those blue hospital signs always
try to point me towards the drunktank of your heart
submerged for months
in your chinese water torture cell
i dreamt a blue dream
but the audience was watching and waiting
they always loving a ticking clock
so i had to escape

and now i drive down streets
and i rename them whatever the hell i want to
and i take my own detours
around the memories we staked into certain crossroads
like housing developments
dirt holes with pregnancy tests and empty shooters
but i drive around them
i do what i can to drive around them
but those blue signs are everywhere
and i don’t know if the h is for heaven hell or hospital
and i don’t know if i’m the visitor or the patient
and i don’t know what i don’t know
and i don’t know what you know

or if you’re at boston logan airport
sitting at the arrivals exit
or if you’re still chained to a bed
in flashlight city
but i do know most days these things don’t bother me

but those blue hospital signs always
try to point me towards the drunktank of your heart

those blue hospital signs always
try to point me towards the drunktank of your heart




i want to get
and grumpy
with you

i want to
eat ice cream
from the tub
as we
sit together
in our tiny home
watching twin peaks
on the couch
and you’ll have to
explain the
whole damn thing to me
i’ll be old
and i won’t know
really what the hell
is going on

i’ll make us cookies
but they’ll probably be
and taste like cigarette
smoke but you’ll eat them
and when we’re done
with the television
we’ll walk around the neighbor
hood and talk about whose funerals
we’ll have to go to this week
and we’ll walk in silence too
and i’ll love you
you know that
i’ll always love you
even when i’m fat and grumpy
and can’t remember shit

i’ll drive us down the road
at twenty-five miles per hour
on a forty-five mile per hour road
and we’ll listen to bob dylan
like it’s bobby darin
and i’ll hold your dried-up hand
in my dried-up hand
but i’ll probably have a stick shift
because i’m planning on being
a stubborn old man like that
but you’ll smile
and i’ll smile
and we’ll smile
and death will be napping in the back seat
with the air conditioning blowing on him

i’ll tell you i love you
and you’ll say what, i didn’t hear you
and i’ll say nevermind
because nevermind you know i do
because i told you a long time ago
that i wanted to get fat and grumpy with

and the grandkids will come over
and we’ll bore them out of their minds
with our great stories with huge gaps
in the middle of them where our memories skip
like old records
and they’ll be thinking about their ipads
and their yolos but we’ll make them
hear our love stories
where i’ll make up a bunch of bullshit
because the details will be long gone
but the feeling sure as hell won’t be
and i’ll cook them meatloaf dinner
and you’ll teach them how to play
checkers and i’ll look at your beautiful face
and try to recall what i did
to give you each and every one of your
lovely wrinkles
and your eyes will be no less bright
no less beautiful
and they say women don’t age well
but that’s bullshit
you’re beautiful
you’ll always be beautiful
even when you’re fat and grumpy
and teaching the grandkids checkers

we’ll go to flea markets
and barter the cost of a new toaster oven
and we’ll go to movies at ten in the morning
and we’ll laugh at the funerals
we’ll smile at the funerals
because we’ve been to so many
one for your old pal chuck
and one for my old pal douglas
and we’ll drive hand-in-hand down the road
and into the mouth of the great black something
and if it swallows us whole
or if it chews us up
it doesn’t matter much to me
because i won’t remember much
except that you were the one
that i wanted to get fat and grumpy with
and that was nice




your love eclipses me like a shadow
like six months of winter
like warm death and whiskey dreams
your snow falls like fragments of white time
like picket signs gathering in peaceful demonstration
the wind is our carrier pigeon
and i do nothing all day long
but write you love letter after love letter
after love letter after love letter
you lift me a mile off the ground
you make my breaths short and intentional
beneath your rocky skyline
beneath your metallic peaks
i am beautiful and inconsequential
your love is forever
and your forever love is the sound of air
against a car window

a winding road / a one way street
a pedicabber / a ponderosa
a deer in headlights / a jaywalker
a flaming crucifix / a lookout mountain
a homeless man / a mountain man
a book on a shelf
and a book in the dust of the dirt
a petroglyph / a river
a bottle of beer smashed on a dirt path
an empty city / an angry sandstorm
an acoustic guitar / an electronic machine
a gypsy / dancing to the future soundtrack
a robot / dancing in the light of lumineers
a light show / an aurora
a sunset / a dubstep drop

smoke from the city
smoke from the mountain
smoke from the mouths of tiny buddhas
smoke from the mouths of giant fools

you catch me always unprepared
without a sweater without a hand to hold
without a lover to keep me warm
without a care in the world
you catch me you catch me
like a glancing stranger in a lucid dream

i run my calloused guitar fingers
up and down your spine
and you run me back and forth
between your head and your heart
this balancing act
of freedom and love
the city and the mountain



