Unknown Winter Soldiers Not Forgotten

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE PHILADELPHIA EVENING BULLETIN IN DECEMBER 2006. It is about 325 steps, depending upon the length of your stride, from the door of the tavern, to a wedge of hallowed ground at the corner of Flowers and Bellevue avenues. Here, in Langhorne Borough, rests the gravesite of approximately — by the local … Continue reading Unknown Winter Soldiers Not Forgotten

Confession

“Begin.” “Father, I…” “Look down.” “Father?” “Haven’t been here for a while, right?” “Yeah.” “Well, I’m very happy that you’ve given us another chance. Giving the church another chance. “Father I…” “There’s a plastic card. Right above the hand rest. On the wall. See?” “Yeah.” “That should help.” “Bless me father for I have sinned. … Continue reading Confession

Labor Day

“What’s the worst
job you’ve ever had?”

Banter ignites in
a near-empty newsroom
after the paper’s to bed

The hours-long slump
from leaving barbecues,
and family in mid-sizzle

To schlep off to work
recedes to memory like
last week’s mild hangover

The scanner’s crackle
absentmindedly
punctuates trash talk

Waitress, bartender,
lifeguard, cashier;
don’t even bother

Bouncer, boxer
nude model, and —Yes! —
chocolate factory worker

Now we’re cruising
When Grump mentions
driving a Philly cab

One Labor Day
and getting stabbed
twice in one shift

“I would have called
it a night after
the first stabbing.”

Echo

To lose a laughing woman
Acquaints you with a silence
That memory cannot fill
Until… Until… Until…

To love a laughing woman
Who’s suddenly taken from you
That’s not the greatest loss (I know)
Although… Although… Although…

Laughter can be manufactured
Unlike happiness, that ghost
Staring across infinity’s field
Conceal… Conceal… Conceal…

To love a laughing woman
Then to lose a laughing woman…
Oh, she’d get tired of this song!
“Move on! Move on! Move on!”

The Valley of the Cats

Name’s Paul Magner, by the way. My work, my house, and my wife, Kate, rest within a five-mile radius. I am an editor/writer at a trade publication for doctors who become businessmen, the people who run health insurance companies. I am also a great undiscovered genius, or at least I tell myself that when staring at an empty screen that dares me to produce a story or a novel or anything that any publisher will want. So far, no go.

Forty Percent

Here’s the setup. Flex’s nephew, Jake (his brother’s son) is married to Paula. Paula’s brother, Danny, kills himself. Danny is—was—artistic, brilliant, funny, and even joyful, but emotionally fragile. Then this manipulative, conniving young woman swoops into Danny’s life. This Stacey Lark. Talk to her and you would think that butter wouldn’t…well, you know. But that’s … Continue reading Forty Percent

Reefer Madness

My very first hit I’m like 13 years old. I never even smoke a cigarette before, but I’m a Kat Borkowski wannabe, and she’s the one hands me that joint. This is at Newt’s on Blair Street back in the day, before it got cleaned up and put on airs with some calling it Shissler Playground, the official name.

Scented Beans Destroy Themselves

Chick Ernest had been chatting with other parents when his son nearly died. The basketball season ended around Thanksgiving and the Sharks went to Kat’s Kradle, the name on the T-shirts. Coach Taylor made a speech in which Chick, assistant coach, finished his sentences. Everybody got a trophy (they’d won zero games). When Gene Tarantino—Taro—held … Continue reading Scented Beans Destroy Themselves

Progress

Cain bushed out the Serengeti.
Neanderthal and lonely, after feasting
for days on his latest kill. Blood and
bone and plenty. Is faith, fear? Fear, faith?
Does it ever really matter?
Squinting across a sea of green
and nearly thinking, “Something’s missing.”
Waiting for the question coming
as he rubs his belly and listens
to a hunter claw a tooth still insisting.
The Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life
root stonily in the garden. There’s no kill
like the first kill. No will like free will.
No still like the still of waiting
for judgment surely coming.

One Night in Harpoon Henry’s

When my first wife died I withered and withdrew
And lonely did I scale the couloir of grief
Curling about myself like that indolent snake
Confronting that first wife with cancer’s last claim
Just an overgrown garden snake parked upon our drive


A brown arm’s-spread length of languid reptilian still
A critter I’d never seen before or since that meeting
Curled into a taunt that he hurled at my own girl
Coiling tighter in delight: “The hour’s come for you!”
She died soon after when the siege broke through
And I never really heard the music until its absence
Of delight in all creation—that’s how her voice fulfilled
So what torched despair’s fingers until the grip gave out?


One night in Harpoon Henry’s I kissed a pretty woman
A nice, friendly girl I’d been working with for years
Mouth-to-soul resuscitation seasoning bloodless sleep
That kiss—alone, apart, about. A prelude to nothing
Except the entirety of life. A kiss. That’s it.
Interceding like prayer to caulk my brokenness
Did I ever tell that girl what that kiss delivered?
I now forget (surprise!) how she wriggled off the hook
Can’t even recall the name, just drops of smiling eyes
I am deaf, now. Blind. Can’t bend to tie my shoe
A salty wind-whipped spray gentles this old wheeze
Lets me taste that kiss once more and that is what I’ll ride
You may release your servant, Lord. It is time for me to die.

Evil People Are People Who Love Evil

Uncle Joe fumbles with two cigarettes — one unlit, the other sputtering out — while turning off of Hunting Park Avenue. His long, thin, tobacco-stained fingers conjure a connection. He steers with palms and elbows and inhales before his lips even touch the paper. Ignition. “The torch has been passed,” he says, punctuating with a … Continue reading Evil People Are People Who Love Evil

Kate’s Passage

Grief plays by its own rules
An awkward grace works through
“If there’s anything at all I can…”
You could point me toward the surface
For life underwater pre-empts my tears
“Thanks for coming. Thanks. Coming. Thanks.”
Navigate the void each mourning
I made her laugh right ’til the end
Now chisel that on my gravestone
Oh, we were not the perfect couple
But heavens! Did we have fun!
Laughter like that gets God’s attention
Lets his awful grace play in the sun

On Me, Nephew

Why is there something instead of nothing?
Search for an answer in this foreign brew
Let’s ignore the fallen angels for now
What’s a heaven for? God, that’s who
Something or nothing? Maybe science knows
Sitting dignified, set up for slapstick
Mumble, mumble, mumble — at the end of the bar
Your uncle wants to hear you say
You won’t give in, you’re going to stay
I will never proclaim, “Embrace affliction!”
That would probably get us flagged
Please, please, please — I won’t get through it
Let life wrap you like unredeemable grace
And let’s toast to tomorrow before leaving this place
It’s on me — you just take care of the tip

Gomorra

Beyond the solicitous plains
Rumor rolls like the sea
Revelers behind Gomorra’s walls
Sit at the right hand of progress
Pleasure, comfort busk easily
In fields our spoils harvest
These last six decades now
Mankind summits in our valley
The sun, the rain, the never-ending plains
I should so like to welcome tomorrow
The problem is me not you
But I am so out of place in Gomorra
Where traders, merchants give Ba’al his due
We throw away those old broken hearts
Placing our salt upon the altar
Placing our children upon it, too
I am so out of sync with Gomorra
That I do not know what to do
Do You?