Saturday, August 27, 2022

In Which I Jump Off the Right Train

I’ve walked too many hundred

miles in those shoes. Talked too much,

and thought too little, and been unreasonable,

and half right, till it cost me. Like the night

Mike bet I’d never make it

from his flat to the Gare du Nord, which was the last time

for a while in my life I was that drunk. And we had no excuse, even if

it was Mike’s birthday, even if we were 22 and single and in Paris,

and the seedy fleshpot funfair of Pigalle

was swaggering and starry-mouthed,

with fire swallowers, and sweet

talkers, and the up for anything likes of us.

Picture two beersteins big as the Ritz! Check out this bar

where a Turk is propositioning us in tandem, as a melancholy pimp

sips pastis and spits and mutters. (Why do whores become

whores? I ask him, so young, so baffled by the world.

Because, he answers, keeping it simple for me, women are cunts.)

And to the next bar, and the next—every next drink a dare, a double

dare, a confession, every next joke, every next door if you want to know,

harder and harder to get through! And at four a.m., almost home,

snicker at the mugging, two pale, polite boys, who’ll jam their

hands in their pockets to make out that they're knives!

And when we laugh, and let them swipe our last few

centimes, they'll shake our hands to thank us!

How Saturday became Sunday I’ve now no notion,

nor how, nor how much I sobered in between, but I know

by Sunday evening I was sick of it, sick of the swish of alcohol

and the gusts of adrenaline, sick of slumming, sick of the sour

blaze each swig of glee went down with. Besides,

I’d an 8 a.m. class to teach on Monday, a hundred miles away,

in Lille, on Future Shock by Toffler to some kids in terminale.

So when Mike scoffed and cackled, saying I’d never

make it to the station, I bet back I would,

and I marched unreasonably out his door in circles.

Somewhere in those hours there was a Métro train, I recall the

doors opening, closing at Barbès-Rochechouart like very slow applause,

one long, sardonic clap... When I

jerked awake, the train was at the station, I leapt onto the platform,

hollering to a porter, C’est où le train pour Lille? Just as the train

I’d just jumped off of bucked into grunts and clattered off.

The way, abandoning us, a life we've lucked into

wakes us to to admire it. The thumbed nose,

na-nana-na-na of its adieu.

Voilà, the porter chuckled, you've just jumped off it. So I was

half right, and I had made it, though it did cost me, one cold snooze

in the waiting room, one bruise from a police boot, one night of

retching in a cheap hotel. But at 5 a.m. there came

another train, another right one,

that brought me somewhere else a hundred miles away,

somewhere where the stars were being leached clean in a smear of smog,

my own small cozy world I could pick my way through brain-dead,

where I would never do it again. Land of the reasonable

other half, where I took a careful

breath and got off easy.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Faux Pas

We were kicked back

by the riverside,

waves rippling in fire light,

when they passed around

the moonshine.

I've never been a drinker

by nature,

not a matter of morality,

just a matter of flavor,

but I didn't want to be thought


so I brought the bottle

to my lips

for a tiny sip,

and just the rising spirit smell

made me gasp and choke

before a taste I even took.

Well, they all looked

and then they laughed

and someone slapped me

on the back

and I passed the bottle

to the next

in the circle,

chalked it up

to experience.

