In memory of my aunt (daily practice)

for KD

Three hundred and fifty years out of a millennium the polluted haze obscured all view of the palace across the river bank: smog or the smoky remnants of incendiary celebrations. Some families expired through two generations without a sight. The orchard survived through two hundred years of industrial progress in a nurturing glow of diffuse orange and brown light, filled with dancing shadows from the apple trees and passing motorbikes on the highway.

Birds sing through the ambient buzz of traffic, but they’re not seen.


Face to face with splendor but lost in its anonymous fog, the orchard gave a blind horse’s odds to catch a clear day’s reflection off the embedded gems. He and his Aunt took those odds everyday. She, blinded, led by her nephew’s hands on their daily afternoon break through the apple littered paths. For decades now, from the beginning of his memory and the end of her sight: neither had yet to see the palace. And neither had missed a day. So did the palace really exist beyond the banks? A distant relative from a nearby village claims to have seen it one morning returning from the fields. Scarcely anyone remembers him visiting the fields, least of all sober. More credible artistic villagers passed along rough sketches of the vision, always the same, always inspired: a marble platform, two mosques, four stilted minarets and a dome resting weightlessly below an expanse of rare blue.

One morning this generational fog broke just before daybreak. The air was cool and quiet. He would have slept through it, so newly pleasant, had the orchard keeper not rung a bell he had never heard before. But he knew immediately what it meant. Darting from his bed, he ran shoeless to his Aunt’s house and knocked on the door. Once, twice and again, no answer.

He yelled,

Auntie Auntie, the palace. It’s here. The sun is rising above it! Come now!

Still no answer. But the strange bell rang and the villagers walked in mass disbelief through the orchard, those perpetual oranges and browns, dancing shadows, industrial hums disappearing for now, just for a moment, like forgetting the name of a familiar thing.

Auntie, he called. Wake up! Come see – the palace is here at last.  

Urgency turned to desperation and he found her there in her bed, a final resting place. Peaceful in the crisp air. He pushed the blinds away to welcome the rising sun, and there he saw it at last, as she always imagined it: true majesty.

frosties in a hot war (daily practice)

after Hemingway

Shaved, clean-cut, and dressed like a mallrat escaped from Zumiez, he was to keep a low profile on the train. If any civilian asked, he was a student at a small school outside Chicago on his way home for winter break to visit his high school sweetheart. For supporting evidence – but only for the really nosy and bored ones – he was given pictures of a random pretty girl taken from a series of advertisements, like those in an old JC Penny tome, the sort of thick things suburban Moms had lying around for their pubescent sons to explore lingerie section fantasies. (If you squinted or stared peripherally, he remembered, you could maybe see nipples through the bras, eyes watering, burning, until the dark circular mystery revealed itself.) He could even toss in a few country colloquialisms, “Yeah, isn’t she somethin’?,” playmaking at cross-country friendship. “Yessir, prom queen of Long Beach Island right there.”

Though about 30 and weathered by over a decade of leadership, he looked young and innocent enough to play the part of country bumpkin. To the engineers and service staff, though, he was a known and protected quantity, unknown to everyone else, mostly thick-boned midwestern types too fat to fit into airplane seats, as a potentially dangerous fugitive in an unsealed train.

I went down to 30th Street Station to retrieve him, managing to avoid any suspicious glances from the militarized police presence. There was something terribly incongruous about their steroidal armored appearance under the old-school clickclacker departure boards and tourists ambling sluggishly between Auntie Anne’s or Au Bon Pain. I didn’t see any issue with his stopping for a Frosty (who looks suspicious holding a milkshake?), except I dreaded the pressure of meaningful, or at least not completely inane, conversation waiting for it. The accused mass murderer and me, just a couple guys waiting for a frosted treat. We waited through pleasantries.

“This country can be beautiful,” he told me, finally dropping the feigned American populist accent.

“I spent evenings in Oakland staring across the Bay for hours. The perpetual autumn is conducive to thought.”

He was half-Neapolitan, reassigned to California after getting too roughed up for comfort by the Lega’s people during the Welcome Refugees! port strikes. Fascists met his publicly leaked arrival in America, his mother’s country, with counter-protests and in short order he found himself falsely fingered as the mastermind behind the 7 November Movement. It culminated in two blocks of fascists squats burning to the ground outside of San Jose. Our internal communications called the cookout “much needed social sanitation,” which didn’t go great with the Feds’ case against him. We suspected rats in the party.

