I’m not supposed to know it,
The name for this place—
No signs, as if everyone here has been here before,
I shouldn’t need to ask directions
To the doors opening to the sounds of electricity,
The dirty buzzer opening me to a room even dirtier,
To Glenn, whom I’ve seen from the streets, army patch,
Threadbare jeans, nodding me in as if I belonged here.
I don’t say I’m here for the smashed glass, for the break in next door
Where I work, for the manager to ask him if he’d heard anything,
Any sounds at all would be helpful.
He doesn’t tell me about the sounds I can’t hear, how the worst kind
Of breaking happens in daylight. Invisible armies of cockroaches
And the CIA, or the devil waiting in the walls, cosmic whispers
Of repetition, the screams lost behind glass.
Tomorrow, I’ll see the birdman of Bellevue, walking to Staunton
For his meds. Flap the rough palms of his wings in the wind.
I’m too grounded to know this has everything to do with flying,
With his invention made so everyone can breathe underwater.
We have these internal undiscovered gills, he says
The government’s been after this for years, and I want to say something deep like,
None of us know it, but all of us are drowning, but instead say, Good luck
With that, as if this has nothing to do with staying afloat. As if the air wasn’t for breathing,
Wasn’t for pulling you under, not saying a word of this until that first cool breath,
Your mouth opening, all that water flowing in.
Highway To Hell
We put our noses down into the plumbing code,
Heavy books in this sixth grade classroom,
Where we learn to cuss and solder pipe,
Fall off ladders half asleep or kicked in the ass.
In two weeks, a paper will arrive and dictate
I leave at 5am and drive to Ohio just to lay pipe.
Two lane highways fading in and out of consciousness,
Leading me to the job, and a Shell station dripping intravenous in house blend pots.
Every night we’re experts at everything after seven Budweisers,
Learning the words to Welcome to the Jungle and Highway to Hell.
We leave arthritis, five minute phone calls to our wives,
And half of our paychecks at the bar behind us.
We’re too young yet to know we’re dying,
Impersonating happiness after another bottle of Jack,
Pissing inside closets and falling asleep in bathrooms.
Our trucks leave puddles of oil or water, but there’s just enough
Gas to shudder them back to life, follow the cloudy lights
In front of us, take us home.
November already, and the ornamentals are done,
Their lush greens gone, bleached into harsh stalks,
Leafy lengths ripped from roots by the aimless wind.
I want to see the colors of maize, Indian corn,
Swirling in a thicket of rust, rains of reds
And yellows. Whatever.
I can only see the waiting work,
The chilly air, the lost glove. How old was I
When I stopped dreaming?
Tomorrow, at the checkup,
The physician’s assistant will want to know this.
How many times in the past week have you felt depressed?
Have any thoughts of worthlessness?
And I want to say, take a breath.
Let me press the cold disk against your skin,
And breathe here
And here. Again.
On a scale from one to ten, how is your pain?
And I want to ask, what’s the number for a wildfire
Of burning backs, shards of arthritis like glass
In my knees?
Outside her window there are men like me
Walking in rain, unaffected, lugging jackhammers,
Gathering tools in almost buildings,
Shells of brick, bones of metal, eight hours of muddy hell.
A younger one kneels down in the dirt,
Battered hard hat, ripped blue print in his hands.
On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your life?
And I want to ask, What’s the number for light,
Not the sun, but the buzz of your office florescence?
What’s the number for cut down trees, aching knees
The rush of winter against sweat, heavy legs, screaming machines,
The dug up muck of earth?
I want to tell her about my dream last night, how I flew for the first time
Over the tops of buildings, over the Dollar General off the Triboro,
The closed down Isaly’s, the neon hum of the vape shop
And a Fox’s pizza. No sign of people, but the sound
Of keep going, a rush of cars in rain that reminds me of ocean,
The wet glimmer of all of that necessity—
Tell me, she said, why have you come here today?
Writing Political Poems At The Squirrel Hill Café
For Jason Irwin
After a few beers, we talk honestly, like how we’re not good at writing them.
I nod my head instead of saying I remember where I was when it happened,
Like the election or 9/11. I was on a forklift building bingo orders when the first plane hit.
And tomorrow, one month after Trump, a physical therapist will yell at me for not trying harder.
I’ll lay the twenty dollar co pay down for the right to wait for him, to watch the intern fix a broken skeleton on a carpeted floor.
I’ll do three sets of ten on my bad hip, listen to him talk about the mess of health care,
And how his parents voted for Trump, how he doesn’t speak to them anymore.
Drinking here with you at The Squirrel Hill Café, it never occurred to me
That nothing would ever be the same again, just that this was something we needed to do,
To sit on these crooked barstools, let the liquor speak for us, warm our aching bones.
It seems like it should snow on a night like this, but maybe the cold’s here
Just to remind us that we’re broken too. That sometimes we don’t have all the answers
That sometimes all you can do is sit down in a dingy bar and clank glasses together,
Watch the people outside walk away with their bags, with their heads down,
The winter sky turning from grey to blue, already, getting darker.