My Bad Girlfriend Blows Her Nose on My Sleeve

She fake cries at Sandy Bullock movies.

She gets her hair cut in Petaluma
(where I must drive her).
She makes me pay, and stiffs them on the tip.

She wants me to buy her lip liner, eye shadow.
She scatters pages of Glamour magazine
on the kitchen table, showing me brands and colors.

She wears big boots and clomps around
when I want to sleep.
She makes French toast and puts raspberry jam on it.

She wants to change her name to Jasmine.
She treats me to an extra-thick milkshake
then leaves lipstick on the straw.

She pulls pages out of my notebook
and fills them with terrifying poems,
poems she says are love poems, but that are clearly not.

She kisses my neighbor under the mistletoe
with an open mouth.
When she laughs, she slugs my bad arm.

She does my crossword in pen,
spelling out names of old boyfriends,
the names of her sister’s cats,

and “XOXO” when nothing else fits.

Pfefferle, W.T. My Coolest Shirt. Poems. The Word Works Press, 2015.


Things weren’t always like this.
There was furniture here once,
and I had a lot of it.

Couch, chair.
Same coloring, same pattern.
A coffee table.

And all the bedroom stuff,
queen size, lamp,
the works.

But you know how that is,
and you know what a room looks like
without things.

I used to be her hero.
I used to drive
a big car.

I used to know something about stars,
and planets and comets,
and we used to go out there at night to look up.

There was something we used to say back then,
and sometimes when I’m here
wondering about my furniture,

sometimes, when I’m in here,
in what used to be a living

I can sometimes remember what it was.

Pfefferle, W.T. My Coolest Shirt. Poems. The Word Works Press, 2015.


This place is cool.
This is my coolest shirt.

Let me see what I can salvage
from past scattered moments.

I once believed I was a dream.
A felt hat worn by a rakish angel.

But what I thought was salvation
was really only car wrecks.

Lucky for me, I believe in redemption,
in sins forgiven.

A balloon rising over sandy mountains,
a paper heart cut with crooked scissors.

Something that keeps me warm,
on this, the coolest day of the year.

Pfefferle, W.T. My Coolest Shirt. Poems. The Word Works Press, 2015.

My Bad Girlfriend On a Sunday

She says she’s lost my phone.

She leaves me fifty dollar grocery lists
with a ten dollar bill.

On weekends she gets up early,
vacuums around the bed.

On Sundays she insists we pray,
but not to God.

She tells a neighbor that I wish I had his flat belly.

She can be counted on to take the can to the curb,
but to never, ever, bring it back.

On Sundays she wants seafood.
And it’s twenty miles away.

Then she throws up her hands and has a steak instead.

My bad girlfriend jingles when I jangle. 

Pfefferle, W.T. My Coolest Shirt. Poems. The Word Works Press, 2015.

I Am Pop Thorndale

I am mad about five things today:
the size of my belly,
its shape,
these new freckles on my feet,
my inability to walk long distances,
and the way my FedEx guy leaves my packages in plain view.

I’ve been Pop
since I was a young boy.
Pop, short for Poppa, I suppose.
Because mine was a bastard and rarely around.

These pages in your hands make up my memoir.
Memoir is just memory
with a little switch of letters.

That’s how this book got started,
this mad desire to chronicle the things
that have happened.

My wife.
My only son, Grease,
misunderstood and beautiful.

A staggering memoir.
Heavy enough to conk a cockroach,
but light enough to carry with a beach chair
and the last four bottles of Amstel Light.

This is not the opening I had in mind.
I begin today in a panic.
My previous beginning, my salvo,
my mesmerizing opening shot has been lost.

12 brilliant entries in a weblog.
12 riveting treatises about why I’m mad about the world, etc.
But I did not bookmark it, so it’s gone forever.

I start again here.
My life up until this has been modest.
I have wandered personally and professionally.
I’ve been a genial companion along life’s road to Judith.
I’m a father who might have made errors with my son.

I’ve not left a mark here or anywhere else.
My hair is thin.

I have at times been kind to old dogs,
patted the heads of dimwit children.
But I have no trophies to show you.

I have never sat down with Matt Lauer or Chris Matthews.
I have lived marginally and happily.
But then these things happened.

It’s as if after spending a lifetime
wandering an endless and disappearing beach,
discovering my name on a note
in a bottle in the sand.

I have made sense of these things.
I am writing it down for you tonight.
I am Pop Thorndale, no great man.

Pfefferle, W.T. The Meager Life and Modest Times of Pop Thorndale. Rochester Hills (MI): NFSPS Press, 2007.


I write in the basement in the wee hours,
and I plan on putting it all together.
I want files upon files on the hard drive.

I store the files and then open new ones.
I don’t revise.
I don’t look at the old stuff.
If I told one story, I’ve told it 100 times.

Just now I hit alt+save
to guard against a lightning bolt.
I have just now changed the formatting of the font
and then did alt+save again.

