10 items or less

so one day

when you don’t expect it

you’re at Publix supermarket

looking for hand sanitizer

wooden stick matches


cocktail napkins

and you’re picking up

bloody mary mix

nine bottles of Fairbanks port

the Examiner


five rolls of paper towels

you find yourself

in the express check out line

in front of the rudest woman in the world

who says to you

that your items have exceeded

the ten limit maximum

and she expects you to take your

shit off of the conveyor


move to another line

and you say –“ too late”

and you try to defuse the situation by saying

your’re a cash customer and you wave

a one hundred dollar bill

in the air

but the manager comes over

and says you have to take

your shit off of the conveyor

and you don’t argue because

of your respect for authority

lady nods approvingly

watches you load up your cart

and move away

and you feel a little like

John Dillinger – lawbreaker

as you slink off

planning for next time.

Bottomless pot

it happens when you’re driving

before dawn

on I-95 – north of Miami

on a morning in late summer

when the night heat


like an old drunk

who won’t leave the bar

at closing time

and you think that

if you were on an all night bender

maybe things wouldn’t look so bad

but when you’re blasting south

a full cup of black coffee

from your local coffee mill

perfectly balanced

in the cup holder

of your  ’99 Subaru

and you hear

that the Palmetto Expressway is closed

(overturned cement truck)

and the construction

that was supposed to be

finished LAST YEAR,

is still

backing shit up

to West Palm Beach

…well then…

your job shuffling papers

at Corporate

does not seem so appealing

and you begin to think

that maybe you should have

gone to law school or

gotten a degree in Pharmacology

like your Uncle Willis

who came back from ‘Nam

back in sixty eight

and went to UCLA

and then married

a drop-dead-gorgeous


from a wealthy Chicago family

and raised three beautiful

children in Toluca Lake

and retired early

to a gated community

in Cabo San Lucas

where he now raises purebred

Chihuahuas with his third wife

Evelyn and hasn’t a goddamned

regret in the world.

The lucky bastard.

So you drain the last drop from

your 16 oz brain rocket

courtesy of the BottomlezzPot

and you think to yourself


if there were justice in the world

you could take back

the past ten years

of your life.

Nine ball

I’m blasting Mozart’s

Symphony 41

on the Philco stereo

at close to 3am

in the basement

of the old house

up at Mt. Pocono

causing whitecaps

to appear upon

the troubled waters

of Lake Writersblock

I’m hoping for a poem

or story of great meaning

one of substance and worth

…filled with poignant words…

to spring from the well-worn

felt of the old billiard table

upon which I shoot

a game of 9 ball

with the immortal, but imaginary

Di Mozartini himself

the legendary billiards connoisseur

it’s your shot, I say

to dear old Gottlieb

as the Jupiter Symphony

fills the dimly lit cellar

with inspiration

and in its honor

I pour another cup

of boysenberry wine

to chase the cold from

the darkest hour

of a winters night

as rhapsody reverberates

off of the oil burner tank

shakes windows in their casements

rattles the box wrenches

in their hangers

above the workbench

and descends upon

disassembled lawn mower parts

on the cellar floor

I steel myself for

the final round of play


…Wolfgang Amadeus…shoots…

his shot goes awry — I say:

“a bit off our game tonight – aren’t we, old pal?”

I chuckle and chalk my cue

I approach the table

and study my shot

take my time – I see the run

but the Great One knows

I have him on the ropes.

I draw the lightly talc’d

red maplewood shaft through

the crook of my left forefinger

to the point of release, and

it’s geometry from here on

a lightly pressed shot off

of the cushion

and we’re done – finito

I say goodnight to the dark shadows

that lurk behind the oil burner.


The lady who rents,

Space 560C -,

That’s the space next to mine,

At the North Miami,


Unloads her stuff,

From a Toyota truck,

One that has,

A crushed-right-front fender,

And a missing end gate,

She tells me that she borrowed

The truck from her brother,

To haul her shit up,

From Florida City,

Now, she’s sweating in,

One hundred sixty seven degree,

July heat,

That boils in from the Everglades.

She swears effortlessly,

f-this, and f-that,

She lugs out boxes,

Like a longshoreman,

Jesus saves, reads the tattoo,

On her right arm,

Jerod R.I.P. on her left arm.

I ask her if I can help,

But she says no,

It’s just a box of books,

Crap she can’t bear to part with,

From her first marriage to,

The fucked up history teacher,

And I say that I have books too,

And she says books are not really,

Important after the fact,

After you’ve read them all,

They’re all the same.

She says that leaning on the hood,

Of the Toyota – smoking,

“Harmonicas and magic wands”

Reads the next box,

“Toddler to 2  yr” reads another,

“Letters from J — People mag,”

“crap from Jacksonville house”

“shit from Pop”

I help her carry a heavy box:

“pensacola dishes”,

Should’ve thrown these out in 1986 she says.

