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Max Heinegg



I pushed off with permission
from the Electric City to Brooklyn.

Broome’s green & dying sedan, Big Ed,
rolled out of the slush, down I-90.

Familiar roots dozed while winter sun
lured me to a chastening,

back to the city of my childhood
from which to remember.


- For R.

In his cups, my roommate, the professional dancer
could grab a subway pole & pull parallel
to the ground. He pocketed women
& vested pleasures, secreted smokes,
& taunted subway strangers with drunken melodies.
He taught himself to drum just to join the band.

For a week, he’d leave for Africa, returning with curios.

He kept his room in a way I did not understand,
owned an iron & several pairs of shoes.
19, I didn't decorate as much as find places
to deposit myself.

The day we met on 172st, we passed Washington Heights,
& the hospital where a cop was killed, then drank
good whiskey with ice. I plotted from a window how to start my life.

When we went for Chinese, we forgot our wallets.

His roommate, who granted me a couch,
listened only to Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing.
“Ironbound” grew on me.
Addled, I wore out Alice in Chains’s Dirt on headphones,
drawn to Staley’s snarl while they slept.

That winter we traipsed through the beehive
of the East village, lost, from the Bank to Brownie’s,
earshot from pleasure, next door to debauch,
lining up the powders of Alphabet City.

All along, I was instinct’s passenger,
pointed towards the sun,
a guest who cracked his nest egg
for breakfast with the city.


- For H.

Hey you old junkie, where the fuck are you?
I'm guessing Florida
& nowhere near the LES.

Where's TJ, the mustached singer of 32 Tribes,
with his penchant for divorced white ladies:
"Are you saying your man won't wreck it because he won't, or
because he can't?"
“Because he can’t.”

Where's Gordon, king of the heroin queens,
& Gilbert, our dapper manager who held court during Cafe con Leche
fellating the staff. At Mr. Fuji's Tropicana & later, the Fez
Under Time Cafe: Chris Robinson handing out $100 bills
eavesdropping on Shudder to Think, bringing drinks to the Mingus Big Band
& to Charles’s widow, admiring towering Johnny Cash, diminutive Johnny Depp
his chain-smoking belle Kate Moss, hanging with Jeff Buckley
before his Columbia debut, playing his Telecaster in G before the show,
meeting Jennifer Charles in the Elysian Fields
getting chastised for not refilling water fast enough
for the “actress” known as Duff.

In time, I left Harmony to his Kids,
& the Honeymoon Killers
to sole possession of Clinton St,
& you to what befell.

I left you there because I could.

4. The Busboy Notes

To use until use became the sustainer
was my path to doll-raggedness,
then the anarchist was henpecked
& I slept all day in boredom’s blue chair.

When Fellini and Phoenix fell
on Halloween, I was waiting to catch the F train
to get to 2nd Ave and cop,
to pick up my pressed shirts & walk to work.

The bones of my feet envied birds
making tips on the ground floor of the Fez, NYC.
The actual fez hung above the bar
that I fed ice & fresh juices, sitting regal,

as I broke through sweats, changing kegs
racking glasses, learning Spanish, trading
shifts, snagging any fallen bills.

The angel was the unexpected: Patrick
the Irish cook from the LES
who walked from a decade of powder
to poke a sober finger to my chest
saying never never to my always.

Offstage at the Fez, the Nuyorican poets
ashed out their mouths while I changed ashtrays,
returning hourly to the restroom
to ash myself out, on the banks of Lethe

after I closed the bar, I took my shift drink,
a velvet screwdriver, young teeth sweet to rot.

Tipped out in the hour of the scavenger, I walked
token in hand to the subway station,
nodding lightly
beneath a trigger of moon.


My ego courted its own disgrace,
the A&R guy out the door,
my 58 in a Daltrey lasso,
dropped to signal fire,
the soundman pissed.

My curly Mohawk flopped &
The Hounds played on, fitfully
from Brooklyn to the Bowery,
swiping at the indie crown that John
Spencer only needed a finger

to gather, giving the theremin
the come-hither, as The Blues
Explosion’s drummer decimated the room-
& Foetus, that ginger satyr, joined
in, w/megaphone to command

the yearning crowd to assume the position,
climbing aboard in the dust
I haunted to possess but left
that sojourn in the country, blue-
grass, blues & other musical forms of the underground.

6. Like the Pearl String Cut

I awoke in the bed of chance
violently ill.

After my defiance was crushed
under its own pressure,
I saw we were boys then
thoughtless until the chastisement.

We met at work & soon
were skinning our knees on Ave. C.

We’d sit on his bed listening
to Frank’s Wild Years,
until the height of nights
rended us paper men.

