—understands—she’s unable to move. Want doesn’t have shit to do with it. Everyone else runs. Their heavy thudding footsteps sound like a herd of horses. The white clouds turn black. A storm is coming. Cherry loses her smile.


On the other side of town, Joey thinks hard. At least hard for her. In life and in time everything is relative in the end. No one can fuck with physics or mathematics or the truth. No matter how they try. They are what they are. Everything is what it is. Even if we don’t want them to be. It’s all quite simple, the gods will destroy those they first make promising, even if only on a whim. Joey has no idea.


You’re all fucked up. Why are you thinking about dingoes? Stupid-ass Animal Planet at two am while I waited up for her to come home and she never did. That was the first time. Remember? And you bought that bullshit story that she fell asleep at Donna’s house. You know that didn’t pass the smell test. The way she looked. All raggedy and worn-out like she was drinking all night. You should’ve called Donna’s mother. Yeah, right. And what’s that say about me if she wasn’t there, or if she was? Says I don’t have no handle on my own daughter. What sixteen-year-old gets drunk? Not my baby girl. Yeah, right. Probably up all night sucking cock. What the fuck is wrong with you? You’re her mother. Them fucking dingoes are better mothers than you. At least they protect their babies. I’ve tried everything I can. Didn’t I even go to Assumption Church today? Doesn’t that help? Doesn’t that count for something? Would’ve been better off having some witchdoctors slit a chicken’s throat or do a dance. Throw them bones on the ground, or whatever the fuck they do. Saw that shit on the History channel. You need Jesus in your life. He’s real now, isn’t he? Lord knows when the cold wind blows it will turn your head around. James Taylor? Really? You’re fucked up. If anyone is to blame, it’s her no-good father. Fucker off somewhere halfway across the country. Don’t even know what’s going on. Playing house with that slut bitch he met. Thinks he’s so much better than everyone else. Momma’s boy. Always was, always will be. You need to tell him. Call him. Fuck no, I’m not giving that bastard the satisfaction of throwing shit in my face. Say I’m a bad mother. Maybe it will help. You know it’s better than all this. No, I’m not doing that. This isn’t about you, it’s about your daughter for Christ’s sake. Fuck him. Bastard. Get the keys. We’re going over to that factory.


Joey white-knuckles the steering wheel, shakes involuntarily. Red lights are reminders, stop signs, rumors. Manmade laws, universal decrees set in stone, nah, fuck that. All proverbial bets are off. Joey believes her mind is clearer than it has been in weeks. Focused on one task. Save her daughter. Save what’s left of her life. Save herself. OK, maybe three.

She turns her car left onto Maple Avenue, pumps the brakes, and narrowly misses an old man on a walk with his dog. She gasps, the dog barks, the old man gives her the finger and calls her a whore. He shrinks and disappears in the rearview mirror. Those images, though, are always closer than they appear. Joey doesn’t dig that, either. Her SUV roars to the intersection of Elm and Chestnut.


Christ, don’t kill somebody trying to save her. Slow down. It’s right here, right onto Chestnut. Why are all these streets named after trees? Who thought of that? Why are you thinking about that? Fuck. Just up ahead, see the factory stacks? What are we going to do? Just grab her ass by the arm and drag her out of there. I swear to God I’ll punch one of them junkie scumbags in the face if they try to stop me, say anything. No one said shit the other time, they were all doped up, too. You should’ve brought a gun. I don’t own a gun. A bat. Something. Fuck them, I’ll kill them with my bare hands. Take her home. Put her to bed. Maybe straight to the hospital. She just needs to be home. I’ll make a nice dinner. Breaded cutlets. Her favorite. Gotta go to the supermarket. Maybe just some pasta dish. Are those lights? What are all those flashing lights?


The SUV slides to a stop atop white gravel. A cloud of dust raises up. Just like in those cop dramas on TV. Joey runs from her vehicle, leaves the driver-side door wide open. Warning bells sound a steady cadence. Ding-dong. Beep-beep. An officer grabs Joey. Asks who she is. States they received an anonymous call about an accidental overdose. Leads her to an ambulance after Joey screams, “I’m here to save my daughter, motherfucker.”  

With no delicate pageantry, no preparedness or ritual, an EMT worker nonchalantly pulls back the top of a black tarp covering a prone body on a gurney. Reveals a deceased ghost-faced corpse. Joey struggles to breathe. Falls to her knees and releases a scream. A primordial scream that has resonated through ages. Just like in the movies. But this ain’t no movie. This shit is as real as it gets. The scream of a mother who has witnessed the death of a child before her own is a hideous pierce. The police officer is shaken. Almost embarrassed. He lifts Joey up, holds onto her tight. Out of the chalk-dust and strewn rubble. Away from the waste. Holds her so she won’t collapse again. Not now, not yet.

