The Lighthouse

You do not
warn of danger
when you virtue-signal from atop your
white-collar ivory tower;
rather,
the desperate blink of your
gaslighting
is but a distraction, is but a
siren’s call
for those of us in
straitened channels of
blue-collar shoals.
Your flashing guidance
blinds us
as much as the dark of night
and so
Black and White all
capsize together
in the coral teeth of your
treasure-strewn whitewater
judgment.
No,
you are not on the
lookout
for anyone’s well-being
but your own
as you gnaw the unified bones
of the shipwrecked dead.

Vacation

Scott saw the lake from the highway,

sprawling at a lower elevation beyond the

guard rails and the trees that rose between.

Its green surface was still, untroubled,

silent,

undisturbed by the windless afternoon

while Scott drove by, going home from the

buzzing, banging, screeching noises of the

Amazon warehouse; the rush as he dashed

from one row to another, scrambling to pick

and pluck and rummage another profligate

item, Made In China, that was as needful

to the average consumer

as a scarf in summertime,

trying to meet the quota demanded of him,

minute by minute,

hour by hour,

day by day

unto endless days.

Going home to an empty apartment

after a twelve-hour shift

was like

dumping himself into a box

in accordance to his bin number

and mailing himself out the next morning

once again

to the same Amazon warehouse

to pick and pluck and drop all over again.

He wanted a vacation.

A real vacation.

He wanted to go to that lake —

not to fish

or to camp

or to swim,

but to plunge his car

headlong into the depths of it and let

that placid stillness envelop him

as he sank to the bottom,

apart from the hectic human world,

uncaring,

detached,

lungs filling up

while his life emptied out,

and the tranquil bosom of the lake

sealing up, like a wound —

reconciling him within its serene silence.

The real horror of his

life

was that it went on and on and on.

The Highwayman

The moon was a coin all aglow with gold

in the swirling clouds of that chilly night

and the crooked tree by that wooded road

was a hand clutching in vain at Fae light.

Mounted on a black horse with a black name

was that blackguard and killer, Bill O ’Keefe,

whose gallop brought fear to all men the same

and whose fat purse ate with a dragon ’s teeth.

Pistols and daggers and swords were his friends

that he kept keen to ply his devil ’s trade

and all other friends came to treacherous ends,

along that old road in graves freshly laid.

O ’Keefe wore black boots and a riding coat

and black hat with black plume in the brim,

and black mask, his black beard curled like a goat,

his cufflinks black at the end of each limb.

Scarce were pickings along that road of late

for words were swift as birds when winged with sins

and Bill wanted like a collection plate

in the famine months when a snowstorm spins.

Bill bit his lip until the skin broke and bled,

tasting iron in that October breeze

while the crowned owls stood watch, just overhead,

their hungry eyes spotting small prey with ease,

and he heard the gibbering marsh, the beasts

alike to him in the hunter ’s grand game,

stalking and eating their fill of such feasts

as Nature ordains, without thoughts of shame.

Was that a footstep?  A giggle?  Grunt?  Squeal?

Bill did not know, his fluttering black eyes

like crows flapping at the scent of a meal:

carrion delights in a victim ’s cries.

Bill waited till the gallop neared the tree,

then he struck his horse to spur it to haste,

yet found a rider before him who did not flee —

a man in livery pale as bone paste.

Glowing like the moon above, the fellow

parted his lips in a smile, pearls agleam,

his hair golden, curly, his mien mellow

as if he was passing through a sweet dream.

Taken aback, Bill stared with mouth agape,

confused by the aristocrat ’s bearing

and that the man did not try to escape,

but stood as stone afore the storm, daring

with demeanor and command likewise steeped

in ancient kingdoms beyond petty Man

except in glimpses and dreams such as peeped

in the realm of Sleep, at a frugal span.

At length, Bill leveled pistol at the lord

and said, “Turn out your pockets and your purse

or I ’ll run you through with bullet and sword.

If you try any tricks, I ’ll do much worse. ”

The fair-haired lord dismounted gracefully

in one smooth motion, like a squirrel,

and said, “Indeed, I shall, and faithfully

as a green knight seeking to hew the burl. ”

The lord unstrung a pouch from his saddle

and offered it to the ne ’er-do-well thief,

unstringing the pouch, which clinked and rattled —

the only music which pleased Bill O ’Keefe.

Crooked tree above, crooked man below,

O ’Keefe snatched the pouch away with a swipe,

tantalized by the gleaming golden glow

of such coins so foreign in face and type.

