the horse you rode in on
The Chock full o’Nuts would be in its
final throes of percolating
by the time Aunt Jo, Aunt Mary
and their offspring poured
into the house.
My mother and I nearly giddy
my father safely ensconced
behind a thick plume of pipe smoke
and evening news.
Wouldn’t be long before the kitchen
was mired in bitter half-truths, rumor,
ashes of dead Marlboro Red soldiers.
While I downed soda, traded belches
with my cousins—
David & Danny arguing for Life,
me suggesting Clue and Marie & Susie
set on Monopoly.
You didn’t know he was a drinker?
Aunt Mary, the deafest
of the bunch, practically shouts.
Well, I knew he liked to go out
after work with the fellas
from time to time but…
my mother says, absently stirring
a fresh cup.
Are you kidding?! He was lit up
morning, noon and night.
Aunt Mary smokes 100s; I watch
as she taps-taps-taps
over the ashtray.
Can you imagine? My mother
shakes her head as Aunt Jo,
silent up until now, nods knowingly, adds,
Doctors say he’ll be lucky if he lives
another three months.
Probably won’t leave his wife
and kids a pot to piss in.
Round and round it goes
as my cousins and I play Monopoly
in the dining room.
Every now and then our eavesdropping
pays off in bouts of roll-on-the-floor
laughter, is met with a You kids
aren’t supposed to be listening!
until something long dormant awakens
and I shout back to ears
that aren’t supposed to be hearing:
The pot calling the kettle black!
And then, sweet, awkward silence
because it’s understood—
like houses lining Boardwalk
and Park Place—
talk isn’t cheap and we’ve all paid heavily
for dice rolled, moves made,
the jails on our board
drunk tanks, GO a rite of passage
after which nothing is collected,
not even the horse
you rode in on.
Girl in an ashtray,
you were meant for better things,
that’s why you spend your days
lighting matches, nights dodging
cigarette butts. The men of your dreams
lined up like Tall Boys,
one after another,
by callous fathers,
punctured into submission
by aimless mothers
whose greatest enemies were just
a mirror’s glance away.
I awake from a long nap remembering
why I don’t like to nap,
November’s early evening dark pressing
against the living room windows
like a breathing thing,
unsure if it’s morning or night,
knowing only that I need to pee,
that my ankle is still swollen, aches
from a recent twisting, that my elderly dog,
nearly blind and deaf, is staring
into the fireplace, asking imaginary flames:
How did this happen?
I need to whisper something
in your ear:
There is no god,
only parents and their ill-bred children,
all of them to blame for every war
fought since our first furry-legged ancestors
tracked dawn’s light from their fetid caves,
knuckles combing the soil in search
of a perfect rock to take out a perfect eye.
everything that rises
And after the dinners and the parties,
late nights with beerspit and too many cigarettes.
After Mr. & Mrs. Self-Doubt follow
you home, digging into your ear-holes
with their diamond-encrusted shovels.
After the sun rises and all’s well
but for the fact that you’re
After coffee & croissant, buttery lips sealed,
secrets sweated out between European
After “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,”
random atrocities committed
by middle-class fathers in hand-me-down
suits—fraying polyester reminders that good things
don’t come to those who wait.
After Sodom & Gomorrah, your seeds
planted on sticky car seats, dorm room mattresses—
doomed fountain of youth splashed
across shithole apartment antique white walls:
and God just laughed, said Next!
After mirrored confessions, double-talking
doppelgängers, switchblade tongues
splitting you throat to sternum
under bare bulb sunsets.
After conductor-less, train-wreck friends
pierce your ribs with twisted metal,
doe eyes betraying metric tons of therapy
yet to come.
After decades of active indifference,
your shielded galaxy deflecting
alien asteroids: Brother, can you spare a donku?
After the phone, it’s sickening siren—
slotted studs secured to your psyche.
After the alarm has been set,
Mr. & Mrs. jammed into the sock drawer
despite clattering protests.
After your fluttering shades have pulled
themselves down, chest rising, falling,
rising, falling, rising…
Michael Passafiume is co-poetry editor of Lunch Ticket, a literary journal from the MFA community at Antioch University Los Angeles. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Alembic, Dirty Chai, Eclipse, KNOCK Magazine, Lullwater Review, Minetta Review, One Sentence Poems, Paterson Literary Review, Poetry Quarterly, Soundings East, The Subterranean Quarterly and Willow Review. His chapbook, I Know Why the Caged Bird Screams, was a quarterfinalist for the Mary Ballard Poetry Prize for 2015 from Casey Shay Press. He lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.