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i’m in la la land
with the angels fresh off the greyhound
and the devils that grew from the dirt
with the monkeys swinging from the chandeliers
and the alcoholic typewriter
the ghost in the machine
the ravers in the skeleton ballroom of my skull

i can’t afford to write this poem

i can’t afford to drive to hanging lake
let’s face it, i can’t afford to pay attention
i can’t afford to drive to work
i can’t afford to go to the coffee shop
and buy a cup of coffee to help me write my way out

i can’t afford to watch the television
i can’t afford to miss you as much as i do
i can’t afford to dream
and i’m far too tired to sleep

at hanging lake there’s a vertical road
that waits patiently for me
and i will ascend it like mercury in a thermostat
and when i get to the top
i will see the waterfall at the top
(naked and waiting
texting me at one in the morning
asking me to come on over)

and i want to go really i do it would mean a lot
but i can’t afford to drive to hanging lake
and hanging lake ain’t coming to me any time soon




we stood inside the abandoned house
taking in the wreckage
like pages torn from a bible
carpet pulled up
thick dust on top of empty shelves
sunlight catching broken glass windows
like a mother grabbing her wandering child’s hand
you said it was so loud in there
the stories that scream in silence
the stairs that creak
and the lives that were lived and lost

and you knew to stop there
some message in a bottle
washed up on the shore
at 3015 kalmia street
and you spotted the glint of it
as we drove past
on this bleak and beautiful day

i wanted to sleep there
to stay in that house for the night
and wake up tomorrow morning
and help it regain its legacy
put a chest paddle paintbrush to its walls
and shock it back into consciousness

i don’t know what i’m trying to say
except that there was something in you
that knew that there was something
to see in this abandoned house
that flashed in front of us
at forty some miles per hour

i’ve been taught to look at the mountains
the sky the trees the murals on the sides of buildings
but you reminded me how god hides
in the places you’d least expect to see her





rage smiling and punchdrunk into the black night of the soul
we become afraid of our own shadows as they sweep over us
like a smallpox blanket but we will not go blindly

we will hang streamers from the rafters in the high school gymnasium of hell

we will paint with our fingers on the skin of our lovers

we will hold their hand as we descend the stairs into our parent’s basement
and this great depression which might be more of a grand canyon

we are armed with our teeth our bones and the best playlist ever made
the will to not will to the powerful powers that be
we know that the past has an ace up his dirty fucking sleeve
so we challenge him to a game of chinese checkers
and the wind blows into the gluten free donut shops
like a zen song like a child who has never seen a television set

men with legs like bicycles
women with wings like gods
the cash register building like the mountains of nepal
sinking slowly into the tarpits of new amsterdam

we were born a cactus patch but whereas you might assume
we would try to splay our arms outward
praying to every single cellular god there is
the truth is we just really want someone to embrace us
and sing us the song of freedom
the one that i heard as a child

rage smiling and punchdrunk into the black night of the soul
because it’s a shitty hotel you’ll find yourself in
with dollar store wallpaper and see through toilet paper
with neighbors that scrape at the walls and haunted bedsheets
but the view ain’t too bad if you know what you’re looking at
and they got netflix there, so there is that

rage smiling and punchdrunk into the black night of the soul
y rul
dive into the 3 foot section of the pool of the eyes of the person
sitting right fucking next you to on the bus because you ain’t got no car
you don’t need no car but you do need to take a vacation
and unwind you overwound wind-up bird and you need someone to love
i believe this i believe before anyotherthing i believe
and have a chocolate bar too ya know
because life is short and shit

rage smiling and punchdrunk into the black night of the soul
because the movies are scary and the movies are depressing indie flicks
but you just might learn a god damn thing or two about yourself
as you stay up all night dancing around your scattered papers
arm in arm with insomnia and mary jane and insomnia and mary jane

