Six of my poems are now online at Statorec. Thank you to editor Jennifer Parker for selecting them.
Red Bull in the cooler, five-hour drinks on the counter, lottery tickets and cigarettes behind me, Penthouse on the top rack, herbal tea on the corner shelf, ATM near the door, coffee canisters by the pastry bins.
When I was a kid, we called this place Pop’s Candy Store. Pops sold it to me twenty years ago, and I changed the name to Park Street Stationery. I sold Mars bars, baseball cards, Twinkies, Pez dispensers, even pens and paper. I ask myself – when did I become a drug and porn dealer? When did I start running a numbers racket?
I never changed the sign. It still says stationery, candy, cigars. I haven’t sold cigars in fifteen years. No one buys them anymore.
People come in for their fix— coffee to wake up, Red Bull to stay up, lottery tickets to feel hopeful, cigarettes to feel calm, sugar to fill a craving, herbal tea to sleep, porn for immediate use. I know what my regular customers need by looking at their eyes when they’re in the line. That saves me some time.
Last week, I signed with a delivery service. They text me orders and send a guy with a van. Next month, I’ll hire some kid after school to pack boxes. I’ll tell him, keep away from the drugs, the gambling, the porn, don’t feel dirty about the product, don’t think about the customers or their families. Just put the blue gloves on, pack the damn boxes, cash your paycheck, and wash your hands before you go home. There isn’t much room for sympathy in this business.
“Stationery Store” (a persona piece) was first published in Red Wheelbarrow #10 (2017).
Without ID, there is no existence.
Without ID, there is no ‘be’ in a be sea. A sea without be is an empty vastness. A map of a beless sea is a measurement without dimension, an arrow without direction.
A number without value.
‘Nothing’ cannot be conceived— nothing is not born from nothing, nothing cannot be born from anything. The opposite of a vacuum with no dimensions is infinitely filled indeterminateness, which is not the same as a vacuum, but is no different. Divide by zero to prove 1=2.
A synonym for belessness is ________.
A person without ID is as invisible as a paper match’s smoke in a strong wind. People look through, look past. Who? The question cannot be answered. Can you distinguish one ant from another? One mathematical point? Something less than that? How many irrational numbers exist between zero and one? What is the difference in value between two neighboring irrational numbers? Two neighboring transcendental numbers?
Without ID, people are uncountable.
Without ID, there is no I, and there is no way to identify the body from dental records.
For those who cannot be identified, there is no origin, so there cannot be a destination or movement. No licenses, no work, no taxes to be paid.
ID is the key to society’s lock. ID opens eyes, allows recognition, and provides a path to somewhere. ID is how we know where on the map we are and where everyone else is.
Drop ID onto a person, and everyone else thinks they know who they are. The mask can be seen in a mirror, so it ‘exists’. They also know where they are— the Northeast side of Southwest Centerville, five miles up the road past the Jones cabin that burned down last year, by the old Bennett farm where Sam built the cheap condos.
If you leave your ID at home, you can slip through the world unnoticed, be a person of no account. Move between the masks, above the grid, and slide right in— a vampire of no reflection, who takes without giving, endlessly existing between the rhythmic beats of reality’s subtle drummer.
A mask is art, or artifice, or artificial.
A poet writes his story, his name is Forty, he sings of glory, but as he runs out of time, his mask falls away so he can no longer say the poet’s play; only empty pain remains as his life-stained mask slides down the drain.
Have a party to burn your diary; toast the loss of your past, and then go to the mall to lease three new masks. What is in style today? How much do you have to pay?
Hide your masks. Use them when nothing is not enough, when something is better than something else, or when anything will do.
Each day, wear one or all of your masks, or put me away; choose to be, or ________.
“No ID” was first published in the Fall 2015 spoken word issue of Arc Poetry Magazine.
Musical instruments wail as the truck rolls
under the train trestle. We exercise the echo—
I bang my buffalo drum, Joe slams his congas,
Sandy shakes her tambourines, the kid
in front pounds his vibes, the guy in the back
goes full throttle on his drum kit.
Sunlight flares as the truck turns right. Crowds
on both sides of the street wave as we restart
whatever rhythm we were playing.
Every July 4th in Ridgewood, Joe hires out a flatbed
truck usually used to ship construction lumber.
Signs remembering Joe and Sandy’s friends
who passed in the prior year surround a frayed
banner with the name of our group— The Babalus.
We tie down our instruments and chairs and hope
to be the last float in the parade. Some years
they put us between a screaming fire engine
and a shrill ambulance, but other years are better.
When it rains hard, I cover my doumbek and djembe
in black garbage bags, water spraying on every beat.
Near the end of the parade route, we stop in front
of the Elk’s Club where Joe and Sandy’s friends
watch the procession and we play for a minute or two.
After the bows, we drive past the town’s reviewing
stand as the announcer reports how many
parades the Babalus have performed in.
We never won best of anything, our annual
get-together with no uniform, little rehearsal,
and an uncertain roster, but soaked or sunburned,
for all of us, drumming is breathing.
Lettuce was always Iceberg. Cookbooks told our parents that the hearts were the best part. They were bitter.
Cheese came in two varieties, yellow and white, pre-sliced and wrapped in clear plastic.
Bread was almost always white; seeded rye was used for special occasions. Whole wheat was cutting edge.
Milk had two teaspoons of strawberry or chocolate powder stirred in to make it drinkable.
Cereal had more sugar than cookies.
Chinese food was salty and spiceless Cantonese. We never made it to that Szechuan place in midtown.
Ice cream had three flavors – vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Then butter pecan was invented.
Vanilla ice cream, dumped into Coca-Cola, fizzed and erupted brown foam.
Soda and seltzer in thick glass bottles were delivered by some guy in a uniform. Dad put the empties outside a week later.
Seltzer had big and fast bubbles.
Sandwich fish was tuna fish. Salmon and sardines came much later.
Tuna fish and egg salad were made with large globs of mayonnaise. The result was flavored mayo. Sometimes diced onion was added for texture.
Borscht had sour cream, sliced egg, and boiled potatoes. Instead of borscht, really old people ate schav, which was green and had a sour odor.
TV dinners were fried chicken in aluminum trays. The apple cobbler never cooked right.
— Published in The Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow #9 (2016)
Here is a video of my monologue “There is Life to Do”, performed on June 4th, 2016 by Sam Perry (as the bartender). Tracy McQuillan plays the bar patron. The Strand Project is a collaboration between Lit Youngstown and Selah Dessert Theatre.
I’m looking forward to reading on the Chumley’s stage again. We had a great time last year.
Debbie and I had a wonderful time watching the show. My monologue “There Is Life To Do” was the closing piece, voiced by Sam Perry, who was fantastic as the bartender. Many thanks to Kris Harrington for her vision and drive.
If you happen to be anywhere near Youngstown, Ohio on June 3rd or 4th, one of my monologues was incorporated in a new production.
Very happy to say that my poem BUTTS has been shortlisted for Poem of the Year at Arc Poetry Magazine and will be published in their upcoming Spring issue.