On the long car ride to the Poconos, we spoke some about the future of the party, his safety and Philip Roth, who he didn’t care for; didn’t “get”: Too petty-bourgeois. “It’s Hemingway that I like.” I walked him up to the cabin where a member of the Exec would take him, my mission complete. He bid me farewell and expressed hope that we’d meet again. “Try to see Niagra on your way up,” I told him. “And maybe give I Married a Communist a chance.” He nodded skeptically and walked inside. I couldn’t have known then that I sent him straight into the rat trap, his last breaths taken shortly after my lift. The San Jose goons had links throughout Pennsylvania and they caught up with him. He was summarily handled execution style by a couple of their party imbeds.

The front page of The NY Post (“How Do You Like Me Mao!”) showed him prostrate on his back, puffy tongued skate shoes stained with blood.

ants under my teeth

I wrote this from the numbed comfort of a dental chair.

So do you crack the teeth?

Crack them?

Yeah, like crack them into little cubes and break em out like an ice tray?

No, we don’t crack them.

Hmm, I remember a cracking or a popping sound last time.

No. I’ll be back in 10 minutes. Spit, please.

10 minutes later I was drifting off staring at my toes and thinking about a colony of ants my brother found under a garden rock in our front yard. He stuck a cherry bomb in the hole, lit the wick, and walked away laughing maniacally. I giggled a little as the doctor returned and asked his assistant for whatever grisly instrument was about to reshape my dental architecture. As the swishing and cracking culminated in a pop, I shouted from the back of my throat aha a’s a ah-ing! I ol’ ou!!

I felt a tingling on my chin, thinking maybe I had drooled or dribbled blood, but the doctor suddenly paused and started repeating

No. Oh my god.

Louder and louder as the ants started pouring out of my mouth and marching over my body. An army of them, carrying my teeth out to 7th Avenue. I closed my mouth and looked up at a man paled by horror, those once confident hands shaking in disbelief.

Hah! Popping! I told you!

Then I remembered my brother’s attack on their mound so many years ago. I thought: you win. Have them, wise things, they’re yours.

Ponte nothing (daily practice)

I shirked my duties at the neighborhood banquet preparations and stood shirtless on the bridge in the cold rain. Preparations of my own making were in effect. A stress test ahead of the annual bridge melee. The Nicoletti and Castellani would face off here once again tomorrow at Ponte Nothing, the victors laying claim to another year of collectively hallucinated social superiority, evening privileges, dibs at first fucks behind the church grilles. At the midnight bell’s toll to close New Year’s mass, once again donning masks, selfless, our social worth would be reassumed not by family visage but raw strength and virility.

I am a Nicoletti and this, my first bridge fight, would be ours to conquer, even if it meant death. The likelihood of which appeared stronger this season as reflected back to me in the slick mud of the canal, the usual fart smell of the city’s sewer highways having receded deep into the lagoon. If it came to throwing the last Castellano headfirst to his grave, I wished for anything but a quick snapping of the spine. I prayed for pain. Redemption through suffering. Victory through sacrifice. Torn flesh, gouged eyes, cracked limbs, bruised bones. La pena senza fine. This doomed reckoning of violence spiraled faster and faster in the pouring rain, but I let myself fall ever towards it, darker, colder.

Through the din of glass and silver clinking through the banquet halls, I could hear the sweet voices of the Mendicanti flowing like sweet incense into the streets:


                        Miserere Mei. 

[after “Carnival, quintessence of the Venetian spirit” in Vivaldi’s Venice by Patrick Barbier]



pulverize (daily practice)

apocalyptic daydream 

There is no situation that cannot be made worse with the introduction of a policeman and the world’s Top Cop intervened with flames. In the end they tore themselves to bits. Like rabid dogs in a cage. Buildings pulverized down to dust. Holes burned through the safety nets of nations. Tribes disappeared, decayed. Books burned. Not a single datum survived to replay, recount, recall what happened. Every bit of plastic and paper history melted down into a uniform nothing as it had always been. A return to primeval origins, though some memory persisted in isolated cells of survival. Volts left in the tubes, switched on in the dust, sparking their scarcest neon in the dark, blinking

Open Open




Radiant (daily practice)

You could tell immediately that this time was different. The slight uptempo and volume of the man’s cadence over the intercom sounded the alarm far more effectively than bells. “Ladies and Gentleman, Ladies and Gentleman” (hear ye hear ye, important announcements always begin with repetition). “There is a fire at the 9th Avenue entrance! If you leave the building, please exit on the 10th Avenue side.” Some ran for the exits, but most of us stood awkwardly, confused, “does that mean we should go?” I couldn’t remember if I was still the floor’s designated fire marshal, so just in case I said, “Everyone remain calm. I’m not sure that means we have to leave.” I don’t think it helped matters.