For the first time in a year, Joey’s mind is blank. Holds no thoughts. Nothing. Zero. Nada. Zilch. The EMT worker recovers the body in full and breaks-down the gurney into the ambulance. Makes a hell of a racket. When he drives away, all is quiet. No lights. No sirens.

Unanswerable questions will be asked not to Joey, but by people who walk on streets named after trees in their bucolic suburban neighborhood. They’ll pray to the God of their choice and give thanks it wasn’t them. This time. Tonight, at dinner, and every night after, Joey will set a place for only one at her dining room table. She will eat alone, left to her thoughts.



(Previously published in The Rye Whiskey Review)

Lost members of a forgotten tribe

Backstreet Battle Kids live on round edges


Avoid lions at feeding time


Soul sisters who dance for dollars and Delta Blues

splash in stale beer on fringe midnight madness


Rancorous song sang loose and loud  

homeless heretics pose as sacred saints


Quarters dropped into stone Wurlitzers

rogue relics and fairy tale yarns


Wait for Magi fear almighty Ra

unholy tales from unholy scribes


Scatter and dodge uncovered mirrors

Backstreet Battle Kids circumvent the sun


Avoid lions at feeding time

Just Like Mrs. Wisenheart’s Christmas Show


(Previously published in Down in the Dirt magazine)

Just Like Mrs. Wisenheart’s Christmas Show

I’m ridin’ a elevator sixteen floors down to my death. Maybe to hell. Least that’s what will happen, that’s what’ll be like, if I get caught killin’ Sandman. They be sure to lock me up and throw away the key. Put my ass under the jailhouse. Maybe I’ll get shot. Killed. For real. One way ticket to meet the devil. Shit be over then. Know what I’m sayin’? Dudes who kill other people don’t get into heaven. That’s a biggie in the Ten Commandments.

I checked my Kobe shorts on the eleventh floor, made sure my piece was good. Know I need to be strapped proper once I step off the elevator, once I walk over to the corner of Cloister and Franklin. It’s really Cloister and Euclid, but everyone calls it Franklin now, since he, Franklin, was killed by the police there. Happened a couple years ago. Remember? Shot him for no damn reason. Some folks in the neighborhood made a shrine-thingy, memorial for him. Right there on the corner where Franklin was lit up by PoPo. People left candles and flowers and stuffed bears and shit. Cardboard signs with glitter and magic markers sayin’ RIP. All the shorties and family, aunts and cousins, everybody was cryin’. Shit was fucked.

Some minister dude fought City Hall to rename the street. Name it for Franklin. But like I said, that was a few years back and the street sign still say Euclid. I think that’s some white guy who invented math or somethin’. Some shit like that. Don’t know what this Euclid dude got to do with all of us scrappin’ down here, though. Shit’s crazy. Life’s crazy. Dyin’ crazier. Feel me?

Hell, after I kill Sandman, I’m gonna see ‘bout changin’ the name myself. Change it from Euclid to Stephen Street. For real. All official-like. Get done what that preacher man couldn’t. The way they done Stephen was grimy. He was my best friend. He was killed on that corner, too. Killed by Sandman. Over a fuckin’ dice game. You’ll believe dat? A fuckin’ dice game. Ain’t no one lit no candles, left no Teddy bears for him, but I’m ‘bout to make everything right, come correct for my homeboy. Get some get-back for Stephen. Kill Sandman and fight City Hall my damn self.

I been friends with Stephen since back in the day. When we was little. Our moms used to be best friends too, but all that went south when we all went on a summer trip together out in the country. Me and Stephen was ’bout nine or ten. That summer vacay, they was some of the best times of my life. I ain’t quite sure what happened, but our moms got in some serious beef and told me and Stephen we can’t be friends no more. 

It happened on a Sunday. Me and Stephen took a whole bunch of little plastic mass cards from church and put them in our bicycle spokes. Made us sound like we was ridin’ motorbikes. We rode so god-awful fast and them cards were just screamin’ all loud and shit in our tires. Rode all over. Then we got so god-awful hungry we went home for lunch. Wheeled our bikes into our yards and I heard Aunt Mary, that’s Stephen’s mom, she ain’t really my aunt, but that’s what I call her, I hear Aunt Mary yellin’ from the porch, It was your son, not mine.  Then my moms yell back, No, whore, not him. Don’t call my son a sinner. And then Stephen’s mom threw a rock at us, and shouted somethin’ like, Clean up your own house. Shit crazy, right?

Momma grabbed up on my hand and dragged me inside the house after that. Told me we was goin’ home and I couldn’t play with Stephen no more. Ever. Shit, I remember I was still mad- hungry and asked Momma if she was gonna still bake bread and make sandwiches with the fish her and Aunt Mary caught from the river. We was s’pose to have a fish fry that day. She looked at me real hard and all and says somethin’ like, Not with these hands, no, no, my child, not with these hands. And that was that. Me and Stephen didn’t listen, though. We still hung out. Was still best friends. I don’t even know why I’m thinkin’ ‘bout all this shit, though. I got grown man business to take care of. 