Previously published in Poetry Is For Everyone, 2009

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

After Nine

Blue nighttime saxophone, each tumbled note weightless
Staggering in complex zigzag patterns like drunken fireflies
Over black water, the river
Sea, almost salt-free (but not quite) where
Alligators, sharks, and manatees swim side by side, indifferent
And hungry for
Live bait tonight:
James W. Morrison and his Forgotten Band
Playing at the Wreck
Morrison singing through busted-up granite and palm-sized pebbles
Worn smooth and perfect for skipping - together they
Skim the surface of the deep and
Travel the short phosphorescent distance
To the tropical mainland - a blurry shoreline glow
Bar noise chasing after, a rabid pack of dogs
Scream of beer glasses on unpolished mahogany, tacky now
Tacky then
Tacky tomorrow, a reflection of
Alcohol-induced smiles with
Chuckles, snorts, hoots, and howls - all
Traveling with Morrison’s skipping stones
Under the influence of hung-over sex and tomorrow's headache
Unrecognizable and unremembered
Lashed together tonight with tongue and teeth, and onion burger breath
Not to mention a sinking boatload of hope
Traveling -
Skipping -
Cash drawer-song singing as
Loneliness dances, arms raised, elbows bent, hands overhead
A cupped halo
An easy angel
Everyone quite capable of reading her bleary-eyed body language:
Gonna get laid
But not by you
Boys -
What separates the men and their
Long, long eyes that look
Never forward
Never inward but
Back to what was
What’s dancing in front of them now:
A numbed-out striptease
The under 21 crowd
Gleeful and careless
Breaking the law
For a fantasy
Before the vomit and
Sirens come
To pull them under and
Steal their souls away
Traveling -
Skipping -
Shouts of exhausted waiters
100% muggy and dripping
Tripping over orders and
Reeling in black and white costumes, a colony of decapitated penguins
Aquatic, flightless birds spilling anonymous
Mai-Tais, Red Stripe or Loaded Landsharks with lime wedges
Crammed into the neck and
Losing one or two milk-dipped fried clams along the way
Or even
Platefuls of East Coast oysters, shucked!
Their mumbled curses
Choked in blood and guts as they serve
Aloha-shirt-wearing tourists
Authentic Island Cuisine and
Doomed sailors
Grilled Albatross steak sandwiches with spicy cilantro jalapeño aioli sauce
Traveling -
Skipping - with all of it
It hovers
Over the dark current
It moves, the Spirit of God
One strange, beautiful, monstrous thing
Constantly crashing into
The jagged, rocky mainland behind me
I am
Hidden by
The island
Buried, a treasure that doesn’t want to be found
Drunk beneath segmented palm fronds
Leafy shields revealing
Divisions of myself that may or may not be
Hard to find (depending on levels of intoxication)
My mind
Similarly divided
Forward leaning
Forearm heavy
On the stained bar-top, cupping the rum-filled glass like my genitals
When I need assurance
Heavy head a bobble-buoy, floating on surging sea swells
Sickened as I ask myself
The same damn question
Over and over
And over:
Should I
Like Mr. Morrison’s gravel voiced stones
And skip across the river’s mellow waves
By way of
The high and mighty
Port Orange Causeway -
What the island, the bar, I am
Anchored to -
Cross to the hot, soiled city and
Get myself to Indistinct Beach Street
The place
Where I said
I’d meet her
After nine?
Traveling -
Mr. Morrison and his band of
Feral cats
On sax, guitar, and drums, shipwrecked -
A good thing none of them are driving ‘cause
I can’t follow their notes anymore
Skipping -
Sailors and tourists
Buying prostitutes and trading out sad love stories
Tattooed sleeves slung over Charlie Brown shoulders
Belting out Broadway tunes
Rude as hell and loud - no one gives a
Hot Damn about anything anymore - shots, shots, shots!
Each and everyone of us
Lined and
All cursed now and blind
Formless and empty
I am
All of us
Linger here
Thanking God
It is well
It’s well
After nine

Monday, August 22, 2022


the bottles on the wall are but a challenge,
one day to drink’em all dry and leave your soul
in that barstool to haunt the drunkard that’ll replace you.

every night I check’em out—when you know
the bartender and the owner you do whatever you want
even in a fancy ass bar where no barfly survives.

of course, the way I drink, how can they kick me out?
my tab’s higher than of those arriving in
a Lamborghini, pretending to have it all.

Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, Four Roses, Jack Daniels…
all the good friends who’ve helped me so many times.

working on fixing, slowly, my relationship with Jose,
ruined the twentieth time he made me
wake up memoryless next to monsters from the abyss.

Friday, August 19, 2022

A Girl of the Streets Wanders In

We talk in spurts like
a trailer of a film
dissected of nuance.
There's no reason
to believe anything 
she says with a wary
quicksilver tongue slick
with false enchantments.

I know the type.
their charms traded so
often among men they'd
long decided to make
succeeding night hawks 
and failed romantics pay
in all the devious ways 
known to them.

She tells me men who loved her
were ruined or left to stumble
as if directionless vagabonds
with little reason to right
themselves other than to
drift like specters lost to
time's cannibalistic

Is that so?, I say.

She avoids the bartenders
eyes who do everything
to make a street walker
feel unwelcome.

I tell her at worse
I'll drink a few extra
beers and fall asleep
with my arms around 
empty space to mourn
lost lovers.
She quickly says they all
think that. Then gives
me a peculiar look.

As if she's decided 
to enter my life and
dare her words true.
I leave her right there
with too many others 
willing to replace me.
For she's a present memory
of too many others
now long gone.
I drink alone most 
nights at home
Inching away
from her
Sometimes no
company is the
best kind.
And you leave
it to silence
that somehow always
speak volumes.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Lines on the Lip of a Skull Cup

Pour wine in me, so I drink too,
and with a toast; new life can flow
from wine, and fill my view again
with treasures that the living grow.