The lord said, “Of all such you may have, sir,

being possessed thereby, and by this path. ”

Here the lord gestured.   “Wherefore possessed, cur,

you shall reckon debts owed to greed and wrath. ”

Bill misliked such words and looked up with scorn

from the gold he had snared with his misdeed

only to find the lord gone, as if bourne

away with a wind, both rider and steed.

Uncanny things meant naught to Bill O ’Keefe

as long as gold jingled in his gloved hands,

so he laughed aloud, proud in the belief

that he was the best thief in all the lands.

Taking rein of his black horse once again,

he led the beast out from behind the oak

and climbed atop it, holding his gold like his sin

and struck up a gallop, but someone spoke:

“Damn you, Bill O ’Keefe, ” a hoarse voice whispered,

“damn your thieving heart and your greedy eyes! ”

The black horse startled and kicked at each word,

tumbling Bill off to lay him out lengthwise.

The horse bolted, spilling the pouch of gold

while like a kelpie frenzied with its thirst

along that moon-flooded, tree-cluttered road,

each coin rolling to a stop, now reversed,

no longer showing a face of features

foreign to human lands and human kin,

but a skull brimming with insect creatures

dining on the festering flesh within.

“Damn you, you dumb beast! ” Bill hollered so loud

that his wrathful voice spurred the spooked horse on

at a faster sprint than the dark allowed

till beast came to grief down the bluff beyond.

Not hearing the scream of the horse, Bill turned

again to the coins scattered here and there,

and crawled after them while the moonlight burned

on the gold, agleam in that chilly air.

To the nearest coin O ’Keefe crawled and knelt

like a sinner seeking within a church

deliverance from the sins he has dealt

in years past, wronging angels on their perch,

but Bill sought not forgiveness while kneeling —

rather, the gold mesmerized like a sidhe

afloat with rainbow wings unfurled, wheeling

around his now-hatless head, tauntingly.

Yet, as Bill reached for the coin nearest him

a hand grasped it first, out from neath the earth,

its bones white and gray, and so, too, the limb

that rose like a shoot from the leaf-strewn turf.

A head emerged, all rotten and gaping

from a withered jaw, hung aslant the face,

and the tongue lolled freely, as if aping

human speech, some soil sprinkling from that place.

“Bill O ’Keefe, ” it said at last.   “You villain! ”

You slew me for six pence, and not one more!

And for that debt I shall be repaid when

I drag you low, beyond Hell ’s brimstone door! ”

Bill O ’ Keefe recoiled from the corpse, screaming out,

but not in terror —rather in great rage

for he would share coin with no brag-about

and tried to snatch it from that bony cage.

“What good was your life? ” Bill growled, “but a pence?

Count yourself lucky as been worth so much,

for you had no value, and less so sense,

to have been riding alone, late and such. ”

The corpse ’s jaw gawped so wide in dismay

that it swung off the hinge, gasping, “You brute! ”,

meanwhile Bill filched the coin and made his way

to other coins, nestled within a root.

Or it seemed a root, but when Bill neared it

a bony hand emerged, and then a skull

webbed with a bridal veil, each black socket

full of worms writhing in the hollow hull.

No tongue to speak, neither had she the need,

for Bill knew her as his own from years past

and said, “You had less wealth than you had breed,

which is why our marriage, dear, did not last. ”

A banshee shriek escaped those rotten teeth

and Bill only laughed, plucking back the coins

as she crescendoed in her wailing grief;

he said, “Swiftly taken, as were your loins. ”

Many were the coins, and many the dead!

Bill had a reunion earning his wealth,

each coin raising a victim from their bed

so O ’Keefe could appraise them and their health.

A nobleman here and a peasant there,

Bill was not prejudiced in his slayings,

and had he the chance, he would have had care

to kill dukes and bishops and popes and kings.

Alas, no such prey chanced his hunting grounds

which was why he took whatever he might,

buried all along that road, in their mounds,

not knowing what fool might intrigue his sight.

And there were, of course, those whom he despised,

whose disputes in bars had earned them his ire —

whom he killed, raping their wives while disguised

as a vicar to indulge his desire.

And those who were innocent, having done

nought to him or his own, nor another,

once sown in their graves, now sprouting as one

to crawl after him —him and no other.

“A sorry bunch of sour grapes you lot are, ”

Bill laughed, surrounded and yet still affixed

on the strange golden coins strewn here and far,

not concerned with the foul corpses betwixt.

“I did you each a favor, ” he said with a smile,

“for I saved you all from a cruel life

and the suffering it offers meanwhile,

so be thankful for the ol ’ Reaper ’s scythe. ”

Coin to coin he crawled like a supplicant,

nigh overtaken on perdition ’s road,

yet still his smile gleamed, and eye, without a hint

of fear about the victims he did goad.

