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The shocking effects of high explosive and spinning metal strip dignity from death in battle. The crews of burnt-out tanks are reduced to hunched, simian homunculi, and infantry who suffer direct hits from shells may vanish as if they had never existed, or have their passing marked by the discovery of disconnected tatters of mortality.

– The Oxford History of Modern Warfare


Writing While Intoxicated


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Work-hardened in the fires of American à la carte spirituality, when confronted with ethical dilemmas (and simple consumer purchases), I like to ask myself, “What would Buddha do?” And then I do the opposite of that. When that doesn’t work, I like to ask myself, “What would Jesus do?” And then I always think of the time he went postal on the moneychangers and started flipping tables. Sometimes it’s hard to find tables to flip. I mean, most moneychangers are behind counters that one just can’t walk up to and flip these days. So I pause, to shed 2.7 tears for the table-flipping past-times we no longer have access to and then instead I verbally assault strangers upon the street asking if they’re interested in non-GMO advice. Most aren’t. Their loss. Obviously. Am I right? That’s a rhetorical question, but then, aren’t all questions between writer and readers? Gotcha again, sucker! Two shakes of an infant later and the soma-like effect of snorted dust bunnies kicks in and I’m dreaming of a brighter childhood. As they say in most televised feats of daring: Don’t try this at home.


Vague -Ess (10/1/17)


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shots richocheted
automatic fired echoes
slowing time-created
silence bubbles where
freeze frames split
reality’s horror into
nanosecond moments
of flight-not-fight hope
where once the twang
of vocal chords unified
a flock now scattered
feathers hovering in
midair spots where whole
beings once stood-smile-

chaos richocheted
virtually disseminated
confusion, echoing off
networked nodes pinged
with readymade
answers tailored to
eyes and ears trained
to see-hear the
same frequencies
bloodying the homeland.

A bullet for every baby.
An invoice for every death.



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I could tell she was dreaming by the way her eyes darted underneath the closed lids as her fingers twitched involuntarily. The streetlight filtering in through the blinds cast striated bands across her face and body. I could see that her breathing had quickened. Was it that recurring dream she described being whisked down the rapids in a suit made of balloons? Was she scared? She almost looked to be smiling. Perhaps she was dreaming of another man. What would it be like to see inside another’s dreams? I sighed and gently brushed a few strands of hair from over her face. She took a deep breath and her whole body seemed to sink an inch deeper into the bed as she exhaled. I felt an inner peace watching her sleep… the rhythm of her breathing, the relaxation in her face, that sense that she was safe and potentially happy. Can one be happily unconscious? I had spent decades fighting my own need for sleep and yet I found it so right for everyone else.


She began to shake a bit. Almost like she was shivering. It passed almost as quickly as it had begun. The she began to moan. A deep sort of hum. I mistook it for something positive at first until I saw the grimace on her still sleeping face. Her jaw clenched. Her eyelids squeezed into narrowing folds. I usually tried not to wake her in the middle of a sound sleep—it was almost always more disturbing than whatever she was dreaming. Mostly, she didn’t remember her dreams. Nor did she seem to have that many bad ones. At least, not that she admitted to. Her whole body began to shake violently enough so that the headboard tapped against the wall. I’d only seen this once before in real life when I was in grade school. A male classmate with epilepsy had a seizure on the floor just before we were dismissed for the day. She had flipped over so that her back was to me. I threw an arm up and around her and pulled her firmly against me. “Shelle, Shelle.” I spoke trying to wake her. The shaking diminished some but she did not wake. As she pulled slightly away from me a band of light crossed over her ear quickly—it looked as if something shiny and sticky was coming out of her ear. Dark. Possibly blood? “Shelle?” I said louder. She went rigid on her back. I grabbed the sides of her face, cupping her cheeks. “Shelle, wake up. It’s just a dream.” She began to froth at the mouth. A raspy noise coming from her throat. Her eyes still closed. I sat up and opened her eyes by pushing my pointer fingers up as I pulled down with the sides of my thumbs. My throat constricted like I was about to vomit as I gazed into blackness. Just empty sockets. No eyes, no blood. Just holes in her cavernous skull.