On my way down, I thought of other weird stuff too. Like who the hell is Otis? I see this dude’s name Otis on all the elevators in all the buildings. He must own them. Puts his name on them to let folks know. I guarantee you he’s mad rich. You’ll know how many elevators there are in the ’jects? I’m just sayin’. Shit, I bet he don’t even live in the buildings with his elevators he got so much money. Probably lives in some big ole castle on top of some hill surrounded by water with alligators and sharks. Ain’t no stick-up boys gonna fuck wit’ him. Probably got mean pitties, too. Wish I was Otis. Wish I had loot like him. Wish Stephen was still alive.

And then as I’m thinkin’ all these crazy thoughts, the damn elevator jerked to a stop. All loud and sudden-like. Scared me. Guess you could say I was a little jumpy. And Mr. Lucius got on. He brushed up against me and must of felt the ratchet I had hid. He grilled me mean hard, and then he says, What you up to today, Michael?

And I says, Nothing.

And he says, Mm-hmm.

And then we both were quiet for a minute. And then Mr. Lucius just start talkin’ without being asked nothin’. Starts sayin’ some shit like, I knew a youngblood ‘bout your age. Fourteen, right? He did something real foolish. Thought because he was a young’un, he would only do a short bid in juvy. Well, he was right and wrong. He did time in juvy, but it wasn’t short. Kept him to his twenty-first birthday. Seven long years. And then Mr. Lucius leans his face all serious at mines and stares. And I just looked up at him. And he get off the elevator on the fourth floor and says, Have a good day, Michael.

And I say, You too, Mr. Lucius.

Like he knew what I was plannin’. But he didn’t faze me. His words did made some sense, though. Seven years is a long time, but I’m prepared for all that. Told you all that already. A little part of me kinda wished he had stayed and talked, though. I like Mr. Lucius, wished he had stayed and talked.

When the elevator reached the bottom, I didn’t fall through the floor and crash. End up in hell. None of that, but I was burnin’ up anyways. Had sweat on my forehead, sweat above my lip, but I just wiped myself with my shirt and kept on. Business to take care of.

On my way over to Cloister and Franklin I stopped at Mr. Lee’s bodega. I was dumb thirsty. I got a bottle of water and when I went to pay Mr. Lee, he asked me if I could help him put a big box of plastic cups up on a shelf and the water be free. So, I helped him. When I stretched my arms up, and we put that big ole box up on the shelf, my shirt raised up and Mr. Lee peeked my gun. His eyes were open. I mean wide open. And I just kinda stood there. Embarrassed. Felt grimy. And Mr. Lee says, Michael, what’s that?

And I says, Nothin’.

And Mr. Lee says, Michael. No good. You good boy. You good family. This not good.

And I say, Thanks for the water, Mr. Lee. I got to go.

And he says, Michael. You stay. Talk to Mr. Lee.

And I just left.

Why everyone want to talk to me all of the sudden? Ain’t no one ever want to talk to me before. I drank my water.

When I got a half block away from Cloister and Franklin, I was mad hype. Just not in a good way. I saw Sandman just like I knew I would. Shootin’ dice. All smiles and laughin’ and dappin’ everyone. I thought of Stephen, and I shivered and got crazy goose bumps on my arms even though it was crazy hot. My stomach was doin’ flipflops. Reminded me of how I felt when I had to play a solo on the bells in front of everyone for a Christmas show. Back when I was in Mrs. Wisenheart’s class. Back in third or fourth grade. Damn, that was so long ago. I really liked Mrs. Wisenheart. She was always nice. I smiled and then got super-heated at myself for bein’ soft. Fuck Mrs. Wisenheart. Where she now? What good any of that do me?

And then I had one of them out-of-body experiences I heard about once. Like I was floatin’ above the streets watchin’ myself headin’ back home. Like a dream. Saw myself walk past Mr. Lee’s store, past Mr. Lucius in the lobby, and I saw myself ride Mr. Otis’ elevator back up to the sixteenth floor. Like I was there but wasn’t. Some bugged-out shit. I crept all quiet-like into my crib. Mama didn’t even hear me. She was watchin’ one of them holy-rollin’ rich guys on TV talkin’ ’bout how the good Lord is gonna save us for a small donation of cheddar. Yeah, right. Now that there is some hustle shit, but Mama Dukes didn’t even fidget. I saw me sneak into my brother’s room and put the gat back into the Nike shoebox on top of the closet shelf where he hides it. He don’t think I know it’s there, but obviously I do. Fixed his shit up just right so he wouldn’t even be suspicious. Then I went and sat on the couch with my moms and said, Ma, remember the time I played the bells in the Christmas show in Mrs. Wisenheart’s class? Mama smiled and rubbed her hand on top of my head and called me, honey. Shit felt good.

