Karma meets Jones
and they are comfortable as two hangnails
smoking together in a light socket

His estranged second wife and their 16-year-old son
had sent him the Christmas dvd-- it was called
"This Boy's Life", and he'd just come to the part
where De Niro shoves Di Caprio's pink snot nose
into the not-quite-empty mustard jar

when the blackout hit-- at the exact
same instant as his nicotine fit, and he
knew there was going to be trouble when,

frantically scavenging for candles
in the cluttered kitchen,

he smacked his brow on a wide open
pantry door, yet didn't begin to howl
in earnest until he knew for sure he'd
spaced out his cigarettes,

and he started tossing the apartment
in the pitch-black like a burglar
filling santa sacks,
but all he could find
were ashtrays full of chalky butts
crushed right down to the nub.


The gusting wind
ripping bandoliers of icicles
off his dormer shutters

reminds him
for a moment

of his father pulling gnarled
twenty-penny nails from
two-by-fours clamped in a
sawdusted shop vice

to sweat out his DT's in the Sunday dawn of
a bitter-cold winter solstice; it makes him

remember hanging out with his hoodlum
kid-buddies-- and how they so loved
to fuck with old lady Anselm
of the rosacea and enlarged heart

by scratching her picture window
with willow switches and sagebrush wreaths--

laughing as she clutched
at her sunken chest,
and made zig zag tracks
for the hallway closet.


And if we were to
break through
his reverie at this
instant, say,

and hand him a pocket mirror,

together with a fist-sized
gauze sponge to staunch
the sudden nosebleed dripping
in ropy rivulets off his pale,
stubbled chin and down
his chest; if we could point
to the fact that the Doral pack
has simply

slipped down in back
of the refrigerator

next to some cobwebbed
lottery tickets, mouse turds,
shriveled artichoke hearts
and a ten year old
for Ritalin,

would this knowledge by itself
be enough to stop him

from rushing into the foyer when
he hears the bell-- and the Christmas
lights pop back on just then

with a sudden hum
and it's just some

bundled up choir kids out there--all
set to sing Silent Night?

Because when he leans
right into the starched white
collar of the oldest caroler

with all that blood, snot and
sweat caked on his lopsided
shirtfront-- and asks the boy
with a high-pitched
but hard-edged,
needful voice

if he can bum a smoke,

it ought to be just about
enough to traumatize the lot
of those kids for at least
half their lives-- though all

they will wish for
in that moment

is to become smoke wisps

snaking cleanly out of their
own skins-- away from him,
into the safety

of gravel patch,
driveway crack,

or way up

even into that
halo gap
between sodium
and streetlamp--

wick-thin, yet white-hot

enough to hurt
your eyes quite a bit
when you try to look
right at it.


Running another load,
fisting the fat
quarter roll
in a painted nail
Thinker's Pose,

she sniffs and squints,

giving the Evil Eye
to Petition Gatherer Boy

who's set up shop
with his clipboard
sandwiched between
the gumball machines
and soap dispenser.

There is a kind
of patent satisfaction
in picturing him
all got up
in her still-dripping
panties and pasties

bent over
a soggy linen pile
as she puts it to him
with all eight inches
of her veiny purple

but the image is soon enough
chased from her mind
by the warning buzzer
of another dryer
needing feeding.

She remembers

morbidly bottom-trolling
the guest bathroom hamper
for her 1st-husband's t shirts saturated
with enough dried semen to give them
a kind of Dead Sea Scroll consistency--
reminding her of fish wrap,
and pus-spackled tourniquets
overflowing infirmary
trash baskets.

She remembers

waitressing at a Spokane Denny's
years and years ago,
when the Mia Farrow-looking
mother of five

cloaked the dinner roll basket
and deep fried zucchini platter
with the steaming discarded diapers
of her squalling twin infants
right there, in real time
at table eleven

and then left her
a fifty cent tip.

But now
coming up

on Spin Cycle and she's staring hard
at the fat college girl who is folding
fitted sheets in a shower of spit
and flying crumbs

while simultaneously
humming a Shania Twain tune
as she goes to work
on her fourth can of Pringles--
dabbing at her doll's mouth
with Febreze fabric
softener sheets.

She wants to scream
at this girl --at everyone--
how laundry is an exercise

in futility,
and absurdity--

how the whole fucking
world is simply
fooling itself
to think otherwise,

but just then
her overloaded machine
starts to buck like a forklift
sinking in fits and starts through
the slats of a rotting pier,

and the quarters she'd been
squeezing so tight
in her little hand
suddenly go flying
all over the tiled floor.


Mike Tyson's peripatetic
pet Bengal tiger
pacing the open faced
block-long excavation crypt
in Parumph, Nevada

where a middle aged
casino mogul with a checkered past
buried twenty tons of silver bullion
nine months before the post-adolescent
psychopathic newlywed wife clamped
his ripcord neck between her tender thighs

and squeezed a half-pint of heroin
into his twitching esophagus
with a turkey baster.

All this stuff is true--
the glare
of the sun,
the satiated tiger's
unrepentant yawn,

and those endless
striations of heat
coming off
the desert floor

like stretch marks
on a forty year old hooker
bending over backwards
to get you off.
It's all true-- even that
Howard Hughes poltergeist
leisurely tapping the ash
off a camel

into the humidor ribcage
of a tourist from Cleveland
sporting a ten inch slit
above the right hip

where they sucked out his liver
and Fed Exed it to Evil Knievel's ranch
in Bozeman Montana-- that's right,

go ahead

and pop my frying eyes out
with a cantaloupe scoop
if I'm lying

but here it is

a hundred and eight degrees
at around noon in an alley
behind the Boulevard Mall

where something
dredlocked and spectral
--hardly human at all--
sucks a cluster of glass splinters
from the busted crack vial
embedded in a bleeding palm,

trying to get that taste
into the back of his throat
one more time

the tiger throws back
its head, roaring
at the irradiated sky

and somewhere
in southeastern Alaska
a glacier slaps itself
on the thigh,

as another twenty-ton skein

of blue-veined ice
goes sloughing off
into the sea.

Dennis Mahagin's debut poetry collection, entitled "Grand Mal", is
forthcoming from Suspect Thoughts Press. His work has appeared in 3 A.M.
Magazine, 42opus, Deep Cleveland, FRiGG, Stirring, and Absinthe Literary
Review, among other publications. He lives and works in Washington State.

2005 Underground Voices