She moves through the fragile
Planet with determination
So focused on the good she forgot the good
In her

This angel of American ashes
Desire, desire to make it better
She can’t remember the first letter
Of her name

And when she’s drunk
She speaks the only truth
She kisses me and curses proof
Of her soul

She’s so far gone she is oblivion embodied
And yet when she dances near me
It’s as if she can hear me
Calling her forgotten name

And I want to hold her
I want to find common ground
With the hell that we both found
Trying to make this better

But she drinks and spins
And doesn’t want to hear it
She’s in it to win it
But she can’t remember the prize

And neither can I.

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To Be Old

26/09/2019

How nice would it be to be old
You’re holding my hand on a beach
We’re in a Viagra commercial flying a kite
You’re old and I’m ancient

It must be nice to be old,
Wrinkled and grotesque
Not alone, not alone
At least a few more years

And you leave, or I float on first
But we see one another soon

How nice to be old
How nice to be told
That this night is the start
Of a love, of an ever-loving love,
a fire breathing heart.

But I’m old, now
Severance won the match
And you’re busted
And I’m salty crusted
But at least
We shared a daughter
Named PRIDE.

We should be buying a beach house, and picking out the chairs.
We should be attending soccer games, and our daughter’s growing up affairs.

We should be holding hands, and pecking each other’s cheeks.
We should be making love all night, and dreaming of it until the next time we meet.

You should have been my wife, and once, indeed, you were.
I should have been the man in your life, when your hair turns to pearl.

We should be loving each other; not regarding each other with hate.
But we each bid on another;
such is Love, such is grief, such is hate.

And yet, there’s still this love. I suppose will never abate.
For it’s you I’ll always dream of;
such is Love, such is life; such is Fate.

sleepover

18/11/2014

full moon blue, shoulder

to shoulder, sleeping bag

breeze, gentle glow

your smile, here below

we talk, listen, make plans

for next day and then

we laugh, kissing we’re

carried away

you’re all mine tonight

and i’m yours true

spliced hands, blue light

cozy closeness with you

Immune

18/11/2014

She left me.

She’s gone.

I thought of this

as I drank a cold lager

and realized

that after 12, I wasn’t drunk.

I wasn’t sad, or old.

My dreams with her,

ingested with indifference

in golden bubbles.

And when the suds

began leaking from my eyes

I remembered

I am immune to pain.

Like Mr. Simon said:

“An island never cries.”

all the pics 224

You ask if you’re still my dream girl.

You ponder if there’s another in this whole world.

But the first time that I saw you, blurry blond in a dream,

Even then, my love was true, and embarked toward you.

 

I have ached over you in life on the outside my heart.

I’ve never second-guessed, in life even if we may part.

And the second time I saw you, California curtains framing smile

Butterflies bounded from your fingers, and my love more than lingered.

 

When our arms ache for holding,

When our ears tire of scolding,

We can let go and embrace for hours.

We can kiss like we used to,

With new understanding of me and you

and somethings will always be ours.

 

We stare at one another and wonder if our love is enough

We fold our hands; sprinkle our eyes, because the truth is tough

But when we get inside, we realize our lover is the very best

And I pray you know what I know: that we are the luckiest.

 

When our arms ache for holding,

When our ears tire of scolding,

We can let go and embrace for hours.

We can kiss like we used to,

With new understanding me and you

and

somethings will always be ours.

–for Darreth Alise Wheeler

Bowline

20/06/2013

The sea’s hand rolled us over

Like palm-held marbles

The engine thumped along

Coughing exhaust into the sun.

 

The fishing rods swayed in the spray

Like a couple of stood-up prom queens.

Grandpa rose, steadied himself

On the deck.

 

His hands, unclipped sailor claws,

Right bejeweled with Scottish Rite skull,

The left bound in wedding band,

Worked over small stuff like a fid.

 

“Look here,” he drew in a bight of line.

The bitter end, acting as the rabbit, poked

Through the hole, around the tree

And back through the hole.