I started to yell “Shelle!” but before I got pass the “Shhh” my left shoulder began to shake. Garbled deep within my head like underwater sounds was a voice repeating something over and over. It grew louder and louder until I finally understood it, like my head had burst out of a pool: “MICHAEL!” I jerked backwards, eyes suddenly opened. Michelle was leaning over me. “You were having a bad dream. It was just a dream.” I inhaled sharply not realizing I’d stopped breathing entirely for a bit there. I blinked and stared at her. She kissed me on the cheek. Told me to go back to sleep as she lay her head on my chest. My own breathing eventually returned to normal aided by hers pushing gently against me as she fell back asleep. My eyes surveyed the dark room, sliding over silhouetted furniture, the dark outline of clothes against a pale rug, a door on the wrong wall.

None of this was familiar.

Up Past Your Bedtime


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I sat at the keyboard waiting for something to come out.

Libertines lulled by libations…

It’s not that I couldn’t think of anything to write or didn’t have anything to say. It was more like ten thousand things wanted to come out all at once.

Houston drowning in the background…

Like a herd of wild sentiments. Let one through and you’ve got a stampede on your hands. A few minutes exploding into several lifetimes worth of worry-thought-frustration-anger-diatribe-anxious-impulsive nothings.

Fine people on almost every side…

And then emptiness. A vacuum. So instead of relieving the pressure you work in reverse. Put more stuff in there. Read more. Eat more. Watch more. Listen more.

The Dow high on itself…

See if we can jam this flesh balloon until it bursts and no border exists between here and there, you and me, this and that.

But this too shall pass.

Scenes from Real Life ~ Groceries


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Three more items: ginger salad dressing, laundry beads, big water. I repeat them to myself so as not to forget. I’m almost done this round of grocery shopping. Another customer peeks out of the aisle I’m about to go down. I pause to let him pass, but he eases back into the aisle. I turn and slide by him. “Excuse me, sir?” Such a soft, polite voice issues from this gentle giant; an older (50s?) African-American gentleman. Maybe 6’3”, somewhat heavyset, short graying dreadlocks, he seems to recede within himself as if stooping might minimize his size. “I’ve just lost my job and was wondering if you might be able to help me?” “I don’t have any cash on me.” A true reply but one so automatic it feels like a lie. “Well, if you could put anything—anything at all—on a card, even, it would help so much.” I look at the smaller cart he’s filled with maybe 10 items. “I don’t think it will be more than $20 total,” he says. “Sure. I can do that.” I turn my attention to the salad dressings right in front of me as he says “Thank you. You must be a Christian.” Without looking at him, I say, “Wayward.” “Well not too far off to take on a big man like me. There’s still time for you.” We both laugh. “Maybe there is,” I say. He asks if I’m a Nats fan. Not really I reply. Skins? A little—I tell him my family’s from Baltimore so I lean toward the Orioles and the Ravens, but don’t follow either closely. A strong, unpleasant odor is growing stronger. He mentions a hint of Orioles orange in the sunglasses resting on top of my head. “I don’t want to hold you up. How ‘bout I just meet you up front?” “That sounds great,” I say, “I’ve got 3 or 4 things to get and should be up that way in about five minutes.” As he lumbers up the aisle, the smell trails behind him. It is a smell I associate with mental illnesses whose collateral damage includes personal hygiene.


I waste another minute or so looking for the one dressing they don’t have, then it’s laundry beads, and a 4-gallon container of water. I see him and give him a thumbs up. “You all set?” He nods. We form a mini train heading toward the open cash registers. “Do you have a discount card?” he asks. “These juices are on sale, but make sure they discount them. Sometimes they’ll get you.” The lines are crowded and we exchange a line or two about how busy it can get. A new line opens up and we get a break. I put my groceries on the conveyor belt, then his as I ask the cashier to bag them separately. He’s got 4 cartons of Tropicana Twister fruit drink, 8 mini cans of Vienna sausages, and 4 boxes of Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies. It reminds me of my late mother-in-law, a true devotee of comfort foods. He has struck up a conversation with the African-American woman behind us in line and seems fully engaged. I finish paying, put his bags back in his cart. I have to interrupt to shake his hand and wish him luck. He tells me to have a good day as he turns his attention back to the woman.


I leave feeling confused. Did I get taken advantage of? Was this helpful to anyone? Was I expecting a greater sign of appreciation? Honestly, all I feel is awkward. I load the groceries in the trunk and stop by the frozen yogurt place to take some home to my wife and son. All of this has cost me nothing in relative terms. My own health and financial security feel like mere luck. I try not to take them for granted.