While still alive I travelled often
exploring mansions, music, mirth.
Fill me - I'm more useful now
that most of me has rejoined earth.

I chose holding wine for you
over worms cavorting in my breach.
Places once caressed, I sense
more lips will graze, will press, will meet.

Your servant, let me serve again,
to hold, and sense, and warm your wine.
A job that calls for empty heads;
I planned ahead to proffer mine.

So drink to life, and to the day
some incautious traveller may find
a skull exposed on sunny ground
and pour himself a cup of  wine.

A disinterested gift. No life can grow
importance from the days that sprawl
from birth to death. A cup, at least,
can carry frenzy past the fall.

after Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed from a Skull by Lord Byron

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Let Go

The goal now, as you see it, is to get home. The front has come in early. Wind jars the car on the asphalt. The rain comes hard and cold, makes flashlight beams of streetlights. It’s hard to drive, but it’s also hard to steer. Maybe one too many boilermakers with buddies at Nightlite. But who can blame you, even if you had been good about staying on the wagon for three months, since Liza left.

She hasn’t sent as much as a postcard. You watch her credit card charges on your bill, then throw it away. You tell yourself you won’t check the mail again until it’s time for the unemployment checks to come. Four years in the sausage room at Don’s Deluxe Meats didn’t mean a thing in the end. No gratitude, no severance pay. Let go without any ceremony at all.

If you can just get home, you’ll be okay. The streets are filling with water. You imagine you are the captain of a boat in strong currents. But you do find a way to stop at Discount Package Store for two fifths of cheap bourbon. That will get you through tonight, and maybe longer.

At last you reach your street, hit the curb twice, coming to a stop in front of your dark house. You stagger up the walk, and you can hear your dogs bark. They watch you through the window. The Welcome wagon. They have waited, the faithful boys, Lewis and Clark.

You feed them and let them run outside in the rain. They come in, shake off the wet night, and lie down at your feet. You gulp the bourbon and watch them. First one, then the other, falls asleep. Let go. Begin dog dreams.

You think that dreaming is best in a warm, dry room. Better still if outside the darkness howls. What do they dream about? Old hunts, saliva, instinct. In a lurching pack under a grey dawn sky, waiting for a waterfowl kill.

Or do they dream of being human, inside a warm house on a wild night. Sitting back, plastered, watching the dogs dream.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

At O’Rourkes

The long dead Irish writers. Their larger than life, smoke

darkened faces, stared down at her as she poured drinks. Pulled

taps. Listened to the voices. Politics and art. Books. Voices spewed

with Jamison’s ease.


Her mother hoped for her to be a doctor. A nurse. A secure life

married to a higher purpose. It was a debate whether it worked out.

Arguments to be made on either side.


An Irishman with eyes that caught every available light. Marriage.

Death. Lights diminished. An Irish named bar. It didn’t matter if people

knew her story. This tiny Japanese woman kept them quenched. Drank

with the best of them. These brilliant, ruined storytellers.


Her story was not important. She wanted to record stories heard in

the bar’s muted light. Commit them to memory, and the red notebook

she kept near the register.


The Tribune’s obit man wrote at the bar. Late afternoons before it

got crowded. Built histories of lives public and private. Imagined

stories that remained buried.


He was polite to her. Almost old fashioned in his way. I wonder, he said.

I wonder if this Irish lass ever experienced love. Had a suiter. This

Mary Catherine. A lovely name, yes? He looked around the room. A

fitting name. She poured another Guinness and set it before him. He looked

down at his watch. And a bit of Jamison’s. For the road, as they say.


She brought the bottle and poured. Join me? he asked.

She poured another. To Mary Catherine, then. They touched

glass to glass. To stories untold, he said. Cheers, she told him.

She emptied her glass. Another? she asked.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Wednesday Night

I caught a buzz—first one

in a long time. It felt pretty

good, but then I remembered

I had all these things called

responsibilities; namely: my

kids and the cat. Figuring

the cat could fend for herself,

it was just down to my offspring.

Seven o’clock rolled around and

I sounded the alarm: “bedtime!”

Tiny feet stampeded upstairs

while I finished making lunches

and grabbed another can from

the fridge. After the nighttime

ritual was complete, I picked

a book off the top shelf. “Well”

I said “this is probably the first

time in America anyone’s ever

read Bukowski to their kids.”

They both laughed but didn’t

get the joke, and so I read on

until they were asleep. After

that I went back downstairs

for another can. It was 8:41pm,

the house was very very quiet.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Hell's Gates

A large angry
tattoo on her arm
reads- Hell's Gates
Are Open-.

