A friend once told me
That I had it easy:
“Look at your hands,
So soft and smooth
No lines nor calluses
You’ve never suffered
A day in your life!”

I guess your hands
Don’t get calluses
When you’re trying
To keep your head above the water

No, hands don’t get callused
When you’re in the middle
Of a dark ocean
Where the water
Stings your eyes
Where the cold
Saps your strength
And you don’t know
How long before
A great white shark
Drags you
Into the depths

And I can’t
Open up my mind
To show you
The flagellation welts
From self-imposed atonement
For all my failings

And so I have
Nothing to show you
How much I suffer.
All I have
Are these words:
These frictioned, pressured,
irritated conjurations
As my testament to pain.

A Real Man

How can I become
A real man?

Maybe it’s about
doing a little jig
every time some music comes on
at a party.

Or perhaps it’s about
shooting at every awkward pause
from a quiver full of quick quips.

It could be
that I need to know when to smile
and when to be stern and stoic.

You see I’m writing an exam
and this is either
a math problem
with only one answer
Or a philosophical question
with many.  

I keep trying
to find the right answers
but I keep scribbling and erasing
and I’m almost out of time.

I finally wrote on the answer sheet:  

“I’m not a smart man
Nor a strong man
I’m not the quickest or the nicest
I’m not the fastest or the most prolific
I’m just somebody
who shows up every day,
in my own way.

So I’m not sure how to be a real man,
I just try to be an honest one
and that’s enough for me.”

Not sure if that answer’s right
But I hope I get some marks
for showing my work.

Once again

Once again
“No Cigar”
Once again
Suffer more

	Once again
	Fall over
	Once again 
	Dirt wallow

Once again
Sadness shakes
Once again
Anger stings

	Once again
	Left behind
	Once again
	No reprieve

Once again
Shot called
Once again
Shot missed

	Once again 
	Point blank
	Once again
	Shallow grave

Once again
Fingers scratch
Once again
Claw earth

	Once again
	Shamble out
	Once again
	See light

Once again 
Shielded eyes
Once again
Weary steps

	Once again 
	Starting line
	Once again
	“The Race”.


I’m taking a lot of losses this year.
I’m taking them
Out of cold storage,
Where I kept them on ice
For years and years
Because I never tried,
Never played,
Never chanced at winning;
So the losses destined in my fate
Went into icy stasis
Waiting to be thawed,
Until now.

Now I stand in the ring
My hands behind my back,
My chin stuck out
Inviting the universe to punch me:
To knock me out in one hit like a prime Mike Tyson,
And then watching
As the universe dodges every wild swing,
Like Mayweather.

I eat my losses,
Thawed like microwave dinners
Humbly, every day and night.
And every loss consumed brings with it
Cycles of catharses,
Like spiritual enemas,
To clean me out from within.

One day
I’ll run through the backlog of losses,
And my mind, body, and conscience
Will be crystal clear.

From then on,
Every new loss will be full of hope,
And every win,
Free of guilt.

Intense Face

I always wanted to appear
As an intense and brooding, mysterious guy
When I was younger.

And so I never smiled
Whenever anyone took a picture of me.
And so in all of those pictures
I have a sullen, almost forlorn look.

An attempt at creating an air of enigma,
An experiment aimed at generating curiosity,
An innate desire to be asked
What my deal was.

But nobody looked,
Nobody cared,
And nobody asked.

So these days I smile and grin,
Make all sorts of weird and funny faces,
Wear all kinds of outlandish clothes and hats and glasses,
Do everything to amuse my own self:
Everyone else’s too busy looking at their own, anyway.

Pebble in a stream

My mother always says
That I’m like a pebble in a flowing stream.
Letting the water flow over me,
Absorbing none of it.

Maybe I am a pebble:
Born of magma, thrust
From the belly of the earth
Violently onto the surface
Then exposed to wind, rain, and sun.

A giant basalt expanse
That slowly weathers away
Water worn,
And Sunburned.

Most of it turns to dust,
Some of it gets dug up
And turned into statues or floors
Or money or fuel

But a few little bits
Find themselves in streams
Streamlined and rounded
Zen symbols of calm and peace

A cool and uncaring existence
An acceptance of fate
A passive resignation
Appearing un-influenced by its surroundings,
While being constantly shaped by them.

So the water flows over me
A constant stream
Of babbling screams
Flowing from infinite, insane mouths,
Into bottomless, obscure oceans.

In that stream, I appear
Untouched, unperturbed, unaffected
But every passing moment,
The water flows and chips away at me.

Words, like tiny daggers,
Grind magmatic memories into silt.
Every nonapology,
Every thoughtless comment,
Every unmeant thank you,
Every missed connection,
Every stone left unturned,
And every conversation that petered out
With a “No, I’m good, thanks.”


