Florida Men

I just had this poem published the other day in Resurrection Mag, and here is a sketch of the building my business used to be in. We recently sold the building to the city, so I figured I better sketch it before it gets demolished. So many stories in this place.

Florida Men

I think sometimes about my old customers.
The ones who died young.
There were so many of them: painters, roofers,
landscapers, handymen. Salts
of the earth.

Some had been coming into my shop
for decades, always with the sense
that it would go on like that forever,
the two of us – shopkeeper and customer –
Sisyphus and Tantalus playing our little roles
in our mutual little corner
of hell, impervious
to any profound or meaningful life changes.

But then one day,
you’d hear it
2nd or 3rd hand: R. had a massive heart attack
while sealing a customer’s driveway;
B. died of throat cancer; F. overdosed on painkillers;
carbon monoxide got P.

One after another they peeled away,
most of them leaving very little behind,
just a few meager possessions,
a handful of memories
and a reminder of what precarious
ground we all stand on.

I think sometimes about my old customers.
I think about them the way I think about
how the sun would pour into the shop
in the early mornings,
filling the room with bouncing light,
and a feeling
of something glorious yet incomprehensible
contained within it, something that hung
suspended in the air
for about a half-hour or so,
then poured out through the southern windows,
as though it had no business
being there.

I think sometimes about my old customers.
I think about how they
were too good
for what little
lives they were granted.

KEVIN FRANCIS WAGNER (1963-2010)

My mom, who has dementia and has been looking through old photos to help her remember the past, came across the one below which I don’t remember taking but must’ve somewhere between 2000 and 2002. It’s of my former mechanic, a madman and raging alcoholic named Kevin Wagner who I’ve written about in several different places, and have even drawn a few times. The drawing above is my best one yet because I finally had a photo to work off of, but the others weren’t bad. His features are still ingrained in my head along with a horde of strange and mortifying memories.

Kevin Francis Wagner (1963-2010)

A skinny, humpbacked mechanic
with a shaved head
and a scar under his eye from the blade of a hedgetrimmer,
and false teeth.

His wife just left him
for a woman in Pennsylvania,
and he
hasn’t slept
for three days.

He’s been drunk on warm Budweiser,
pacing the floors
of his efficiency off Federal Highway,
just behind

Denny’s and the Golden Sands Inn.
When I go there to visit him,
he’s lying
on his tweed sofa,
looking up at the ceiling.

He claims he’s seen angels.

I notice the drywall
near the kitchen
where he put his fist through.

On the coffee table next to him, there’s an open bottle
of screw-top Sherry,
and the dill pickle jar he’s drinking it out of.

He drinks
Sherry
in the mornings, he says.
I gave her everything, he tells me.
Corsica,
nice furniture,
a nice place,
TV
VCR. And this is what she does?

He climbs up off the sofa and goes into the kitchen
and comes back
with a pickle jar for me.

Everything! he shouts.
I gave her

a life!

He collapses on the sofa.
Then he shows
me the tattoo
on his shoulder. CARLA,
it says,
in blue cursive, with a pinkish outline.

On his other shoulder, there’s a pigmy date palm
with the word
PARADISE
underneath it.

He used to be in the tree-trimming business
until his first wife took everything from him.

This Sherry isn’t bad,
I say.

Then I notice the violin case in the corner.

You play?

Been a while,
he says.

Lets hear it.

He gets up off the sofa, limps to the corner,
opens the case,
takes out
the bow, puts the violin
under his
chin and begins.

Mozart.

And to my surprise,
he plays very well.
The music floats
around his efficiency.
It goes out the front door,
drifts over the lawn,
and the bougainvillea,
and the palm trees,
and the colorful clothes on the clotheslines
all seem to
rejoice in it.

The song lasts about five minutes,
and then when he’s done,
he puts violin and bow neatly back in the case,
sits down to his Sherry,
and I ask him more about the angels he has seen.

The Clouds

It’s been ages since I last posted anything here. The reason: I have been consumed… no, that’s not the right word… I have been possessed, literally and figuratively, by my artistic endeavors. This all started very early in the year and has left me almost no time to write, let alone blog… but I’ll get back to it. I always do.

In the meantime, if you’re on Instagram, you can follow me at: https://www.instagram.com/mppowers1132/

Or just check out my some of my sketchbook drawings. I’m trying to do one every day.

On another note, I just got back to Florida the other day. I’ll be here until July doing what I always do when I’m here: renting equipment and swimming as often as possible. I’ll also be drawing a lot of palm trees and iguanas and scissor lifts and I might even fit in a few poems. Here’s one about something I love in South Florida: the clouds.

The Clouds

I had become a babysitter
of men with strong backs and weak
minds, dullards,
crackheads, sad sacks, village idiots.

I had become the smell of secondhand
exhaust fumes
and cheap tobacco smoke.