And then I was floatin’ again. Watchin’ myself again. I stepped hard up to the corner. No one said nothin’. No one paid me no mind. They all just went on laughin’ and frontin’ and playin’ dice. A lot of little niggas my age watch the older dudes play dice and ball and shit, and sometimes we join ’em. Like Stephen done. But not many, if any, of them little-ass niggas do what I’m ’bout to do. I reached into my waistband and took up my brother’s gat. Someone said something like, Oh, shit, little homie got a Glock. I pointed the gun at Sandman and said, This for Stephen.

Dudes started scatterin’. Some girls screamed. Sandman looks at me shook as could be. Craziest thing is I saw Mrs. Wisenheart’s face again. And I was seein’ myself again. Like some kinda ghost. Like I was performin’ in some movie. Puttin’ on a show. Just like Mrs. Wisenheart’s Christmas Show. And then Sandman was about to run, and I squeezed that motherfuckin’ trigger hard and saw fire flash and heard thunder roar. Then everything went black. Everything got dark. Like someone switched off the lights.    



(Previously published in Abandoned Mine Journal.)


Easter Sunday and no one has called

No chocolate treats or rainbow beans

In my hollow stone-covered tomb  

Spring flowers wilt from fetid stench


I am sober now, I’ve stopped drinking

How long? Long enough

Not drinking is hard

Drinking is harder


A tarnished cross nailed on a stained white wall

A single sunbeam refuses to reflect

I hopelessly hope for angels and salvation

Nothing happens I hear no hallowed horn


I am sober now, I’ve stopped drinking

How long? Long enough

Not drinking is hard

Drinking is harder


A bearded man is in my mirror

It is me, no, not Him

I pour a triple double neat 

I am resurrected I am damned



Previously published in Impspired


I looked everywhere—

Behind the spiral speared iron fence that

protected Sister Mary and Father Joe from the

unclean masses

Behind the stick of the Coliseum Bar

Dr. John shoo-shoo-shooing me away

I even looked in the great big lost and found box

down at the Salvation Army

He was nowhere to be found

I thought I saw Him in Wal-Mart but that

was just some really big fat guy who glided on a

scooter and bought Ding-Dongs only for himself

Thought I spied Him in the liquor store buying

Crown Royal and Lucky Strikes

but it wasn’t Him

just some oily dude about to get greased


I was lied to

God was nowhere to be found


A little boy told by his mother his

dog didn’t die but was on a farm—happy—

with Old MacDonald and

all the other undeclared dead   



Previously published in Impspired


Chillin’ with Chelsea, but

only for a while


Dharma Bums and Expanded Keats took me back

way, way, back

Further than I needed to go

My dream-bag dragged across the barroom floor and

I could’ve stayed like old times, when wolves circled the door

Distant days echoed a maddening crowd

Broken brittle leaves shadowed unwelcomed hordes

I had to, but didn’t want to,

go back home

to an empty kitchen, parlor, bedroom, too

Autumn branches tapped dirty on cracked window panes

Whiskey and Winstons replaced your charms

At least until tomorrow,

when I’ll be,


Chillin’ with Chelsea, but                                                                     

only for a while



Accepted for publication in Drunk Monkeys.


Death births an offspring of silence. Not silence due to lack of noise, but a silence of finality. Like watching falling stars. We marvel at the glow, the brightness in the night sky, all the time knowing the star has long ago faded and burned out.

Death’s silence stands next to us at the ready, dares us to speak. Threatens to smack words out of our mouths and trounce them if we even contemplate uttering a phrase. And so I didn’t. At least I don’t think I did.

When told Sam had finally succumbed to her cancer, I ended the phone call the same as I hoped her life ended. Quiet. Answered. Unabashed. I thought of ogres, drunk with fury, gurgling beneath a bridge as they danced naked for the great god Pan. Saw a tribe of goats hidden behind clay masks mock each other as they hooved the ground and rutted. Murderous crows cawed and blackened the sky.   


Concrete paths were covered in autumn leaves and except for an occasional maintenance man riding by in a golf cart, Sam and I had Bear Mountain Park to ourselves. We walked through the zoo, but most of the animals were housed for the fast approaching winter. On a wooden bench reinforced with cold steel, beneath the great bronze Walt Whitman statue, the father of free verse eavesdropped on mine and Sam’s conversation.

“So what’s up? What’s the big talk we need?”

“That,” Sam said, as she pointed to a pint of Canadian Club I had just taken out of my jacket pocket.


“That’s all you’ve been doing, lately. Drinking. You’re not you when you do. It’s too much. Too much, now.”


“And you won’t even talk about it. That’s what I fucking hate. You won’t even talk.”