 

He handed me the line, untied.

“You try,” he said.

Teeth ground in overbite, but three times a charm.

“There,” he said. “Never forget it.”

 

Back away from the cerulean, the

Pitching and rolling sea.

Haul on the bowline

Our bully boat’s a’ rollin’. 

 

 

 

The Venetians capture the dying sun with those blinds

That swill this empty house, frozen chaos like a rattle.

The phone rests in the cradle, a stung gaze

Can’t cause a ringing. Still, you try.

 

The air-conditioning protests icy the May clouds, a

Heat-storm lightshow; rich purple cumulous risers in

The back yard: pool deck, inert and wide chlorine looking glass.

Distant rumbling of a storm forever in the distance.

 

Behind the house, echoes of children laughing.

Behind a collapsing wooden fence, vine-weighted.

Beyond and above the green suburbs, lightning.

Distant rumbling of a storm forever in the distance. 

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Dress Whites

25/05/2013

I was a seaman when assigned to USS Spruance, a destroyer. Exiled to a life of swabs and Cadillac buckets for the offense of driving a motor vehicle under the influence. They say going to sea is like prison with the added chance of drowning, and no one suggests this old proverb better than the mongrel degenerates of the deck department. From nuke school flunkies, to borderline personality disorders, to petty officers two cards short of a full deck, the grunts of the US Navy, scoundrels all, who wear their paint-stained dungarees as a badge of honor.
When the ship arrived in New York City for fleet week, I resigned to stay onboard. If I left on liberty, I was sure to get in trouble, but BM1 Curtis had taken a liking to me—and said both of us were going out on the town.
“Don’t get too excited,” he said. “I ain’t Sinatra and you damn sure ain’t Gene Kelly. There ain’t gonna be no singing or dancing, shipwreck. In these dress whites, we’re sure to get a blowjob at minimum. Barring that, we’ll drink for free. Hell, it’s fleet week. These monkey suits are our meal tickets.”
Curtis, on his nineteenth year, was a bona fide lifer with spinach in his teeth. He’d been everywhere, done everything, and had the tattoos to prove it: anchors on left and right forearms, swallows on each shoulder, a compass rose, a pig on his left foot, a rooster on the right, and a chest etching of a fully rigged ship that said Home underneath, as opposed to the standard, Homeward Bound, in commemoration of rounding the horn of Africa. Upon his calloused hands, the knuckles scarred in blown-out ink (the left PORT, the right, STBD), his unkempt fingernails were like massive merman claws.
When he wasn’t on watch, or in the deck office reading tech manuals, he was in the gym powering the bench press, plated with two hundred and fifty pounds, snarling at God and country as he lifted. Hash marks rode the sleeves of his dress blues like red tide. If you make it twelve years without a trip to the Old Man for non-judicial punishment, your hash marks are golden. If you’ve paid the skipper a visit, they remain red. Curtis’ hash marks were red as the port navigation light.
Curtis’ reputation for alcohol-induced demon possession was legendary, so I was reluctant to accept his offer, but then I saw him in the lounge: in his dress whites with nowhere to go. I decided to take him up on his offer for a night in the Big Apple. When we left the ship; Curtis popped his Dixie cup aft and rolled his sleeves to the elbows exposing the tattooed forearms.
“This is how you wear your uniform, shipwreck!”