A brokendown lawnmower,
a blown head gasket, dusty oil drums,
cracked piston
rings, flyshit in the carburetor port
of a 2-cycle leaf
blower had all become me.

I was a burglar alarm at
3 a.m., the jarring sound of a telephone
on Friday
afternoon, the collective sigh
of the people in my small
town, their harangues and jeremiads,
their habits and
obtuse convictions, their unwritten obituaries.

Sixty
hours a week for sixteen years,
I had become
institutionalized.
I had created a Frankenstein for a
business.

I kept getting deeper into it
and with each
downward revolution the pain
of longing for distant
unknown places – Japan, Germany, Ireland –
became that much more acute.

But it was the clouds,
the clouds above my shop
that gave the sweetest
and sharpest
feeling of heartache.

Those
massive purple whales
swimming over the rooftops
and palm trees.

To watch them in the morning light
so detached and tumbling
over themselves,
taking on the golden light of the sun
and being
carried off on some fantastic
sea journey.

To watch them do magic
and have
it done to them
as I stood amid the noise of angle
grinders & air compressors,
the idiot
laughter of half-drunk small engine
mechanics riding up my back –

there was something so
deliciously
motivating
about the clouds.

German Punctuality

A poem of mine that was originally published at Gutter Eloquence, and then here, is now up at Eunoia Review.

https://eunoiareview.wordpress.com/2021/01/24/german-punctuality/.

This poem is a whore; it loves getting around, so I will post it again here:

German Punctuality

I was the last one on what I thought was the right bus.
I asked the driver to make sure. He said something
that in English sounded like “crossing.” The only problem
was he was speaking German,
and I’d just taken up the language. I asked him again.
He scratched his forehead just above his nose.
He repeated himself angrily. I still didn’t understand.
I tried to simplify. “Sooo, Leipzig?”
“Ja, ja…” he said.
“Danke schön…”

I sat down a few seats behind him.
I kept an eye on him in the rearview mirror.
Above his head there was a digital clock with red numbers.
It was 6:03. At 6:05 the bus was scheduled to depart.
At 6:04 he grabbed the top of the steering wheel
with both hands
and peered at the door with his sharp vulture’s eye.
At 6:04 and about 30 seconds he began pummeling
the gum that was in his mouth,
his jaw working more furiously than ever.
6:05. BANG! He slammed the door shut, pumped the gas,
went tearing around the bend.

I looked out the window. There was a guy running
alongside the bus, his necktie streaming
over his left shoulder, a briefcase banging against his leg,
one arm frantically waving.
He kept a pretty good pace with us all the way
to the end of the parking lot,
but then we took a sharp left onto the main road.
Fuck him.
He was a couple seconds late.

Armor

Just had this poem published in TunaFish Journal. The theme was ENERGY. You can check out the rest of the issue here.

Armor

For almost a decade,
half of my books have been jammed
in boxes in the corner
of my brother’s shop, soaking up gas
fumes and floating ash from the arc welder.

Faust, The Birth of Tragedy,
Parerga and Paralipomena, The Essays of Plutarch,
Letters from
a Stoic, Tulips & Chimneys.

Books whose pages I ravaged
as a young and starving beast. I used to feed
on poems & aphorisms,
metaphors. I wasn’t interested in the food others
of my species
were eating.

To be drunk on the power
of Nietzschean
suggestion – that’s what got me.

It was like donning
the Armor of Achilles
which not only protected me
from the frauds & philistines
that dominated my world in those days,
but imbued me with such
a wild & extraordinary sense of exuberance,
such an overflowing
feeling of life, it seemed sometimes
I was made of explosive
material, strong enough to blow a hole in the side
of the universe.

But the feeling eventually wore off, of course,
like anything.
And soon I moved
to Berlin, the books staying
unloved, unwanted, untouched –
for nine years
the white-hot Armor of Achilles wasting away
in pieces,
in boxes, all its remaining power
given over
to the invading
silverfish.

The Eyes of a Suicide

Screenshot_20210109-114437_Samsung Internet

In trying to ‘explain’ a poem, one word just cancels out another. That’s why I never do it. But I wanted to give a little background on the one above because the guy referred to in the tree was a customer of mine. His name was Chris S. and he was a house painter. 39 years old at the time of the incident which happened on Easter Sunday in 2005. I found out he’d died after stumbling upon his obituary in The Palm Beach Post. I found out the details from a friend of his, who was also a customer of mine, and the story has been etched in my mind ever since. “Chris was always on something,” he was saying, after telling me the more gruesome parts of the story. “Oxycontin, Xanax, pot, you name it. He was like that ever since high school. But us married guys – we lived vicariously through him. Women loved him. Every time I went out with him, he’d end up taking someone back home with him. Really hot chicks too. He was super charming. And the amount he drank… holy shit! One time my wife and I went out to dinner with him and he had the waitress running back and forth all night. We were actually kind of embarrassed for him… He had like 10 or 12 Heinekens during the course of the meal…”