And to confirm her assessment, I said nothing. I returned the bottle to my pocket and we sat in silence. Silence loud, like being sucker punched in the back of the head. As I hoped for some magical words to fall from the sky to break the current stalemate Sam and I were embroiled in, I leaned my head backwards over the bench and saw nothing but Whitman’s behemoth nostrils. Finding no wisdoms there, I said, “C’mon, let’s go see if the bears are out.”

Sam smiled.

We walked to the bear enclave.

Three of the great bruins were outside, one nosing a giant ball around their concrete den. The other two lounged, but sniffed our scent in the air as we watched them from above. Sam loved the bears. She’d ask them silly questions and laugh aloud whenever they looked at her. I was sure the beasts were answering her in a language only she could understand. Only she could decipher. They bonded like kin, and Sam always said her only wish in life was to set free the bears. To devise a strategy—some super-awesome-crazy bear jailbreak—to aid them in their great escape, to see them run wild through the woods of their namesake mountain.  

“I wish we had food for them.”

“Sign says don’t feed the bears.”

“Yeah, but I bet everybody does.”

“Think they’d like my whiskey?”

Sam frowned.


Sam was right about my drinking, but as I sat alone in the minutes after I had heard of her death, none of that mattered. What really does? So many times in life we are harried, driven to near madness believing some obstacle, some crucible, is going to destroy our world and lay our lives to waste and ruin. Yet time passes, the proverbial dust settles, and we live on. Move on.

Convinced death is the only true constant, and after I further pondered Sam’s demise, I poured myself a long drink. The alcohol was good, but the alcohol also brought on a cavalcade of emotions and unwanted rebel memories.

I felt guilty about Sam’s death. Guilty that I was so angry and selfish she was no longer in my life. Not that she had suffered and died, but that she was taken from me. A great pang of regret and remorse for dismissing Sam’s concerns regarding my drinking palled over me. There were many nights of drunkenness and some cruelty, yet she always forgave. Always stood by my side.

Why hadn’t I stopped? Why did I dismiss her caring love so brazenly? I had failed to open my heart for her, correct my faults, and a roughshod band of demons and saints unleashed a bevy of condemnations on my being. Forced me to ask a torrent of questions I had always avoided, introspection I vehemently refused to acknowledge.

Do our hearts hold our fates, or do they become shattered by societal norms and preconceived expectations?

Do we fail due to the ineptitude of those who were responsible to raise and nurture us— valiant parents and extended family—or do the gods lay all to waste on a whim and destroy those they first made promising?  

Do we—some of us—harbor a defective gene, which craves self-destruction and make us act immorally, even as we recognize morality and long to embrace it lovingly?

Why, if we were created in God’s image, do we willingly strive to raze ourselves to a baseless existence of unworthiness?

I poured another drink.

It helped.

I cleared my mind and let it wander free.

As free as bears running through wild woods. 


On the banks of the Hudson, on the opposite shoreline of Bear Mountain, Sam told me she could hear the bears in their den. Could smell them. I told her she was crazy, but the look she gave me was so innocent, so sure, I reconsidered my doubt.

As we stood at the water’s edge, the borrowed sun climbed down behind Bear Mountain. We commanded time to be ours forever. Sheltered among the tree line shadows, Sam and I baptized ourselves Wild Wind and Fire Sky with holy-magic water from the river. Angry, powerful, ancient native names we believed to be so clever and brave.

“We need to find a cedar or birch tree and make a dugout.”

“Really,” I said in amusement and a tiny bit of awe.

“Just like the Mohegans.”

And Sam ran barefoot off into the forest. I stayed behind. She returned minutes later, like an embarrassed school girl caught kissing a boy beneath the monkey bars after recess. She said, “We don’t have an axe.”

And I howled.

Sam was implausibly disappointed and dejected, but I’ve never loved anyone as hard as I loved her at that moment. Her eyes melted into mine and her boundless spirit split me down the middle. I was left positively broken in such a glorious manner.

She wanted so much more than we could ever barter for. Ever buy. She believed our songs and laughter could never be scorned. But when feasted on by the darkness of night, she said she understood we were not worthy for offer, not worthy to share. As blackness engulfed the river and Sam’s haunts of ancient peace, she told me we had to beckon back Wild Wind and Fire Sky. Sam said I needed to prepare. For doing so, would leave our souls nameless and empty, naked and ashamed.


During Sam’s late stages of cancer, her boisterous voice, heralded laughter, and unbridled passion broke down daily. Pecked at, eaten away by her sickness. A sickness like buzzards tearing away carrion flesh. My selfishness loomed over the both of us. I began to stay away, visiting her less as she lay dying. I was not deserving of her magnanimous courage, her resplendent light.  The truth was I was not strong enough to witness the abominable waste. Could not grasp how the universe allowed this sinful aberration to foster.

I saw death everywhere. In the sunrise and sunset. In school children playing Hopscotch, the old man who walked his poodle. From any words I wrote or read. Darkened images and blackness penetrated my mind. I sought refuge in alcohol. Cursed God. I wept. Lied more to myself. Slowly died inside. 