Someone finally pulled up Twitter: “Whoa, gas main explosion on 9th Avenue!” I felt vaguely scared and texted my wife: “Fire on 9th ave and 15. Evacuating. Love you.” The last part was a little dramatic admittedly but the intercom voice sounded serious and I was getting carried away. I asked a pregnant coworker if I could help her carry… anything… “Like what?” she asked. I didn’t know.

It was one of those brutally hot days in New York where you can feel the heat radiating straight off the buildings. I didn’t really want to go outside, but the rush of bodies toward the exit made me feel a little stupid if I didn’t leave now, considering the dramatic text and all. Everyone looked as confused as I felt. “He didn’t technically say we have to leave, right?” By the time I made it to the 10th Avenue side of the building, the report of “gas main explosion” turned into “minor fire at Chelsea Market.” I was disappointed and stood looking out toward the river, assessing the urgency of the situation, or lack of it, by the flow of traffic on the Westside Highway. Tourists walked the pedestrian path gingerly with umbrellas and sips of Gatorade. Construction workers sat in the shade with their heads bowed, helmets off, neon green shirts soaked through at the pits. I shot off another text to my wife: “Not evacuating. All good.” She hadn’t even responded.

I hadn’t received a work email in about 15 minutes at this point, so I decided to take a stroll outside. A fire truck’s faint siren down down the block reignited a feeling of danger, but only briefly. Probably a coincidence, I thought, and sat down in the small park hugging the highway. My work phone buzzed. An instant message from Kip saying the team should regroup at Brass Monkey for a “firedrill happy hour.” I decided I’d rather sit on the bench and bake. My wife still hadn’t responded and I had nothing to think about, so I started walking back toward the office.

That’s when I smelled the smoke. Something metallic in it struck me as really unusual and there it was again, the danger. I started to text my wife again, “hey i think…” But then a siren blared and a cop whizzed by. Now dread and the metallic smell of fire revealed itself in a flash of flame and smoke. Something in the distance glowed red on the sidewalk and moved like a sheet in the wind. It fell to the ground, bounced back up and veered violently back into the street. I could see people jumping out of the way but not fleeing, like a group of toreadors in a bullfight. A metallic smell turned distinctly into burnt hair and what could only be, by visceral knowledge, charred flesh. The sirens grew louder and it became terribly clear.

I stood in horror, frozen by a paralyzing tonic of helplessness, panic and disbelief. I started backing away unconsciously, my eyes burning, shoulders tensed. The ding of my phone brought me to and I looked down at my wife’s text: “glad ur ok hunny. what’s for dinner?”

Christ stopped at the Villas (daily practice)

..ed era luce pura

This has always been a good town to leave. I’m not sure why anyone came in the first place, but the books in the local library suggest it had something to do, in some order, with caviar, the American Revolution and Atlantic City. Only one of those things matters to a soul here anymore, and at that, only on the off chance of a free summer evening trying one’s luck on the spinning wheel. Almost everyone who stayed either works tirelessly – oftentimes 2 or more precarious jobs – on fishing boats, the short but lucrative service selling fish to tourists, or the runoff economy of tourists purchasing local wares in the strip of historic shore resorts.

Then there are those, not entirely distinct from the first group, that gig from one hit to the next until the final knockout punch. There has been at least one protest against heroin here in the last year – and to be clear, not against local and state policy to end or bandaid an epidemic. That is: In the absence of anything close to rational policy, a desperate protest against the drug itself. It was front page news several days running in the local press, now shuttered.

If you ever lived here over the stretch of gray months, coinciding perfectly with the Exodus of Shoobies to the golden triangle of Montreal, Philadelphia and New York City, then you know that the only unadulterated, pure and genuinely peaceful hideaway (in the biggest spiritual sense possible) is the Delaware Bay south of the Cape May Lewis Ferry terminal. Between the alienesque horseshoe crabs and exposed sewer tunnels that jut out from the sand like hyperloops to another dimension, it’s not of this planet. Though I left nearly two decades ago, it’s the place I most enjoy returning to as a reminder of its mystery and revelation. Of what might have drawn people here as early as anybody has been drawn anywhere from their origins in this country.

This town is a good place to leave, but you must always go home.