The slippery lady in the black hoodie slinks down the front steps
and bums a cigarette off me
because she’s sad
because her husband died
last Thanksgiving
from lung cancer.
She lives alone on the 3rd floor
now
with too much closet space
and stacks of moldy gun magazines.
We stand and smoke against the wall
where a sign says,
“No Smoking Within 15 Feet”
and talk about the horrible weather
and worse news
we’ve been getting lately.

There was once a canary that sang
down the hall
where Mel the copper salesman lived
without a wife.
Last New Year’s
the god-damn thing just up and croaked on him,
and by MLK Day
Mel was a goner too,
wretched over on a smashed TV tray,
a Swisher Sweets loosely clamped in his lips,
and a rubbed-off Scratchers ticket on the carpet
next to his empty clutched fist.
It seems he couldn’t live
without that noisy bird for company.

We’re all waiting around for it,
that one final spill into oblivion’s greatest unknown,
caught bleary eyed and out of beer,
cradling a box of cereal perhaps,
or just putting a new liner in the kitchen trash.

Larry, the building handyman,
fell flat on his face from a massive heart attack
two months from an April retirement,
died alone in the parking lot of a Smart & Final
just a first down from his car.
My sink’s been dripping since Valentine’s Day.

I know more dead people
than ones who are still breathing.

A few years back there was a girl upstairs
who used to belt out arias in the shower.
She took too many sleeping pills one Christmas Eve,
never woke up to get what Santa left.
I miss the booming lilt her voice made
in the sweep of my mornings.

The lobby reeks of Lysol and cigarettes.
My record player skips like a Richter scale.
The streetlights shine through the holes in my drapes
like lasers slicing up my sleep.
My laptop coughs and sputters to weary life;
each time I keep thinking
it’ll finally be the last.
Tomorrow they’re going to turn off the heat.

But maybe an editor will call this afternoon,
tell me they hate my latest book,
and I’ll be glad that at least someone’s reading my shit
still,
and for a brief moment there,
maybe,
I’ll feel better off than I usually do,
before I go back,
to the desolation of waiting and waiting
for something to happen,
and write another boring poem
that no one will ever read.

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