I finish my beer
Far better I think
How wide? I ask
nodding to the artwork
of letters in red and
yellow fire on her arm.

Wide enough
she tells me, do
you need another

Need is not
the word I'd
use but yes 
and I watch her 
pour until the

froth kisses
the top of
the glass.

Then she 
looks in her mirror
putting a comb
through dark
the sun hits just right.
Sometimes I
think I come to the
bar for that alone.

tip her a twenty
and go home where
I can dream about
Hell and its guardians
with brown auburn hair.

than dreaming of those
with eyes languid with regret
and with souls long
out of reach or those with
knives under their pillows
I've found
myself far too
often sleeping
next to...
without gates
keeping me in
or out of the Hell
I know won't
be half as kind
even as it smiles me in.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Old Fashion

In an old fashion bar

In an old fashion town

Sits an old fashion guy

With an old fashion frown

There’s an old fashion drink

In his old fashion hand

And an old fashioned thought

Of an old fashion band

From an old fashion wedding

To an old fashion girl

And his old fashion loss

In his old fashion world

One old fashion tear

From his old fashion eyes

An old fashion nod

To some old fashion goodbyes

So the old fashion folks

Raise an old fashion round

To this old fashion guy

In this old fashion town


I’m an old fashion guy

Monday, August 8, 2022

An Open Letter to Hard Seltzer

Dear Hard Seltzer,

How popular you’ve become as of late. Everywhere I turn, there you seem to be on bar menus and in advertisements. Even breweries have forgotten they are brewers in a mad dash for the slightest fraction of hard seltzer market shares. How garish are the colors of your label in concealment of your true content, so pale and void of backbone, so wanting for potable character.

Yes, hard seltzer, you are the bastard son of Zima. You are the wine cooler of today, gone tomorrow. When the gimmickry of your carbonation and crappy fruit flavorings have been removed, you’re just water in a can. I’d rather have a real drink.



Friday, August 5, 2022


    Mergansers look like loons but not really. Late on summer afternoons when the sun appears dusty from a long hot day in the sky and the jet skis have all been put away so the madmen who race the engines that sound like mosquitoes first thing in the morning, roaring up and down past the cottage, go out and eat their dinner at one of the few restaurants in the area and then drive home drunk and knock over deer and foxes on the highway, maybe a porcupine and a few skunks, a parade of mergansers floats past the dock. I pretend I’m asleep. I want to make them think I don’t notice them. But I do.

    A merganser is like a loon but it is a bit more interesting. It has a red crest because it saw a similar crest on a kingfisher and though he could look like that bird, though it just looks goofy on the lesser bird. A merganser doesn’t make irritating, haunted sounds on foggy mornings when the water is still. It doesn’t want to bother anyone. It just wants to look after its kids until they are old enough to have friends down the lake who are around the bend. It is the males who lead their merganserlings in a parade to the nest. Don’t ask where the mother merganser is or the teenage daughter they hatched together. I don’t know where the females are. My wife is friends with the local Avon lady and she helps her unpack her wares and my daughter has friends out there somewhere she says she can only get to in the runabout that came with the cottage rental. They disappear in what amounts to a Bermuda Triangle of invisibility so I pretend I am invisible, too, and pull my green brimmed Coast Spotter’s hat over my forehead, fold my arms in front of me as the merganser and the little merganserlings paddle past, and sit very still.

    I identify with the merganser. He also has red hair although his looks as awkward on him as mine does or did on me before it went to find my life. My wife says I dwell on the future too much. The merganser also never lets on he is seen or being seen. I call that focus. Maybe self-discipline. Or maybe it’s just because he’s on vacation and doesn’t want to be bothered by stuff. The parade of mergansers swings close to the dock because I know he is teaching his offspring how to be curious while remaining safe. Loons don’t do that. They stay far away. They are cowards preened in their own image, a kind of fashion-conscious bird that poses for the camera in a society page, and they probably don’t bring a cooler of beer down to the dock with them late on a summer afternoon. I think mergansers likely drink beer when they think no one is watching. They have that ‘I’m still here but I’m chill with all this lake stuff’ attitude that comes after the sixth or seventh empty goes back into the cooler.

    This merganser guy is protective. Where’s his wife? Does she want him to start the barbecue? He probably laid in steaks for dinner and they’re sitting in the darkness of the cottage refrigerator and calling out for him – ‘Moo, moo, I’m here and I’m waiting and I bet you are hungry.’ But the merganser is responsible for his brood so he’s not about to leave the cottage unlocked and go look for everyone. He never leaves a chick behind. Every now and then he glances over this shoulder. He makes sure the kids are all there. He won’t leave any of his brood behind.

