3 a.m.

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What are you even doing here?
The Love of my life?

Hardly.
She’s in Houston with her kids,
And his.
When I dream of her I wake a rock-
Head full of all the soft, wet places.

You?
Gravel and jagged edges-
Broken glass
Desolate highways with no lights,
No guiderails.

You took my heart; never given.
Smashed it, killed it, left it lie.
Didn’t wish you dead, but now that you are,
Stay there.

I’m cauterized-
Like a drunk needing a bottle when once a cocktail would do-
I must dig deeper and deeper to feel the
Pain you used to visit so cavalierly
With a word. A gesture.

I’ll stab at my skin with a sharp spoon,
Drive nails between my toes,
Tear my hair and rend my guts to wear
As braids.

I always feared I would see you in hell
To again be choked on your leash.
But I’d hoped to die first.

Go back to poling the River Styx
Ferrying the damned from sulfurous shore
To sulfurous shore
And leave me be.
I’ll see you soon enough.

Fuck you
Fuck you
And fuck me.

I’d give my left nut for the sunrise.

 

 

 

 

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Left Behind

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It doesn’t matter, he said sounding a tad strained. I just wish I could straighten up a little, that’s all. He tried for the millionth time to pick up one of the scattered cards or a stack of loose papers. They passed right through his hand.

See? Said the other. Why bother?

If I had some new file folders I’m sure I could make some sense of this. He continued to try to keep the desperation out of his voice.

It just doesn’t matter.

Listen, he said hearing footsteps on the gravel outside. Here they come again.

He turned to face the broken window and smiled a wide gap-toothed grimace.

What the hell are you doing?

Smiling for their picture.

You know they can’t see you, right? You won’t show up. Look at the floor. You don’t even leave tracks.

I wish Miss Baxter was here-she could put this mess to right.

She’s long gone. Forget it-

Why are we still here again?

The other sniffed and slowly diffused into a limp, spreading cloud of glimmering tendrils that rose toward the rafters.

What? But…

Sighing but afraid to be alone, he allowed himself slip likewise apart and followed, trying to remember why he wouldn’t show up on film. He’d make him tell next time.

February Rain

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I don’t think I’ll live through this,

He told his friend as they watched the cold rain

Glisten under the oversized fluorescents outside the window.

What?

Life.

A car pulled up to the service island dinging the bell.

His friend pulled on gloves and headed for the door.

May there never come a time when you say that with relief

Instead of dread, he said with a wink as he ducked out into the weather.

Braising

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The hard work was done.
Hidden by the night's blanket-
Drowned out by barking dogs and passing coal trains
That shook the building.

The Osso Buco was my idea.
It was his favorite-
Something his family wouldn't have known.
Expecting fried chicken and hot sausage
They looked at me like I was crazy.

So I braised all night, 
Reliving old conversations to file away-
For later.
I could have been with him that night.
Doesn't mean I should have. 
He wouldn't begrudge me still being here. 
As long as I cooked.

I braised long enough to be sober by dawn.
Nothing to do but stir the sauce and wait
For the set-up crew.

His stool at the end of the bar looked less empty,
Washed by the golden glow leaking through the curtains.
Nobody would begrudge me a beer
After a long night's work. 



Reflection

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So I guess it’s kind of funny how
I loved you so way back when
You say I wouldn’t know you now
Well I didn’t even know you then

-Avett Brothers “I never knew you”

I buried an old lover last month.

Of course, I didn’t-not actually. We were years ago.

What I did was read her obit and have a few drinks.

That had been an odd year of comings and goings and she’d dug her elbows into the middle of it determined to claim something. As if there was anything to claim. As if there was anything to be had.

She pushed and I pushed back. Territory was won-lost-won again.

Exhausting-

Such relief when she left.

Could never have calmed her.

A friend had seen her a couple of years ago in an upriver joint that we frequented back in the day.

I showed up there a few times at the end of long drives just to….

What exactly?

Could not imagine.

She died with her father’s name.

Evidently, I was not the only one who couldn’t calm her.

Her picture looked as it should have. I would have recognized her on the street or in that bar.

Now she’s gone,

But in a different way that she had been to me for years.

Now she’s a shallow reflection of me-no longer herself.

Actually closer now than ever-joining the chorus of the dead who follow me, laughing when I piss on my shoes or forget to zip my fly.

Rain

Bend
“Mommy, Mommy” he cried,
As best he could
Around the tubes that snaked down his throat
Pumping air into his lungs.

Why “Mommy”? thought his old man
Sitting at the bedside.
He immediately felt horrible for thinking it.
But there it was.

They said it must have been what he was yelling
As he lay on the bottom
Settled among the stoneflies, crayfish and slippery rocks.

Sun shafts sliced their way down to him-
Ladders for mayflies to climb.
But no one could see.
Minnows kept their distance
Snapping at the bubbles that rose.
Fewer now-and tiny.

It seemed too long when one of them
Finally found him-upstream from where they thought-
Gently curled and blue between two rocks
No deeper than six feet.
Traditional grave depth.

When he choked and sputtered-
Gave up the river on the shore
It seemed he would be fine.
That’s what the ambulance driver had said.

But it had been too long.
The nightmare of three days in a backwoods hospital
Only prolonged the agony
And cast shadows of regret and blame
That darkened decades.

The water that poured from the boy’s lungs that day
Flowed to join the North Fork where it sluiced through beaver dams, across gravel bars,
Then down to the Potomac, over the falls, and finally into the Chesapeake;
Across the gills of red fish, through jelly fish then north-
To ride the sun into the clouds and spatter as chill rain on a stony pasture
In the Scottish Highlands.

Big bass still lurk between the rocks where he had lain
So many years ago.
Now they are all gone-buried with their memories, nightmares and torments
While the river is still here. Still everywhere.
And minnows still dart after bubbles
That come from nothing.