because love can coexist with freedom you just have to put in
a great deal of effort if you want to learn to juggle fire
in a suit soaked in kerosene

rage smiling and punchdrunk into the black night of the soul
and make your room your empire of confusion and madness
because empires are made to fall and new ones will rise
and those empires will fall and new ones will rise
and then those empires will fall and new ones will rise
and i’m gonna watch it from the rooftops sipping sizzurp with ginsberg
and the ghost of christmas present
and the roof will cave in i’m sure
and i will fall like alice through the miles and miles of bullshit
and when i land it will be at the bottom of a well
in the black night of the soul
and i will rage
and punch
black night
of the soul.




I had 13 new voicemails on my phone. I knew it was time for me to check them. Normally the process of “checking voicemails” for me looked a lot like hitting the number 7 over and over again until my phone indicated that I no longer had any new voicemails. Sure, the occasional message from a friend got lost in the mix, but the sweet justice of not hearing to hear a robot lady voice informing me that it’s urgent and important that I contact them for a business matter far outweighed the cons.

This time around though, I couldn’t delete my voicemail. Each time I pressed 7 the message would just start over again and again:

“This is a communication regarding a debt from – This is a communication regarding a debt from – This is a comm – This is a comm,”

I hit the button to end the call but the message just began again:

“This is a communication regarding a debt from ABC Collections. You have been scheduled for a mandatory hearing regarding a flexible repayment plan on Saturday, July 25, 2019 at 1200 hours at the National Trust Tower at 1400 S River Street in Suite 1213. Please be at least 30 minutes early for your hearing and bringing legal proof of income and two forms of identification. Thank you.”

I knew which debt they were referring to, my student loan debt. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to repay it, it was just that I didn’t have any money. Sure, I was riddled with guilt every time I picked up a new vinyl record or treated myself to a nice lunch with a friend, but I couldn’t give up my sanity or my life to repay this absurdly high stack of money I had borrowed. Maybe the hearing would do me well. Give me a chance to plead my case and let them know that I was trying, I really was, I just needed time; maybe a year or two to get my shit together so I could start repaying my debt. They had to understand. I wasn’t the first person to be in this situation and they did mention a flexible repayment plan.


I arrived at the National Trust Tower a half hour early on the 25th. I felt I’d never seen the building before despite the fact that I drove down 14th Street everyday on my way to work. It rose probably 16 stories off the ground and left an ominous shadow over a large portion of the park that it lurked over.

I entered the building where I was checked in by security. I removed my keys my phone and my wallet and watch and put them in a bin to be scanned as I passed through the metal detector. I had my proof of income, my last paycheck from The Burger Shack tucked under my arm. The security guard was dead behind the eyes as her white gloves patted me up and down. It always bugged me how half-assed the pat down is. I’m not requesting a cavity search or anything but a couple love taps didn’t seem very thorough to me.

“Please regather your items. Elevators are straight ahead of you, sir,”

I did as she said and filtered towards the golden elevator doors along with the great masses of other people, sheep being lead to the slaughterhouse. The doors opened and we all gathered in. I pressed twelve on the elevator door before the continuing rush of people on the elevator pushed me quickly towards the back.

The elevator was balls hot. People coughing and clearing their throats dressed in shirt and ties and blouses, some didn’t even bother to dress up. It was no small elevator either. I guess they’d figured with the traffic they’d be experiencing something similar to a freight elevator was the way to go.

The floors ticked by and the elevator got more comfortable, but very slowly. Lots of folks in lanyards with name badges got off on Floor 10, I’d figured it was an administrative floor or something to that effect.

Now it was just me and one woman in the elevator. She gently cried to herself, I couldn’t figure out why and it didn’t seem right for me to ask why. As the elevator pinged for Floor 11 she glanced back at me and quickly exited. Alone in the elevator I could hear the cables pulling me up. I couldn’t help but think of those cables as a knotted rope and the elevator itself my head caught in its fray.

The doors opened as if they were automated gentlemen welcoming me to the last place on Earth I wanted to be at the moment. Ahead of me was a great long hallway with door after door, all closed.

I began walking down the hall searching for my room number. I glanced down at my proof of income where I’d written ‘1213’ as a reminder to myself. The rooms all had placards stating “HEARING ROOM 1201”, “HEARING ROOM 1202,” and so on until there in front of me was ‘HEARING ROOM 1213.”