We were side by side in the hospital’s chapel. Sam, on her knees, me standing above. She grasped my hand—strong—and tugged. Nodded her head to one side, and silent, asked me to stay with her.

I could not.

I could no longer wait—nor no longer go back—an unnamed trickster in me feigned false absolution. Prayer and hope and faith and the greatest—love—had left me. Laid to waste on a burnt brown battlefield of self-denial and self-imposed faults, I was defeated. 

Her eyes welled—she still silent—and I felt my soul splinter, my heart explode into infinity.

I broke from her grasp. I walked away. I know I heard a sound, her words, even though I can’t remember them now. A sob, a whimper, a resignation not lost on heaven or the universe, any pagan gods, possibly on me.

I wanted to turn around and offer an apology. I wanted her warm beautiful hand to embrace mine once again. To have her fingertips touch my face. To offer solace, even if the solace was hollow and corrupt.

I still knew I couldn’t.

If I turned around, the glassman I had become would shatter. Would burst into flames. Morph into a Biblical pillar of sinful salt, forced to stand accused. An eternal orphan left to wander the cosmos. 

And then later, I received the phone call.


I met my friend at the bar.

He asked, “What’s up with borrowing the truck and tools?”

“The front winch works, right?”

“Yeah, everything you asked for. Bolt cutters, Sawzall, the hooks, the whole kit and caboodle. You plan on robbing a bank?”

“Nah. Jailbreak.”



Previously published in Chronogram.


Mama Dukes . . . Mama Dukes . . . I’ve been shot through my heart.

Oh, my God . . . Oh, my baby . . . what’s happened to you?

I don’t know, Mama . . . I’ve been shot . . . is that my blood . . . am I bleeding?

Why, in God’s mercy . . . oh, my only son . . . why?

I don’t know mama . . . don’t be mad . . . I was just buying candy.

Oh, my baby . . .  what has happened . . . Yes, you are dying.

Mama . . . I bought candy . . . don’t be mad… I was only . . .

Oh, my baby . . . oh, my son . . . oh, my God . . . this can’t be true.

Oh, My America.



Previously published in Art and Life.


We sat on the banks of the Hudson

Stoned and stone-like

Children eager to open their presents on

Christmas morning

I popped the plastic cork

And your champagne eyes smiled

We shall never grow so old again

We watched the end of another day

As the sun climbed down behind Bear Mountain

Forcing the sunny Hudson day

Into a haunted Hudson dusk

Piles of leaves like sleeping dogs

Growled and moaned and shook

Driftwood and branches glided silently across the water

Ancient Mohegans in dugouts lost to time

We hoped the river an ancient grandfather

Would tell us more secrets and stories

It spoke but we heard nothing

Legends grew older and older and older still

Boulders along the shoreline sentinels of the river

Promised to protect us 

Wind blew through the hair of the trees and

Awakened the sleeping dogs who

Ran to and fro in a frenzy along the shoreline  



Previously published in Chronogram.


She owns an ancient turntable and vinyl and says, “This is my favorite song.”

Doesn’t everyone say that?

She shares a suede bag with buckskin fringe, “A special gift from momma, back in ‘83.”

Shows me pictures of her and, “Pop-Pop and baby brother, ridin’ a camel at the county fair.”

I don’t give a shit as she cocks her head sideways and wonders aloud about me.


Says for me to share what hurts or heals or haunts me.

Says she can never tell when I’m up or down.

Says she can’t live like this no more.

Says I never tell her what’s real inside of me.


So I do.


“My demons are real, my whiskey realer, my faith scarcely at all, and that kills me.”

She sobs and weeps and peeks between her fingers to see if I’m moved.

I am not.


For absolution, resurrection, and strictly selfish purposes I go to leave.

She grabs my arm and pleads for me to stay.

I bump the ancient turntable,  

the vinyl skips.

Call me Deacon Blues, Blues, Blues, Blues . . .



Previously published in The Deadly Writers Patrol.


He had a ruddy nose and busted capillaries spread across his face like river deltas. Caused by years of alcohol abuse, his wounds will never heal. Watery eyes still witnessed unimaginable horrors inflicted on a nineteen year old, whose dreams were deferred by seen atrocities in a far off jungle, in a far off land. A fought war so unlike the John Wayne movies shown in some cinema on some dusty street in Red Cloud, Nebraska or at some drive-in theatre during the cool evening twilight in Dayton, Ohio.   

His Vietnam veteran cap covered white hair. He was older now, which meant I was older, too. Far from the eight-year-old boy who knew a war veteran of his own. A different, forgotten hero. A hero shunned by his community, ignored by his country. Given the moniker of a member of the Greatest Generation, he was left to wander through a different battlefield of land mines in his head. Left to deal with a different awfulness of a different kind inflicted upon him from another far off foreign land, for another said just cause. His name was Crazy John.