The New York City summer is a sailor’s wet dream: the Puerto Rican girls frolicking through the skyscraper-shaded avenues like sugar-coated delicacies who’ve taken on female form—with a vengeance—the stone against neon, the howling car horns and civilian glares. In this rich tapestry exists an undertone of melancholy that suggests future non-judicial punishments you’re heading toward, and how all this joy will soon end in tears.
We’d just arrived at 34th and Penn Station when an old man passerby took note of Curtis’ uniform. “Is that how we wear our uniform, sailor?” he said.
Curtis smiled, nodding, “It’s how I wear it,” he said, bluntly. “What’s this we shit?”
From his Bible-sized wallet the old man pulled an ID card and panned it before Curtis’ face.
“This is my V.A. card. It shows my rank. Do you see that? Thirty-four years of service—Master Chief Petty Officer. I’ve earned the respect. Now fix your cover and roll down them sleeves, boatswain’s mate. You ought to be ashamed of yourself setting such a bad example for this junior sailor.”
Curtis plucked it from his hand, and studied it. Just as the next train roared through the station, Curtis flung the ID into the tracks.
“Nah, that’s a fake! Fuck you, old man!”
He looked at me with a wink over his shoulder.
“Come on, shipwreck! We got beers to drink and whores to sink!”
I followed Curtis, leaving the old man cursing and nearly in tears, scrambling back and forth on the subway platform moaning about his jettisoned ID. Walking up the stairway, the light of New York City in his eyes, Curtis looked at me again, “When I retire, I ain’t gonna act like that. Fuck that old man.”
Like a lot of sailors, boatswain’s mates in particular, Curtis struggled with the hooch. He’d been thrice divorced and was working on his fourth. Back at homeport, when Curtis wound up on liberty, he’d end it at Capt. Odie’s looking for infidel wives, or at Cast-A-Ways, the enlistedmen’s club, slurring his words to the barmaids. Wherever he’d end up, he’d drink till flagged. Many nights the Master-At-Arms would bring him back to the ship after a courtesy turnover with the local authorities.
He should have been sent back to rehab—he had gone, so the story goes, back in the ‘80s—but the ship always had something on the horizon requiring the old sailor’s attention. From the time I was assigned there, the ship didn’t have an acting boatswain, so Curtis filled the billet. That’s how the military works. If it’s broke, put a band-aid on it. You can get fixed at the VA hospital after your hitch is through. In the meantime, grab a swab and quit crying. Truth be told, if it weren’t for those blood red hash marks, he would have been a Master Chief twice over.
Curtis, either looking for blood or water or a mare to mount, pushed through the streets the way crazed door crashers do on Black Monday, a man determined. But the entire time he looked back and told me to come on, let’s go, shipwreck! I couldn’t help feeling uneasy about the scene. Here I was trying to get on the straight and narrow and this salty fucker was gonna have me popping tall next week before the Old Man by the time liberty call was secured.
When we reached the Playwright bar, Curtis swung a mischievous grin over his shoulder just before he opened the door. “Oh, I’ve been here before,” he said, wildly.
Inside were a couple of jarheads by the bar. Their entry-level ranks contrasted their boasting of combat and courage to the audience of attractive females. Curtis ordered us some drinks. And then pounced.
“Well, well, well, looks like a couple of our taxi customers showed up early,” he said, signally to the barkeep two fingers twice: once for two and twice for Guinness and continued, the jarheads suddenly struck like a couple of deer just before a back road massacre. “Ladies, on behalf of our nation’s great Navy, me and this young tar—and these two Marines included because they work for the Navy same as us—“