I dusted myself off, tucked my shirt in and entered into the room.

It was nothing like what I expected. Where I thought I’d find a waiting room or a warm office, similar to a DA’s office, there in front of me was a giant white space, clinical and echoing. There before me was one empty chair and across the room a long table where a board of professional looking people sat and stared at me blankly.

“Please Mr. Carney, have a seat…” said a woman, her voice carrying through the room. She wore a pink business suit and black stilletos. She was incredibly blonde with an incredibly big smile and a flight attendant tone in her voice that echoed through the hollow room. “We appreciate your punctuality,”

I took a seat as their three sets of eyes pierced me, watching me like some foreign zoo animal they didn’t understand. Their desk was clear, except for one stack of papers that the woman in the middle shuffled through. Looking up I noticed a giant two-armed fan circulating on the ceiling, like a great blade that I half expected to descend upon me.

“For the record, you are in fact Mr. James Douglas Carney Jr., correct?”

“Yes, mam,” I said, the cool air pressing down against my face.

“Did you bring your two forms of identification and your proof of employment and income, Mr. Carney?”

“Yes, I did,” I began to stand to bring them to her.

“No, please Mr. Carney, remain seated. Mr. Jetson, please retrieve Mr. Carney’s documents,”

Mr. Jetson was a big fucker. Probably 6’4” 270 pounds. I had this lurking feeling that that was a big factor in his position here with the ABC Collections Agency. I handed him my Driver’s License, my expired student ID and my proof of income from The Burger Shack.
Mr. Jetson presented the documents to the woman who put on her glasses to assess their validity.

“Very good, Mr. Carney. From here, I would like to go through a line of questioning with you, if you don’t mind. If you have any questions or concerns, please save them for the end of the inquisition,”

“Okay,” I said, my voice cracking slightly.

“Mr. Carney, you have been brought here today concerning your remaining debt of twenty-two thousand, eight-hundred and sixty-four dollars accrued during your freshman and sophomore years at Trenton Community College. Following your exit from their education program, you had a six month grace period allotted to you during which time no payment was due, however, after that time you were put on a payment plan of two-hundred and fifty dollars per month, which you failed to acknowledge for a period of 24 months leading up to the present. Is the preceding information correct, Mr. Carney?”

“Yes, it is,”

“Now I see here, Mr. Carney you are employed by The Burger Shack. Is that correct, Mr. Carney?”

“Yes, mam,”

“What is your official title at The Burger Shack, Mr. Carney?”

“I guess I really don’t have one,”

“I’m showing you make eight dollars an hour at The Burger Shack, Mr. Carney?”

“That’s right,” I said, “Just above minimum wage,”

“Mr. Carney, please don’t veer from the questions I’m asking you, okay?”
This woman was scary. I suspected her of being a kind of Stepford Wife. I half expected there to be a wind-up key in her back.

“Now, let’s get back on subject if we could – Mr. Carney, why have you been neglecting to pay your student loan debt to us here at ABC Collections?”

“Well, honestly. I don’t have the money. When I have the choice between eating and paying my student loan, the first one tends to take priority for me,”

“Have you considered getting a second job, Mr. Carney?”

“I have, and I’ve tried, but no one seems to be hiring, and even if they are, they have been unwilling to work around my schedule at The Burger Shack,”

“Mr. Carney, we’re not here to hear your excuses. The bottom line is your generation seems to have a large issue with accountability. When you take out a loan, you are making a promise to return that money, and your complete disinterest in doing so is beyond disturbing to me. How would you feel if I asked you to borrow twenty dollars and I didn’t pay you back?”

“I don’t have twenty dollars to lend you…”

“Mr. Carney, you are missing the point. You need to take ownership of the fact that you dropped out of college and thus, you have put yourself in this scenario. You have to pay us back,”

“What if I can’t? What are you going to do if I can’t? Sue me for the money I don’t have? Throw me in jail and deny me my horrible fucking life flipping burgers at The Burger Shack?”

“Actually, Mr. Carney, we are going to eat you now,”

I must have misheard her.

“You are going to do what?”

“You have defaulted on your student loans, young man. We have no choice but to eat you,”

“To eat me? Is that some sort of legal jargon for something?”