    My guess is that he works hard all year just for a handful of those days when, around five o’clock, everything stands still, including the kingfishers who, by rights, should be competing with the mergansers for the fish that stock the lake. But the kingfisher realizes the guy works hard and has mouths to feed, and I bet he flies to another lake – there are lakes everywhere – picks up some fish and leaves them where the mergansers will find them. That’s kind of nice of the kingfisher. He didn’t have to do that. The little mergansers turn to their father and say, ‘Hey, look Dad! Fish! Let’s have fish for dinner.’ And he doesn’t have to fry it. I think mergansers would be overjoyed to find a sushi restaurant, perhaps order a couple plates of sashimi, and then drive home sober as a church mouse on the cottage country roads. No deer or foxes would be killed in the making of the day.

    I say this because there comes a time in a merganser’s life when he realizes loons are going to get all the credit for being lake birds and the merganser will have to raise his little flock with the awareness that the big time action, the thrill of being seen and becoming icons of some social milieu that didn’t invite him, won’t happen for him or for them. They have to settle for being mergansers. They won’t dive out of sight like celebrities pursued by paparazzi and they won’t grow up full of themselves. They won’t be daunted by who they are – second place in the pecking order. Why should they? They do their own thing. Mergansers don’t need others to notice them or tell them if they are important or not. Mergansers probably have a call, though I can’t say I’ve heard the lonely call of a merganser and it summed up the illusion of a crowded vacation region as a place of solitude and spiritual mystery. There are no revelations or spiritual moments of insight associated with a merganser.

    The merganser’s world is what it is. There’s water. They go for a swim. There’s air. They’ll learn how to fly. The merganser isn’t told he has to reschedule his vacation weeks because the new guy on the sales team really, really, has to visit Bermuda because he’s already paid for the flight and the beachfront hotel suite with a jacuzzi in the corner of the room for he and his girlfriend or some other place the merganser can’t afford. He just says, ‘Fine,’ and throws himself on the mercy of the people who own his summer rental and, because he’s a merganser and hasn’t asked for anything before, this once, just this once, yes they can do him a favor although the two weeks will only be a week and a half because they have cousins coming from Cincinnati.

    And after the parade passes there are dragonflies that circle and dart above the water. There are even more of them along the shoreline. Mosquitoes are everywhere. They are the hard part of a vacation. They don’t like mergansers and they leave one itching all night because the drugstore in the nearest town fifteen miles away just sold the last tube, ‘Sorry.’ The dragonflies, some blue, some yellow, some a sort of silvery gold, are having a field day and eating their body weight in the little blood suckers every ten minutes. They look like the Battle of Britain. Good for them. Do you think the kingfisher will help them, perhaps pick off some of the slow-moving members of the evil little Luftwaffe squadron of useless blood-sucking insects? No. The kingfisher shrugs. He knows he should do something about the mosquitoes but he’s waiting for a fish.

    His royal red crested, blue feathered whatever he calls the top of his head, is waiting for that one moment when a nice, big, juicy lake trout or maybe a salmon that found its way up the channel will come just that little bit too close to the surface and he’ll pounce like a dive bomber and he’ll leave a portion of his grand dinner near the merganser’s nest because he knows his fellow bird has a lot of mouths to feed and because he’s already king sitting up there on the hydro wire and he doesn’t have anything to prove, unlike the merganser who knows he wants more out of life but realizes just raising his kids, just showing them the ins and outs of the shoreline and teaching them how to survive and be good birds is his calling even if his daughter and wife don’t come home until its too late to barbecue and he’s already eaten a bowl of Cornflakes and called it a night.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Cummann Merriman 1976

Non-stop drinking week

All smashed at “The Midnight Court”

Salute to Brian.


 That week in Ennis

We lay on the hotel lawn

Guinness for breakfast.


Britvic and vodka

For lunch, sandwiches passed out.

We too, in the shade.


Speakers were slurring.

I think they still made some sense.

Can’t recall a word.


After it got dark

We went to the hotel lounge

Drinks and chaos were afoot.


Short nights in August.

Next day we did it again.

O.D.E. still made sense.


When it was over

Some went direct to re-hab.

I drove to Dublin.


Staying at the Y.

I began to eat again.

Next week I flew home.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Just Give Me A Minute

I should have said,

Politely, "No,

I would not care

For a glass of Merlot,"

But instead I said,

"Yes, please,"

And one became two,

Then three,

And that's far more

Than I've ever had before,

So that would be the reason why

I'm sitting on your floor.

Previously published in Austin Poetry Society Best of 2017.