At least that is what my friends and I called him. Others would refer to him as a Vapper, a derogatory term given to any veteran who was a regular patient at the local VA hospital, who tried to recover from madness, tried to regain a semblance of normalcy. Normalcy as defined by a society who was more interested in lies than truth, convenient comforts than moral fortitude.   

As my friends and I played two-hand touch or run-buddy-run on our quiet suburban streets, we all knew when it was three o’clock in the afternoon. Better than any timepiece, Crazy John would slinky around the corner. He would walk to Kenny’s Corner Store for his two quarts of Schaffer beer and a pound of bologna, along with some other mix-matched groceries.

If he was already drunk, he would stop and speak unintelligible grunts and garbles at us followed by short snorted laughter. Crazy John would throw nickels and dimes onto the pavement and when he was at least a first down away we all scrambled to pick up the coins. We didn’t want him to grab us or kill us.

We’d hop on and race our bicycles to Kenny’s store ahead of Crazy John and buy lemon-lime sodas or Bazooka bubblegum or Topps baseball cards. We’d save any all-stars or Mets’ players, and put the rest of the cards in our spokes to pretend we were riding motorcycles. The flutter of the cards would make Crazy John stop in his tracks and do a weird two-step dance. We saw, but never understood the sudden fear on his face. Once we were past him, Crazy John would mutter and continue to walk to Kenny’s, conversing with people only he could see.

We’d all divide up our bounty and Eddie, famous for telling tales like how his older brother killed a shark bare-handed at the Jersey Shore, or that his local policeman father was good friends with Pete Malloy and Jim Reed from Adam-12, would regale us with stories about Crazy John.  

 “It was last night. Midnight. I saw Crazy John digging in his yard. He dug up a body and then howled at the moon. The full moon. He eats the bodies.”

“What were you doing in Crazy John’s yard at midnight?”

“No, you bozo, I saw him from my bedroom window.”

“He lives around the corner. You can’t see him from your house.”

“I can. I’ll show you sometime. I’m tellin’ ya, it was a body, a baby’s body.”

“You’re full of it.”

“Then how did I know?”

Stumped and unable to answer Eddie’s question, our unbridled childhood logic made his story true, and the legend of Crazy John flourished even more. I was convinced and shared Eddie’s story at dinner that night with my parents. Not being the first time I’d brought up Crazy John, my parents gave their patented answer that he was a war hero, but the war caused him to have a plate put in his head, which made him different from us. They told me never to bother him, reiterated he was a hero, and then sternly told me never to go near him. I would spend the rest of dinner pondering Crazy John walking around with a Corning Ware dinner plate inside his head, and after sharing this with my friends another myth was made into fact.  

Sometimes, Crazy John would walk with another man. Despite the summer heat, this man always wore a knee-length overcoat. I was drawn to his black shoes which were so noticeably, brightly polished, while the rest of his garb was shabby. We didn’t know his name, nor did we give him one. He was just another Vapper, another character who would soon become a ghost from our childhood world.

Once, he invited us to throw him a down and out pass. He ran a tight pattern and Eddie threw a tight spiral. Just before making the catch, his shiny shoes slid out from under him and he hit the road hard. We all were stunned into silence. He hopped back up a bit shocked, perhaps embarrassed, and blood blotched on his nose and chin. As Crazy John tended to his friend, we debated over what to do, if anything.

Chocksy ran into his house and returned with a handful of napkins. He gave the napkins to Eddie, who handed them to Bobby, who passed them to Wubby, who quickly forwarded them to me. Being “it”, I was not sure what to do, or why Chocksy even got the napkins in the first place. After I deduced the napkins were to be used for first aid, I ran over to where the two men stood and placed the napkins on the ground about ten feet from them. I hastily retreated. Crazy John picked up the napkins, grunted, and held them to the other man’s chin. Then he and his friend walked back around the corner.

Summer moved on.

Not much else did.

The daily summer ritual of leaving our houses after breakfast and not returning until dinner did not prevent the summer doldrums from appearing for me and my friends. One day in front of Mr. Blueit’s house we were trying to decide what would occupy our time. The daily choice of activities was discussed, football, baseball, stickball, kickball, anything with a ball, or maybe going to the Old Dam or swimming in the Clay Hole. Our usual default options. Nothing else was important. We did not think about Crazy John, events outside our neatly bordered neighborhood boundaries, or a war that raged half a world away.

Most of what my friends and I knew about war was garnered from Hogan’s Heroes, Gomer Pyle, and playing army. We knew there was a war going on somewhere far away, but we were sheltered from the heartache, political divisiveness, and distress being havocked on America. Not until a few years later would I understand the gravity of that conflict as families became divided, and sons of our neighbors never returned to our town. They, too, became forgotten ghosts, remembered only with a simple gold star placed in a plain house window.