Weekends are a lot more pressure than weekdays.
So much pressure to perform:
Did you enjoy yourself?
Did you have fun?
Did you relax and recharge?
Did you get ready for another week?
Did you find some social connection?
Did you find a girlfriend or life partner?

I can’t just lie in bed.
I can’t just vegetate.
I can’t just aimlessly walk around listening to things…
That’s just not allowed!
It is mandated:
My free time must be spent pursuing progress.

Continuous, relentless progress.
Sacrificing my mind, body, and soul,
At the cold and unforgiving altar of advancement.
I must develop new skills,
I must build my muscles,
I must open up my mind,
I must hustle harder,
More certificates, more reps, more momentum.

I must grind,
Shear off all the jagged edges,
Until I am nothing but a smooth, shredded, cerebral specimen.
A dried, used-up husk,
With a great job title,
A big fancy car in a medium-large house,
A woman that probably settled for me,
An ungrateful kid or two.

So I’ll get back to it:
Rubbing ointment into my hair,
Trying to be the prized pig at the farmer’s market,
Trying to speed-run my 20s in a few months,
Just so I don’t miss out.
Just so I have something to show for myself.
Just so someone settles for me.

You see, I don’t get to relax.
I can’t just be an unmarried 30-something,
With no fancy job title,
A small-car driving, entitled, non-productive,
Squandered-potential man.
I can’t wander and play and roam through life.
I can’t do things on my time.
That’s simply the wrong way!

This isn’t my time to spend,
And this isn’t my life to live:
It was simply loaned to me.
I am indebted and indentured.
I am here to perform my existence,
Held up by invisible strings,
Pushed around by all my masters.

So the sharks circle around me,
So the lenders have come to collect,
And so must the puppet show carry on,
Every day of the week,
And every weekend.
Especially the weekend.


I never learned how to swim.
And I never learned how to play chess.
Now I’m useless in a zombie apocalypse:
No strengths, no skills, and no smarts.

The world is ending.
But the zombies aren’t yet at my door.
So I think I’ll spend a little more time,
Sitting around drinking beer.

They tried teaching me;
The song and the dance,
The ways of the world,
The wrong and the right,
But I just never learned.

I kept coloring outside the lines,
Kept using the wrong colored crayon,
Kept getting asked why I couldn’t follow instructions,
All the while as I sat there wondering;
Why they didn’t teach me how to color,
And why they kept demanding I color the thing red.

They were the elders, though, they were in charge,
And that was that.
What did I know about success?
What did I know about anything?

To them I simply didn’t have what it took:
Not strong enough to swim against the current
Not skilled enough to make it my way
Not smart enough to meld passion and profession
I could never be an iconoclast
I was just an idiot

And so I was,
Always the idiot son,
Always the idiot brother,
Always the idiot cousin…

But with so much potential!
If only I’d learn:
How to swim in my lane,
And to play chess by the rules.

If only I’d defer and obey,
I’d be adept, and I’d grasp so much!
How to swerve and juke and jive,
How to sing and dance and act,
How to fake laugh, to secretly judge, to perpetually pretend…

Then I’d stop being such an idiot,
And I’d unlock my inner potential:
To be a zombie,
Constantly chasing,
To infect new bodies,
Compulsively compelled
To devour new brains.


Your ascent
to healing,
My descent,
To delirium.

Clutched by thoughts,
Like bony talons,
Skull pierced,
Brain gripped,

I fought
Day and night,
To free myself,
And I felt,
The grasp loosen.

It was just
A cruel joke,
A hawk,
Playing with her prey.

Clutch, release,
Then clutch again,
A wicked game,
By a ghostly apparition.

So it goes,
The rise and fall,
Till the ghost fades,
And becomes liminal.

Like an old tattoo,
A battle scar,
A sobering reminder,
Of when affection,
Turned into obsession.


Another woman,
Another heartbreak,
Another knife,
Through my chest.

Every new knife,
that’s pushed through,
Opens up
All the older wounds.

In these wounds,
I look for answers,
But I only ever find,
Blood, and bile, and venom.

Smarter men,
Luckier, or more fortunate,
Have already found,
The joys of settling,
growing old and fat,
impenetrable blubber skins,
Impervious and puncture-proof.

I wonder why then,
I keep letting women,
Stick their knives into me.

I wonder why
I let them leave me,
Writhing on the ground.

I wonder why
I lie there,
For the blood to clot,
For a scab to form,
Only to leap up,
And stick my chest out,
For another knife,
Hoping it’s the last,
But knowing it’s not.

The truth is:
Between the old scabs,
And new wounds,
Is when I remember
That I am alive.