I take a photocopy of everyone’s driver’s license who rents from me and keep it in a file. Chris had only been renting from me for a few months before he hung himself. Not even long enough for me to have filed it away. In fact, it was still sitting near the copy machine when his friend was telling me the story. I remember studying the license after he left the shop. The photo is still perfectly clear in my mind, all these years later. In all my interactions with Chris, he was friendly and cheerful. But in the photo, I saw that other side of him, especially in his eyes, which I stared at for several minutes on several different occasions. They were the eyes of a suicide. Deep, deep, deep in a sadness and pain and disgust and madness that I myself was no stranger to. I knew those eyes. That’s what was so terrifying about them and why I couldn’t stop staring at them and why they still haunt me. There was something too about the way his head was raised and slightly turned to the left. It was as if he was about to slip a noose over it, and I remember looking at his neck in the photo and picturing that coarse burning rope cutting into the skin, and picturing his features twisted into whatever gruesome form they held the morning he was discovered. I can still see it all now.

The poem and drawing above are from this month’s Versification. Check it out here, it’s a great issue.

A New Year’s Insomnia Episode & a Tale of Two Cities

dickens

It happened on New Year’s at the flat of a Danish couple I am friends with. It happened after feasting like William Howard Taft and drinking countless bottles of champagne, Prosecco, German wine, French wine, and a couple shots of cognac. It was 3 a.m. when I got into the bed in their guest room, wholly expecting to fall asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. Instead, the pillow had the reverse effect on me. It became a kind of electrical conduit, sending jolts of fire into the back of my neck and down through my limbs, causing my heart to pound and warble. Wait a second, I thought. This isn’t supposed to be happening. My heart shouldn’t be doing this. I feel like I’ve done a gram of coke. What’s wrong with me? Indigestion? It’s going to be ages before I can sleep.

I lay there waiting for my heartrate to mellow and the electric to go out of me.  It took about an hour, but I was still wide awake, thinking about A Tale of Two Cities – which I was 2/3rds finished with – and the direction I imagined the plot would take. As it turned out, I predicted the last 100 pages with eerie accuracy, everything seeming so clear and obvious in those feverish pre-dawn hours. Also clear was the vision I kept getting of a wild crowd of French revolutionaries and a big clumsy bloodstained guillotine, the National Razor, as they called it in those days. That was probably the strangest part of the night – that vision and those words, the National Razor, which I couldn’t stop repeating to myself. They ran through my skull in an endless and maniacal New Year’s Day loop until finally, sometime after light began to leak through the bottom of the curtains, I slept for a few gentle moments.

Two hours later I was back at my flat with my 7 y/o who was a veritable Energizer Bunny that day, clubbing me with his stuffed animals, climbing on me, using me for a bean bag and a trampoline and a horse. He was pitiless. He was Madame Defarge &c. There would be no rest for the wicked, as they say. He had his own version of the National Razor.

Freeze

Happy Fesitvus, everyone! I just saw a clip on a German news station about iguanas in Florida, and it reminded me of a blog I wrote a couple years ago. Some of you might remember it. If not, here it is, changed a little and rewritten in the shape of a poem.

Freeze

When my mechanic
moved from Pennsylvania
to Florida in 2012,
he told himself
he would never wear anything
but shorts to work,
no matter how frigid
the temperatures might become.

Every year since then,
on the coldest
winter days,
he’d come into the shop
in shorts, see everyone
bundled up
and say something
about how we
Floridians
are such pansies.

“This isn’t cold,” he’d say. “This is nothing.
Youse
guys should experience a Pennsylvania
winter.
Now that’s cold.”

Well,
this week it may not have been cold
by Pennsylvania standards,
but in parts of South Florida,
freezing temperatures
killed off acres
of corn
and green beans. Elsewhere
there were reports of frozen
iguanas falling
out of trees and either dying
or going into a catatonic
shock for several hours.

Nevertheless, my mechanic
had made a decision
and was sticking to it: NOTHING
BUT SHORTS
IN FLORIDA.

The only difference
between this year
and the others
was that this year there was no taunting
us wimpy Floridians.

This year he had on
two shirts,
a long sleeve under a short sleeve,
and he kept coming
into the office
to warm up with coffee.

He had three cups
yesterday by 10 a.m.
Normally he has one all day.

“You must be cold
in those shorts,” I said to him.

“Nah, my legs
don’t get cold,” he insisted.

But later,
when I looked outside,
he was shivering,
working with a pair of gloves on
and the heat
blasting from his van.

Heat, gloves,
two shirts, three cups of coffee,
frozen iguanas dropping
from trees,
acres of green beans
and corn dead from the chill,
but still,
he had his shorts on
and no one
could take that away
from him.