“No, I’m sorry, Mr. Carney. What I mean to say is we are going to tear off your limbs and eat you,”

“What the fuck? You can’t eat me?! That’s not… what the fuck?!”

“Section 14, Clause B of your student loan agreement states ‘In the scenario the aforementioned signee defaults on their student loan, it is left at the discretion of the lender to take whatever action is deemed most reasonable to ensure fairness in the agreed upon transaction, not limited to, or excluding, execution,”

“I’m getting out of here,” I said, rushing for the door, but as I did it padlocked.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Carney, but we can’t allow you to leave. We’re so very hungry, and you owe us a very large sum of money,”

They rose at their table, as I rushed towards it flipping the table over, their papers flying every which way.

“I never agreed to this!” I said, cornering myself as the three of them lurked all the closer to me.

“Yes, you did, Mr. Carney. Fair is fair. Your word is your bond and you have to understand that sometimes human blood is the cost of a good education,”

The big guy held me down as the other two began to rip my clothes off. I squirmed but it was no use. I felt the blonde woman biting into my stomach as the other man penetrated his teeth into my neck. I saw my blood pouring out all over my naked skin. I felt my heart raging. Looking up above me in excruciating pain, blinding pain, I saw the fan blades spinning still, over and over as the searing pain overtook me, and I slipped into unconsciousness.


Heaven is maybe the wrong word for where we go after we die. If Earth is a Beatles CD, Heaven is like a first edition vinyl of the White Album. What I’m trying to say is Heaven is a lot like Earth in its imperfections, but just a little bit better. There’s no anxiety pills here, you wouldn’t need them. There’s no wars, sure there’s fights, but at the end of the night, we leave them behind us. There’s too much to be grateful for to waste your time with hatred or jealousy. It’s like a good camping trip. Good company and good conversation and a few good beers. There’s no palm trees or clear blue water, at least not in my Heaven. That stuff never was the truth to me.

In Heaven, there’s no danger in the United States Postal Service going out of business. The mailman just comes every day, smiling, because he doesn’t have to do his job. He can stop in the middle of his shift and take a nap if he wants. It will get done when it gets done. Why would anyone deliver the mail by choice? Well, because that’s the whole thing here. They have the choice. No one is forcing you to do anything. There’s no salary, there’s no 401k, there’s no credit check. Autonomy is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I meet up with the mailman one day, and he’s smiling, like I knew he would be. He gives me my letters and I look through them. I got a postcard from my grandfather, letting me know he’s gonna spend a couple more weeks in Mexico up here in Heaven. Says he met a nice woman who is teaching him the true way to dance. I got another postcard from my friend Paulie who is inviting me to come up to his lodge in Aspen in Heaven. Says in Aspen in Heaven it’s always fall and it’s always beautiful. Says he’s got an endless fire going and we can sit around it and drink some whiskey.

My final piece of mail for the day is in a white envelope with just my name on it. I open it up in anticipation and I read it to myself:

“This is a communication regarding a debt from ABC Collections. You have been scheduled for a mandatory hearing regarding a flexible repayment plan on Tuesday, July 28, 2019 at 1200 hours at the National Trust Tower at 1400 S River Street in Suite 1213. Please be at least 30 minutes early for your hearing and bringing legal proof of income and two forms of identification. Thank you.”




on one wall of the bathroom stall
at monaco and leetsdale
someone took the time
to carve an upside down crucifix into the wall
beneath which they carved

to which another stranger retorted

someone in agreeance
circled the world “DEATH”
and added “EXACTLY!”

another someone put

and one person
holiest of them all

Hallelujah. Amen.




i sit with my back against the wall
with the boy with head gear braces
and the girl doodling in her notebook

there’s a band up on stage performing
there’s a table nearby with streamers
sometimes i smile when people come by
to refill their neverending punch cup
sometimes i can’t manage the conversation

sometimes i’m watching you out on the dance floor
dancing and smiling and dancing and smiling
the auditorium lights seem to follow you

it eats at me
that i should be smiling with you
that i should be dancing with you
but somebody has got to flower this damn wall

but then it hits me like a fist hitting a locker

for the first time in my life i realize
i’m not supposed to be out on the dance floor
i’m supposed to be up on the stage
giving them something worth dancing for
and showing you why
you should be dancing
with me