Hungry Again in Camelot

--at Camelot Pizza and Golf

I press my fingers to the steel
wool and feel the cold, elastic
cheese snapping back into the black
olive sludge of sausage and sauce
caking the sink and my fingers.
Each scrape echoes the seconds lost
to the stacking of steel pans that will need
washing again before the tables
are wiped clean and the trash
is as empty as my stomach.
While I wash, I’m lost to staring
at the dried cheese by-products
stuck to the time-clock on the wall I charged
interest for Mauricio’s lies
of five-fifty-five an hour and dreams
of management and dishwater blondes,
lost to scraping cheese from tables
abandoned by customers for the eternal
bells and buzzers of pinball and Donkey
Kong and the killing of aliens and time
lost with the tokens slipping like moons
over a sea of teenage insecurity.
Under a pepperoni moon,
midnight found us sleepless, slapping time
clocks and golf balls onto freeways
until the cops sent us sprawling
home like hell to yelling preachers
on late-night TV, foretelling
our eventual descent. But what the hell
did they know of our lonely lot,
reaching nightly into the ovens’ flames
for pizza we would never taste,
for girls we’d never kiss,
for Friday nights that slipped away
with every strand of plastic cheese devoured
by the garbage disposal’s gaping mouth
letting loose a mighty belch
as if to eulogize
the wasted lives already ours.

The Kingdom in Our Kitchen, first appeared in Avocet: A Journal of Nature Poetry

The Kingdom in Our Kitchen

My reflection passes over
a mosquito stuck to the mirror
in a cloud of steam from the shower
like God’s face in the cloud above the Sinai.
I place my hands against the doorframe
like Samson, unaware of the Hair-
Max magnet slipping with the weight
of a roaches authority, from my fridge
with its baby roaches buried under layers
of ice beneath the freezer—roach cryogenics—
a Pleistocene ice age for the brave few
who dared enter this refrigerator’s
Promised Land of sour milk and Honey
Nut Cheerios. One roach plays Moses, reddening
dishwater with tomato sauce.
I cast the spiders out,
clinging like spindly claws
to their inheritance of crumbs
spilling like manna from the paradise
of my pantry. The usual highways and byways
buzzing above my head, dive-bombing me,
I sweep the sea of fallen bodies from my floor
and shake their shucked shells into the trash,
after my roommate rained a nuclear winter
of Black Flag over my fleeing subjects.
But my fellow roaches are resilient.
They are fruitful and multiply
regardless of what tribulations come.
And when, by flood or fire, the world
is ravaged beyond belief, they will
inherit the earth and all that is within it.

Elegy for the One-Eyed Rat, first appeared in Connotation Press

Elegy for the One-Eyed Rat

Last night I fed the one-eyed rat who rents
a nest of frayed extension chords in my kitchen.

Her whiskers twitched and bristled
as she packed her nightly harvest

into the pockets of her cheeks.
While retreating to the heater, she paused.

Her eyeless socket spied me as she climbed
to my fist and flexed her razored talons.

Her good eye, unblinking, glimmered
when she raised her ratty nose to my palm.

I wondered what else lurked in my heater
that would dare take a feral rat’s eye.

What news had this prodigal daughter
brought me from that kingdom of fire?

Had a third of the rats revolted
and descended into the flames?

Had the neighbors fumigated again?
Today I found her stiffened on my floor

with both eyes clamped. I returned her
to the dumpster outside my apartment,

where the homeless nightly scour our refuse
for anything redeemable among us.

To My Father on the Death of His Father, first appeared in Ars Medica, summer 2007

To My Father on the Death of His Father

You told me you could barely remember him
holding you as a child, so I can only imagine
you cradling, in the crescent of your arm,
your father’s head, bald and dimpled
as the golf balls he fetched from the lake
of the golf course he mowed as child.
You held his body draped in white
hospital sheets like the fish he wrapped
in newspapers and sold to tourists.
IV’s wormed their way through his veins.
Hooked to the gills like a fish caught
between two worlds, he gasped for breath,
grasping for something eternal.
The God of Abraham will cradle you
as a child, you whispered, as his heart
slowed to a whisper, and his lungs expired.
Beneath a towering Joshua tree,
you buried his remains— 8 pounds
of ash and bone, already taking root
beneath the green grass of the country club
at which you said he worked his youth
away, mowing the golf course to a tee,
years lost with every fistful of ash tossed
through the Joshuas shaking their claws
at heaven, contorted into question marks
at the end of a life sentence.
You floated through that golf course’s lake
in a rented boat not altogether
unlike the soul-laden body adrift
through any night’s cold, dark, indifferent air,
knowing we’re all born beneath one roof— this sky,
and all must shoulder the blue beyond.
The morning sky is a blank sheet
spreading out before me,
lacking stars and infinitely
wide and deep as the sea.
I look up past the blue beyond
to God, who is everywhere
but here. The austere trees hold up the sky,
but death is all that shadows us.

Like Water on the Brain, first appeared in the anthology Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude from Holy Cow! Press

Like Water on the Brain

For my grandfather, Eugene Hallan, 1921-2006

I was standing in the garden
when a drop of rain fell upon the back
of my neck, and a shiver shot down my spine.

And isn’t that the way our memories work?
Something jogs the senses-- a smell
or the ache for the familiar

touch of a loved one and the memory
of some event seems to fall from nowhere
into the wellsprings of the mind the way

the earthy scent of these geranium
blossoms bowing down to drink
from this dark pool forming in the mud,

which seem hardly blossoms at all
but the essence of green itself,
reminds me of a childhood trip

to Seattle to see my grandfather,
along whose home geraniums
grew in profusion, before Dementia

began to restrict the blood flow
to the realm of memory in his brain,
and oxygen tubes wormed their way

to his leaf-veined lungs the way this fallen
blossom has withered and gone gray
as a mind washed clean by darkness.