Connor Priest

Long shadows of late autumn follow Connor Priest,

He walks each day along the path by the orchard,

On leave again – this time from rehab,

He trudges by my house each day at four, and he looks,

Neither right nor left, and pays no attention – usually,

To the covey of quail that flush up out of the thick dead grass,

That grows by the fence row along the path by the highway,

He’s too young for this walk – he walks like he must,

Bareheaded, he wears a light blue windbreaker,

In front of cold South Dakota wind,

He keeps his right forearm tucked into the pocket,

It’s his phantom hand (I’d later find out) – the one he’d lost,

In a faceless blast on the other side of the planet,

His left hand, the one that’s left, is exposed and bare,

Left hand holds a smoke and it looks cold and alone.

I call out to him – from the porch where I go to write,

In the afternoon when the sun is out – I have green tea, and a pipe,

So I ask if he would like to come over – to warm himself,

He waves with his good smoking hand and shakes his head,

One day, I ask again and Connor Priest crosses the blacktop highway,

That separates the orchard and the path from my writing porch,

We smoke and talk as the sky mellows with color over the trees,

He shows me the stump and he tells me about the bomb,

He saw the white flash but didn’t feel anything, nor hear anything,

He tells me he is deaf in one ear, and then he asks me what I write about,

Foolish things I tell him. We smoke until it is late and he has to go back,

A fingernail moon pushes up over Yankton. Connor Priest disappears,

Into early evening shadows that force themselves upon the old apple trees,

On the other side of the blacktop highway.


Ed’s Note:  This poem has appeared in several places since I wrote it back in 2008, so I apologize if you have already read it. I run it here, on Veteran’s Day, in honor of the men and women who have served our country in the U.S. Armed Forces. For the record, Connor Priest is a real person. The name, Connor Priest, like the names of all actual people in everything that I write, is fictitious.

Short list

The HR Lady

(that’s Human Resources Representative)

From the midtown agency,

Studies my resume,

Like it’s a Chinese restaurant menu,

Her lips move as she reads,

She takes off her tortoiseshell reading glasses,

And she looks at me,

Like she can’t decide,

On the Egg Drop, or the Wonton soup,

Finally, she asks me why I feel,

That I’m qualified for a lofty position,

On a lofty floor of a lofty,

New York City institution,

So, I say that I have 27 and three quarter years,

Of experience in such work,

Tho’ some of it is not directly applicable,

To the task at hand,

But I say that I enjoy a challenge,

And I’ll reach out – to whomever,

And I like to keep my finger,

On the pulse of the marketplace,

Strategizing to drive proper synergy,

To various business groups,

And whoever else,

Wants to tag along,

And I like to bring new ideas to the table.

I’m sweating, feeling faint,

My left eye socket pounds,

Sweat drips into my newly laundered,

Argyle socks.

I smile, and then she asks:

“Can you explain your last period of unemployment?”

Oh such a question they often ask,

But I dodge it saying that I was busy in the Poconos,

For nineteen months,


Yes, busy proofing Leah’s first novel,

Painting an old house in Marshall’s Creek,

Planting asparagus, and setting out a strawberry bed,

Writing poetry at one AM,

Drinking wine while the sun rises,

Over the mountains by the Delaware,

And racing Leah through the orchard,

Naked, in the first summer rain,

You know, busy.

So I left — not knowing whether or not,

I’d gotten the job,

But I figured at least,

I’d made the short list.

Difference of opinion

It’s spring, but the Prairie won’t hear of it,

Snow clings to the fence rows,

Where dead grass holds it in place,

Waiting for the warmth of someday,

To take it away,

Water is frozen hard in the potholes,

Of the narrow gravel road,

That runs through the pasture,

Up to the dead end,

A cold wind whistles through the phone lines,

The ones that run along the south side of the cemetery,

Where the Union Army vets,

(and two from the competition),

Lie buried side by side,

Flesh and bones long eroded,

And washed away into the Gulf of Mexico,

And beyond,

We are here to bury Uncle Leo,

A fine old soldier; but one given to disorder,

In matters of the heart,

Gary from the VFW says to me,

That Leo was a good old soul who,

Held his liquor well and didn’t swear,

And his first wife said he’d been a kind family man,

On the holidays – especially,

And Candice, a waitress at the Larkspur Inn,

Shivers in a black dress as she stares at the casket,

And tries to cry but she can’t,

But she holds a ten dollar locket in her hand,

And she tells me he always came around on Thursdays,

For Bacardi and coke, and left a five dollar tip – always!

And she didn’t care how many of his ex’s,

Showed up to bury him, because he was a better man,

Than any of them deserved,

Not that he ever spoke of them to her, then:

She starts to cry…

Silence descends and,

We turn our attention to:

The Unitarian pastor who holds her hair in one hand,

(a hard wind blows straight out of Saskatchewan),

She holds a prayer book in the other hand,

So we listen – carefully – as she does her best,

To give polite justice to a man she’s never met,

(not much of a church goer, Uncle Leo).

When it’s over, we walk carefully around,

Graves of dead soldiers, so as not to disturb them,

But before we reach the cars,

Wife three touches me on the arm,

She asks why I’ve come, and I tell her,

How he explained ‘Kentucky windage’ to me when I was ten,

And he taught me how to shoot,

Into a cross wind — he told me he could see a bullet,

As soon as it left the barrel – and follow it with his eye,

Then I say that he was a soldier, who fought,

For family and country, and I wanted to be like him,

When I was ten,

She shakes her head – ,

He was a lying old buzzard she says,

As she walks away