The Marines looked equally peeved and confused, bouncing glances and nervous smiles about the bar like participants in a game of dodge ball. Curtis thanked the barkeep and offering me my pint glass raised his and toasted:
“Ladies and gentlemen of New York, we are honored by your hospitality. And to these young Marines who we ferry into the worst hells on earth, here’s to you.”
Everyone cheered. The Marines, at once confused by the wild-eyed seafarer, were immediately endeared and smiled, relieved.
As the night grew late, and the booze—a Thai tsunami surge over the integrity of the world’s greatest Navy—poured out through the tap, gushing through our veins, Curtis’s sea stories became more exaggerated and crass, reaching their zenith when one of the fillies asked if he thought mermaids were real.
“You’re damn right they are,” he snarled.
The laughing, which up until the aforementioned quote, had been jovial, suddenly took a nervous turn. It soon became obvious that they had poked a dark wound.
“You know, the thing about mermaids, ladies,” he said as he relaxed his back upon the bar, taking a thoughtful posture that included a fistful of Guinness and a newly lighted cigar.
“You can’t smoke cigars in here, sailor,” said the barkeep.
“Oh, no? Don’t mind me, Charlie. It’s burning for freedom. All I’ve ever asked for,” he took a long drag off the Dominican stogy. “Is to smoke a cigar in a fine establishment—such as this, mind—in the Big Apple. That and of course, a woman to come home to. You know, in recognition of my sacrifice for this great nation we all enjoy.”
The barkeep rolled his eyes in acquiesces, continued wiping a glass with a rag.
“Ladies, one day you may fall in love with a man of the sea. And if you do, be kind. And by kind I mean, don’t bring Jodie home when your man is out there on the raging main. It’s the worst sin you could ever make. Even worse than lying to your mother, or letting the stars and stripes touch the deck when you’re folding her into the regulation triangle.”
Curtis’s eyes were misty as if they both suddenly were infected with conjunctivitis. He looked away, ashamed, and sipped his pint and smoked his cigar and would no longer speak.
The girls collected their things. When they went to pay the bill Curtis came back from the dead quiet of his memories and paid their tab. Later he could barely walk and only spoke in slurred cryptic slogans of mermaids and the God damned Navy and their fucking rules that barred him from making rate beyond first class. I did my best to console him. He seemed like he might pop at any moment. The Marines had moved to the other side of the bar by then, but Curtis kept looking across at them and mumbling under his breath fucking jarheads with a vicious intonation. We stumbled back to the ship around three in the morning.
Curtis would go on and on about the Big Bosun In the Sky. He’d offer praise, and reference this deity when delivering bad news, too.
“We’re not pulling in this weekend, shipwrecks. So says the Big Bosun in The Sky.”
At his retirement ceremony a year later, Curtis wept. It was the only time his pain had been exposed since that Fleet Week night. The ceremonial boatswain’s mate piped him ashore and I never saw him again. The ship’s scuttlebutt was that six months later, after a bottle of Old Grand Dad and a Creedence Clearwater Revival marathon, Curtis tied a twenty-five pound dumbbell to each ankle and walked off the pier in St. Augustine.
Nowadays, when I look skyward, or into the depths of Davy Jones’ locker, I can see that Big Bosun clear as Caribbean blue: old Curtis smiling back at me, his Dixie cup cocked aft, arms folded over, a tattooed triumphant tragedy.