Before my hair, much to father’s chagrin, touched my shoulders and Black Sabbath albums replaced Alvin and the Chipmunks 45’s on my record player, my friends and I planned an assault of our own.  A new adventure morphed from our bored, yet creative minds, which still haunts me years later.

“What if he kills us?”

“He won’t. He’ll be too shook.”

“Sounds crazy.”

“Sounds tuff.”

“What do we do?”

“Easy. We’ll get all our army stuff and storm his house from The Path.”

“Just like Rat Patrol.”


I had no inkling at the time, only in reflection can I revisit the magnitude of hurt, the lack of empathy my friends and I planned to deploy. I’ve often wondered if there is some primal, tribal instinct instilled, which makes us accuse, prey-on, and banish any sick among us. To cast out and shun the weak for fear that we too may become damaged. Or was our architecture of destruction nothing more than the fact that children can be cruel. Cruelty derived from an undeveloped morality, an inability to control the id.

With dime store binoculars hung around our necks and aluminum canteens and plastic hand grenades fastened to our belts, my five friends and I walked with our Marshall Dillon cap guns, and Johnny Eagle Lieutenant rifles, down a path through woods that bordered the back of Crazy John’s house. Our goal was to storm through his backyard screaming like banshees as our cap guns and rifles made replicated war sounds from a battlefield. We were going to scare the bejesus out of Crazy John and make him howl to the heavens for real.

Laying on the ground against a small embankment none of us spoke. After several minutes passed, we all encouraged each other to lead the charge.

“You go.”

“No, you go.”

“I’m the leader. I give the orders.”

“Sez who?”

“Sez me.”

But this time childhood logic would not prevail. Being “it” and double dared and triple double dog dared did not convince any of us to move. As I look back now, perhaps the underdeveloped empathy of an eight year old was beginning to form. I felt bad in an unsure, confused way. Bad that we were going to hurt Crazy John, vaguely understanding we were going to hurt something in ourselves. He was a small part of us, a piece of our small world, and he never caused us harm. Why did we want to cause him harm? Or was the reason we didn’t move caused not by compassion, but nothing more than uncertainty and fear?

With our devilish bravado sapped we were about to abort our ill-advised mission when the sun became blocked and a shadow was cast upon us. I looked up to see Crazy John’s friend with the brightly polished shoes, and another younger, barefoot man with long scraggly hair. I was convinced we were doomed. Convinced we would be murdered and buried in shallow graves, dug up at night by Crazy John and eaten. Just like Eddie had said. With death impending, I tightly closed my eyes then heard a voice speak. “Hey, aren’t you the kids from around the block? My dad talks about you. Says he likes you guys, you don’t bother him like some others do. Says you guys are the best, says you’re friends.”

And one of my eyes opened as I felt an unrecognizable pang on my insides.

The younger man continued, “Anyway, kids, we heard you all out here and just wanted to ask you to play somewhere else. Noise upsets my old man. Makes him jumpy. Caused by the war he was in. Know you’re just playing, boy, you guys are decked out for battle, but could you all move away from the house and play somewhere else?”

And I felt more guilt and shame then, than I can ever remember. Guilt and shame about how I had planned to assault Crazy John’s senses for my own amusement, guilt and shame for wantonly devising a plan to invoke harm on an innocent war hero. At that moment, my moral compass became a bit truer.

My friends and I stood up and walked away. I heard the man with the shiny shoes say to the younger man, “Just kids playing war. Just foolish kids playing war.”

Our parents were all surprised that we were in the house early that day, home before dinnertime. My mother asked if anything was wrong, but I only mumbled and went to my bedroom. I threw my binoculars, grenades, canteen, and Johnny Eagle Lieutenant rifle into the back of my closet. I sat on my bed and thought some new thoughts.

My friends and I never mentioned the incident and went back to playing run, buddy, run and two-hand touch. Whenever Crazy John came around the corner we all said, “Hi, John,” and smiled. We coasted on our bikes when we passed him, never pedaled. The sound of the cards in the spokes was quelled. John liked that. John was one of us. John belonged.

 Whatever I learned on the day of our planned barrage upon him was a small piece of a puzzle that is forever being enhanced over time by other experiences and lessons taught by life. As I grew older and playing in the street was replaced with driving and venturing far beyond my former confined neighborhood boundaries, Crazy John became another faded childhood memory, another ghost from my past.  

Just shy of my seventeenth birthday, though, the memory of Crazy John was resurrected along with an old familiar pang inside my gut. As I watched television in the living room, I overheard my father say to my mother in the kitchen, “Did you hear John’s heart exploded last night and he died alone on his floor?”

“John? The war vet, John?”

“Yeah, John the war hero.”  

“That’s too bad. Do you want more coffee?”

“No, I’m going to Kenny’s for cigarettes.”

“Get some milk while you’re there. And bologna. Don’t forget the bologna.”