March 12, 2018 Poetry , POETRY / FICTION

Robert Couse-Baker photo



Zak Mucha




Fragile Men of Noir



Once the premise breaks open and the protagonist

is set upon I lose interest as the conflict follows deep

ruts and the outcome is the same as the one before.


As the path to clear his name, to save the girl,

and find the killer is delineated I change the channel,

lazily searching for the next offering from basic cable.


I only want to see the construction of events

leading him into the corner where ego-syntonic

PTSD is nursed into a sharp blade


to protect his property and

all that which defines him —

wife, child, job, Democracy.


One passenger framed the Air Marshall,

killed three people, poisoned the pilot,

and hid a bomb inside the suitcase of cocaine.


He’s stalking me, trying to make me look crazy.

The killer has pictures of cops’ children tacked to the

wall. The hero grows a trauma beard in his isolation


thinking of the child lost, the nice lady

he couldn’t save from an icy death, and the

cackling madman who is vaguely homosexual.


He’s Jesus with a drop piece taped to the small of

his back in case he has to fake a surrender,

a regular joe suffering so others do not.


The denouement of emergency crews sluicing into

the destruction, the media crush and begrudged

congratulations from the police chief as credits roll.


We sit in his neglected apartment, surrounded by blinking xmas lights

framing the windows and ornaments from his kids on the little tree.

With his aesthetic wounds healed he apologizes on TV in another


press conference: I don’t recall that ever happening but

if I’ve made anyone uncomfortable I apologize.

I’m not really like that. I remember the interaction


very differently.






Saint Al’s Italian Beef



The rec room wood paneling framing

the Stations of the Cross in cellophane

primary colors over basement windows

torture scenes of skinny Jesus, stripped to his

girded loins, run clockwise around the room and

lit by parking lot and rectory yard


The story held in a child’s red 3D Viewmaster

or a lightbox beer advertisement in Mama Vesuvio’s

where the water never stops splashing and where

my uncle became pals with the owner days

after moving to the neighborhood and accidentally

setting fire to his carry-out with a lit cigarette


The nuns and priests were interchangeable strangers,

to me, the obedient kid concocting absurd protests via

the Roulette Wheel of bad ideas, quiet for now

in case I was being watched. I could wait to

set fire to my own dinner and fall asleep

during a car chase on Lake Shore Drive.


In catechism, the nun passed out sheets of stickers

to decorate our folders as children did, but literal illustrations

of New Testament piety in detailed realism did not fit

the baby cultural capitalism of Ben Franklin

penny candies and Scratch-and-Sniff stickers.


One sheet of yellow smiley faces somehow got shuffled

into the deck of stickers passed down the row by the sister.

I took one crucifixion and one smiley face,

placing the latter atop the face of the former,

and burst out laughing. Years later


Jason would do deliveries with a pitcher of beer

between his knees and on Saturdays we would

pound the dents out of his car, in recognition and

in honor of that Roulette Wheel each of us had

behind one eye or the other one time or another.

We learned this from the adults already stuck.


My uncle could fold a whole sandwich into his mouth

and his bookie once ate fifty-two White Castles on a bet.

On their non-W-2 afternoon errands they whispered to the kid at the 7-11

they were going to buy the place, fire all these assholes,

and make him the manager. The girl who worked there

was a skinhead who later became a Chicago cop.


11 AM mass, Jason recited the Our Father in a monotone,

dull-eyed and flat faced for the Roulette Wheel. He also

knocked his own father to the kitchen floor once, bouncing

the house over the empty crawlspace.

We each left as soon as we could.

Jason drove that same car into the side of a viaduct in Colorado.


I got the phone call. Maybe it was a tree, but the guys said

they heard he didn’t touch the brakes at all.

He was a good driver, we assured ourselves

his suicide more comforting than any accident.






Zak Mucha

Zak Mucha, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice and an analytic candidate at the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis. Previously he supervised a community mental health program working with persons suffering severe psychosis, substance abuse issues, and homelessness. His most recent book is Emotional Abuse: A manual for self-defense.

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