Now I consider myself lucky
to sit in the white nutcracker,
whittling dreams from husks,
through March streets like the pearl string cut.

6. Bowery to Burnside

Lean on the image too hard
& it will cave,
even the frozen branches
content to cast shadows,
not be leveraged into the sun,
snap in spring.

A forced toast, then:
hard to feel free when you’ve always been,
so from Bowery to Burnside the choice begins.
Teach me the inside workings, the traps, poorly
painted rooms, the chipped locks, the sorn
windows, so I will want to get out.

The young & affluent erect their stages,
read their lines from addiction’s pages
these jagged actors with chip-stone jaws,
lofty shoulders like marionettes.

In the city, the winter teaches cold maneuverings
from the stupor of a Williamsburg loft party,

from the Bowery to Burnside
when the young return to hometown contrition
& awake from attic slumber to
walk old corridors
gait fashioned to a sleek Mastroianni
tipping a water glass before an unpolished vanity
no effervescence in the flute
safely back through the hallway to a music
headed, not heady

the black veneer of this darkness
lit less by Eros than by fear

7. Monday Morning

Off Church Ave, old men do cartwheels
on the asphalt of a middle school playground.
When they begin their Tai-Chi, they remove
jackets, & smooth the wrinkles out of the air.

I come courtside with Anthony, tarnished skills,
freshly inflated ball. We lay our coats & keys
on the fence beside our water & any pride,
trying to recall the form & follow through.

Our opponents are ourselves, until three
ten-year olds demand a game. They talk smack,
have handles, rebounding elbows, cursing
like those they’ve observed, but play hard, fair.

A good shoot-around follows, as pigeons, the color
of the court, flock loudly, pecking gravel for candy.
We pick up our coats & keys, the old men
put their jackets back on, smiling broadly.

They walk in time with temperament, each step
a rest, but without their hands, the air returns to
what it was before: jagged breath, these lines whose
ridges crease, whose lack of ease cuts furrows.

8. January’s Beggars

Winter off the F train, rehearsing with shadows
a closed mouth opens: morning.

I walk through Brooklyn’s neighborhoods
so close together that in a jaunt I can get
Russian, Chinese, Jamaican, or Italian food
but it’s early, so I get a bagel and coffee and the deli.

Here at Church Ave, sitting out on our porch
next door to the laundromat run by old women
I light up with Jason, freshly awoken

We watch old men pace the street-corner
in plaid caps, also smoking
who watch the local homeless, courting pigeons,
gifting words to the din of the wind.

Later that day, taking Amtrak out of the city
for the weekend, I saw a man skating on the half-iced Hudson
if he disappears, I thought, he is asking for it.

Stepping off the train, home to visit my parents
I am waiting to be combined with circumstance.

January waits with me,
palms open for what it may receive.

9. Revision

This white moth that slept
conspicuous on the trees,
bitten by the birds
is now brown as bark,

I slept soundly in the city
weaning from security
with a taste for the night's offerings
until I saw the birds circling
& could only hold the tree.

Apparently there was better prey,
or my safety net was closer.

I walked back to collegial shade,
& learned by leaving
what should remain.

10. Left Standing

Why did I ever assume
I was hollowed out
for the wind to sing through?

The wind needs neither
nor harmony.

If I had chosen to crawl
I could have come
to calmness sooner
but there was time

so I fed awhile on salvages
& waited on my instincts.
They never came.

I had only learned
what I could not remember,

so I waited,
a passenger
assuming later trains.


We took few pictures then, even
wrote letters to chart our dalliance,
playing at amor fati.

I sing the surprise that every seed dies
where I drop it, failing to sink
to my knees to change the ground
of its planting. That the dark & light
birds gather, picking their way to a thorough
feast, on a morning when the spring
taunts summer, I recall and then remember,
as if it was always known

to peel at the years, from the budded
strident ego, from selves several,
to pluck at the crown until stem remains

the unconscious finger of disagreement,
the pleasurable nod, the wheel of music turned
the lover to her side, the fall into
tenderness, where we discover ourselves
in our gentle waking state, hours in the familiar song

all the vestiges and costumes, the props of the ensemble
the ambitious and fearful lies
the single, scraped, streaked, shelled,
splintered self.

Where are you now, on the kind of night I longed for
but never dreamed would arrive, the artifact
of my own splendid peace.

Max Heinegg is an English teacher in the Medford Public Schools and the co-founder and brewmaster of Medford Brewing Company.
His first book, Good Harbor, won the inaugural Paul Nemser Prize from Lily Poetry Press. His records, poems, and criticism can be found at 
(Early versions of some of the parts of these poems appeared in Two Cities, Blazing Stadium, and GAS.)


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