Image
My first deployment was a Mediterranean—a Med we call it—which is short for a Persian Gulf deployment because that’s where you’re headed. I was nineteen years old; turned twenty somewhere in the Atlantic. Those chum friends I mentioned showed up on the day of departure to see me off. I’d asked them to come; didn’t think they’d actually show. In those days, you just sent a list of people to the front of the base and security’d match names to IDs and let them through. This was the ‘90s. With such lax security buffers, in hindsight it amazes me that terrorism waited until the 21st century to earn its own war.
The shortlist is as follows:
Budd and Chris McConnell, bickering brothers who disputed surf wax and surfing spots, and holidays, who Mom loved more, and who settled their arguments with bruised shoulders, lived in their affluent parents’ beach house on A1A. The parents owned a pizzeria.
Steve “Fry-Guy” Howell was the McConnell’s slovenly neighbor—or, least I think he was their neighbor (I was never entirely clear how they knew each other). I also wasn’t clear how Fry-Guy, who earned the nickname by way of a sloppy buzz-cut (self-shaved in autumn, not touched until Spring Break) that forced his head into a tennis ball shape, fit in with the group. He didn’t surf, was unemployed—a personality that was unemployable in most settings, and he was, therefore predictably and eternally broke. In hindsight, he stood as a sort of embodiment of failure. Perhaps he was the Lord’s road sign reminding all of us to be grateful for what he had and who we weren’t; and who we were being Fry-Guy. He resembled a sweaty toad wearing discounted Billabong sweats and concert t-shirts from knock. Years later, he ended his life with a bottle of vodka and roughly sixty Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules under the pier in Cocoa Beach. This was right after being fired at Ron Jon Surfshop; rumor has it he was caught masturbating in the women’s dressing room. That’s life.
Then the lovely Candy Shegda, the toe-headed surf chick with the sun kissed mocha skin; always stoned and beautiful, always smelling of cocoanut and aloe, exciting and gorgeous in her sandy locks, her brown skin, ever piercing eyes, shoal blue and feline, ever staring at the thirsty sun. In her ultra-short denim—sad camouflage for a sandy and perfect roundness that wouldn’t sit still—her bronzed arms and legs, shaped by the intimate hand of God Almighty, adorned a shapely violin that sang siren songs when plucked. When she’d address me, I felt like the last man standing at the end of the world; I’m pretty sure she had the same affect on most men.
I bumped into her at a convenience store a week or so after we met. I waited in line with a six-pack of beer. She sauntered in wearing pink short-shorts, a spaghetti strapped bikini top, flip-flops exposed shiny, pastel toenails. Oblivious to the busy surrounding of the store, she approached the Good Humor cooler, pulled her golden locks behind her ears. She folded her bottom lip, biting down with her teeth and perching her index finger on the side of her mouth as she studied the frosted glass for a Push-up and a Fudgecicle. Her posture was intentionally suggestive with her finger cleft to the corner of her mouth, her other hand on her hip, with her left leg buckled, right leg at the bend, forcing her rump to push-out as if to scream her glorious rear endowment. There were two landscapers waiting in front of me with bags of pork rinds and some Natural Light, a blond and a brunette. The blond was busy yelling at his three year old in the candy aisle; the brunette shamelessly examined Candy’s shape up and down, back to front like a car he might buy.
“God damn, girl,” he licked his lips.
Candy turned round, as if to rebuff the offense, saw me, and wrote it off.
“Hey, you! Staunch, right?” she said.
“Dale.”
“That’s right, Staunch,” she said grabbing the frozen novelties carelessly and joining me in the queue.
The blond self-styled renegade, rendered impotent by Candy’s indifference, paid for his wears and left shaking his head in failure. Funny how that kind of angle never works.
Standing behind me, we talked about this and that: Ponce Inlet, Sebastian; she scribbled her number on a book of matches, and just when I believed romance was in bloom, she told me that I knew Ricky and we should all hang out sometime. I drank the six-pack in the parking lot, went back in the store and bought another six and that’s all I remember about that night.
Old Ricky Travis, a redneck surfer with a chiseled torso and bleached hair, tied the group together in a ramshackle confederacy. Ricky’d start fights with anyone and had a pocketful of stories about UFOs and Satanic cults he’d willingly spin to a bendable ear. Ricky and I met on the beach when I was 16 and he was 19; he had this hot sister—who I got involved with briefly right before I met Roseanna (and right after Ricky punched me in the nose for the audacity). He had a collection of Doobie Brothers’ records that he’d play at full volume when he drank. And he drank a lot; Old Milwaukee, Stroh’s, he wasn’t a millionaire. He worked landscaping through high school and founded a company of his own later on, named it Chewy’s Landscaping. He drove an old Tropic Traveller van, and after he started Chewy’s he used it to advertise, a big car magnet on the side with the company logo atop a cartoon goat eating grass. When