A final coin, and a final sally —

“Alas, I must be on my way, ” he said,

rising to his feet with a fast rally,

“for I ’ve got gold in hand and dreams ahead,

and mustn ’t waste it on the likes of you. ”

He hobbled down the road, coins in his purse,

but turned about.   “As the French say, ‘Adieu. ’

Awful to be dead, but it could be worse. ”

Shrieks of outrage followed him down the road,

but Bill was too keen on the coins to hear,

whistling lively, and smiling like a toad,

as he dreamed of rum, wine, whisky, and beer

and the other things he would soon enjoy,

like mutton, girls, and a life of pleasure

spent doing as he pleased, like a young boy

enthroned in privilege and in leisure.

Yet, dust to dust is the way of the world,

and a man ’s wealth, too, no matter how vast,

and all at once, while a sudden wind whirled,

the coins faded to coppery leaves fast.

O ’Keefe gazed at the purse, his eyes agog —

he blinked and rubbed them, but to no avail,

for all the coins were gone, like prince to frog,

maiden weeping by the end of the tale.

Only, Bill never wept: he swore and kicked,

vowing revenge on the strange foreign lord,

for Bill could see that he had been thus tricked

and wished the man ’s blood to slather his sword.

So wrathful was the blackguard in his loss,

that he saw not where he was then going,

stepping off the bluff where the moonlight gloss

shimmered pale like an icy stream flowing —

an icy stream, and a Stygian stream,

for it took Bill O ’Keefe straight down to Hell

where he woke to an inferno that teemed

with imps, demons, Satan, Lilith, and Bael.

And there was the strange lord that Bill had robbed

standing afore him, a smirk so profound

in its malevolence that other men would have sobbed

to see it spread, like an infernal hound.

“Face to face with your sins, you have now come, ”

said the stranger.   “And coins have paid your way —

a princely sum, even in this kingdom,

but try to defend yourself, if you may. ”

“I offer no defense, ” Bill said, “except

the world itself, and its ways, which were made

without my counsel or consent, and kept

by tooth and claw and the patterns thus laid

by that harsh seamstress, Fate, a cruel witch

by whose hand all are designed and destined

to be king or peasant, down to a stitch —

so was I, bound by hem and trim and trend. ”

Bill O ’Keefe smirked, for he thought he had found

a defense most fateful, and a good ruse,

to protect his soul because all around

the throngs of Hell seemed very much confused.

“Just-so, ” the stranger said at last. “Forsooth,

we were banished for ingrained allegiance,

but the world, being so, and Fate and Truth,

does not expunge sins, despite your grievance,

for it is Fate who determines for all

and, just-so, you are predestined for Hell,

so regardless if you are a mere thrall,

her whim determines the end of your tale. ”

Bill argued, but the stranger would not hear.

“Like you, we are highwaymen in wait

and if by Fate you happen to pass near

we will take your soul, for that, too, is Fate. ”

“But that ’s not fair! ” Bill O ’Keefe cried aloud.

The whole of Hell resounded with laughter.

“Life ’s not fair, ” the Stranger said, “nor Death proud,

nor so fair or proud the Ever After. ”

And so the road the highwayman haunted

claimed him as he claimed many other souls —

he thought of the lives he took, and taunted,

as his soul was raked upon brimstone coals.

Betwixt

At the pinching snip of Love and Loss,
the intersection, that fateful criss-cross
of scissors cutting like conjoined knives
that separate, at length, two lovers’ lives—
Atropos and her unyielding blade
pressures us together, made and unmade,
the freshly cut edge, and the sharp ache,
that defines and destroys within its wake.

Jack In The Box

Death is an old jack-in-the box,
the coil wound tight as music plays,
springing out with a grin that mocks
and startles at the end of days.
There is never laughter, nor mirth,
in this ancient jester’s dealings—
the old crank wound round at our birth
is never stopped by our feelings.
And we always know he will spring,
this jester with his mirthless grin,
yet the shock still has a sharp sting
as we face the box, the coffin.

Hatching Another Scheme

Such silken wisps of black eyebrows,
the hairs like spindly spider legs,
clever weavers, and quick to rouse,
pale eyelids just like spider eggs.
Veil-webbed eyes, each ready to hatch,
brimming with such a restless brood,
her gaze cocooned taut with a batch
of desires both profane and lewd.
Her eyelids open, at long last,
and mascara teardrops crawl out,
spinning their spinnerets so fast—
a tear stains black the widow’s pout.