I spotted the van parking outside the pier gates, I was standing on the forecastle. I was excited to sail on my first deployment; even more so when I saw the old gang from Daytona there to see me off. Preperations were still being made to set the sea and anchor detail; in the middle of the frenzy to make ready the ship for departure, I snuck off the forecastle, down the gangway, to make sure they didn’t have any problems getting on the pier. BM1 Curtis, his Dixie cup dipped sideways in his dress whites, didn’t notice me as he barked orders. When I reached the guardshack, I found Candy and the rest of the crew surprisingly sober waiting patiently queued with the Navy wives with their stroller-bound babies in single file. A fence wrapped around Mayport’s horseshoe-shaped turning basin where the ships were moored; the guardshacks acted as funnels for pedestrian traffic. I sat down on a utilities riser and waited for them to breach the sentry. Ricky saw me there, smiled and waved, nudged Candy who did the same to Budd and so on and so forth. With their vacant collective grins, flip-flops and cut-off shorts, they looked like a band of pirates. The sentry sized them up, panning between their IDs and faces, and then the IDs were returned and each one of the merry band skipped on through the gate.
Ricky high-fived my hand.
“Holy shit, brah. That ship’s fucking huge,” he said staring up at the superstructure wide-eyed, arms akimbo like he’d just stepped into a vast amusement park.
Candy stepped to the side and sat down next to me on the riser. Over her shoulder slung a macramé purse; training her eyes on the ship, she took out a cigarette and lighted it. She took a drag, exhaled through her nostrils like a beautiful dragon.
“’Sup, Staunch. You goin’ drive that thing down south?” she said.
She spoke coarsely with a slightly masculine lilt, implying a reticence toward her own feminine sensuality and running with it, going against the grain of that which was innate. I chalked this up to the company she kept.
“If they let me.”
“Staunch!” BM1 Curtis spotted me on the pier, hollering from the forecastle. “Get up here before you miss movement!”
I said my goodbyes, thanked everyone for seeing me off, and returned to the forecastle.
Pier operations secured the gangway with four shackles, the rigger stepped onto the pier, and signaled to come-up on the controls, hoisting it high in the air and spinning the weighted brow around gently as if it were a feather resting it calmly on the pier. With the shore power cables removed, the brow secured, the order was given from the pilot house to single-up all lines, like clockwork the line detail moved forward and aft heaving on the nylon lines. The orders echoed over the weatherdeck from the line captains and followed by an order to take in all lines and the last line was removed from the aft bollard by a scruffy shit for brains navy cook and cast into the water and a loud whistle was blown throughout the 1MC followed by, “Underway! Shift colors!” and the ensign was raised on the center mast and the tugs, one forward, one aft, pulled the ship off the pier and inched her into the center of the basin.
The crowd began to disperse. The shortimers waved off the suckers who had to keep the watch, gloating as it were, the women and children moved like a torrent of sorrows through the gate to the parking lot.
The ship passed the mouth of the harbor. The order was given to stow all lines below decks. First division began the arduous task. For a moment, I was mesmerized by the sight of those old friends as they became smaller and smaller on the pier in the distance. The McConnell brothers pushed and shoved each other; Ricky smoked a cigarette and wandered around looking at the cruiser moored forward where our ship had been, oblivious that I was leaving. But old Candy, I could see her face clearly, smiling and waving her arm, her dirty golden locks blowing in the dust of the pier, her whole body radiating the sun as if it were shining on her alone. And then she became smaller and the sun flared my vision, and I got hollered at for not paying attention and began to stow the lines with my shipmates. Smaller and smaller, the people became ants.
Candy wrote me a few times after that, her letters far more explicit and sensual than she’d ever spoken to me in person. She said she loved me and that Ricky was a loser. Ricky’s business was failing, he’d turned to heroin to cope and this made everything worse. She respected me for getting out of Daytona and for all intents and purposes making something of myself while the rest of the gang continued their lives as surfers, a lifestyle that in Daytona Beach would ultimately lead them to addiction and behind the register somewhere, if they weren’t lucky enough to mow lawns or steal copper.
By the middle of the deployment the letters stopped and when the ship arrived for homecoming six months later, there wasn’t anyone there to greet me. I took the duty blues for some seaman who had the bad luck of pulling duty the day of arrival, which fell on a Friday. The next morning I turned over the duty section on the flight deck and headed to Hannah Park to catch some early morning swells. Later that night I drank too many at Capt. Odie’s and broke a Marine’s nose. I stumbled down Mayport Road and crashed on the rack in berthing. The pillow and mattress normally felt like rocks; that night my rack felt like a cloud.