I will name names. I will talk about my first kiss.
I will run down the events of my father’s disappearance.
I will showcase a handful of happy memories of childhood,
the racy love affairs of my 20s, my marriage, our son.
I will pair the large issues of marriage and family
with the minutiae of my hobbies.

I will be endearing.
You’ll learn why I am the character I am.
You will weigh that against larger quirks,
some of them a little unsavory.

I have made allowances, and so must you.

I will focus on the big and the small of my life.
Not because it was all such a masterpiece,
but because it all led to the events of the past year
that have given my life some clarity, some precision.

Its meaning.

Pfefferle, W.T. The Meager Life and Modest Times of Pop Thorndale. Rochester Hills (MI): NFSPS Press, 2007.


Best man’s arm in a cast,
“dumbshit” in blue ink as big as a freeway sign.

Earlier, with my buddies,
smoking in a vestibule,
shooing away a kid in a smock,
my car keys hot in my pants.

Really, the only chance you’re ever given
to just go for the two lane.
A done deal after the vows, the holy consecration,
the smoked salmon, the dollar dances.

Judith’s family fills her side and some of mine.
My grandmother in the front by herself,
long widowed, flowing white hair
like a 40s movie star.

The minister reading a mimeographed sheet
stuck in the middle of Deuteronomy.
Judith at my side, her arm through mine.
I see the painted glass behind the minister’s head still.

Where would I have gone?
No road was long enough.
I stood still that day.
It was the bravest thing I’d ever done.

Pfefferle, W.T. The Meager Life and Modest Times of Pop Thorndale. Rochester Hills (MI): NFSPS Press, 2007.

News From Home

On a dreary Friday afternoon,
an uncle calls my office,
a voice not heard for 15 years,
the number obtained from an old school friend.

My old man in a hospital somewhere,
two strokes overnight,
and more coming.
A last opportunity for a wayward son.

The hum of long distance delays each word,
and they come to me
as if bouncing down a dirt road.
Did he ask for me, I hear myself say.

And then more details of the family gathering,
cousins from miles away,
the shame of it, the only son,
the brave family huddled around a phone.

I find the fear in myself, and feel my gut twisting
as I set the phone down on the receiver,
the thin voice of my uncle still coming through
after I hang up, the voice becoming

that voice of my old man’s, thick, meaty,
shouting, reaching, pushing me into a corner
in a basement when I was 11. His open hand
as big as a car door.

Pfefferle, W.T. The Meager Life and Modest Times of Pop Thorndale. Rochester Hills (MI): NFSPS Press, 2007.

The Third Thing

That it is remarkable,
the change.

In these days
which now seem to extend,
expand to something other than minutes or hours,

I find myself mute,
able to hear my own voice,
the voice from my youth,
a voice to recognize,
but unheard outside.

I am motion without completion.
I call to her but she does not hear.

At one instant I am with my son,
and he is happy,
and I reach out to touch my boy on the shoulder,
but I am unable.

And then that is gone.

I recall a sweet taste in my mouth from childhood,
and it is there again.
I wonder about a friend and I am beside him
on a park bench from 1973, smoking a cigarette.

Curving light bringing me to it and then back
without the slightest understanding.

Then at other times
I find myself on unknown streets
where I walk on colored wet pavement
that crackles under my feet.
A world I am trying on for size.

And I can call to her but she does not hear.

Sometimes I find myself in a crowded room,
my friends, old and new around me.
And there is laughter and there is comfort,
and a day passes of this,
stiff drinks at a padded bar,
a meal, a game of pool,
a paperback’s broken spine,
a pretty sunset, a little boy singing a song,
the feel of a highway wind.

All the time I feel a pull.

And Judith.

She is sometimes at home,
in a way I remember her from when we were young.
When the world and she
seemed open and untethered.

Sometimes her secret life is still a mystery to me,
the frailties unknown.
We are pushing a stroller,
shopping for vegetables, young,
still reaching.

And sometimes she is as she was at the end,
a sort of impostor who arrived in our marriage
with a cartoon face, a funhouse reflection
of who I believed her to be,
and who she became.

And my old man.
He is there, too.
Sometimes as he would have been
at the end,
as an old man ready to be forgiven.

And other times as he was.
He at the wheel of a station wagon,
a cigarette between his fingers.
Terrible scenes in countless boyhood homes.
A night with his car on the front lawn,
my mother’s broken nose,
bloody clothes.
Him sitting on a toolbox
in the basement,
his rifle to his head.
His face, my face,
staring past the barrel,
always saying, but not saying,
this is for you, too.
This is what I leave you.

But other times there is no one I know.
And those times now outnumber the rest.

My aimless plans, my diffuse ambition, gone.
I think sometimes of these pages, and by thinking,
I see them, spilling out like October leaves
onto a table in front of me.
The stories make me laugh. I find it wondrous.
The heartbreaks seem small and vain.
I sweep the pages to the floor and
in an instant I forget everything that was on them.

And then I lose time. It has no hold on me.
I am in one place and a hundred all at once.

I sizzle with energy and the taste of metal in my throat.

I stretch and twist to make sense of these new images.

Yet some part of me still holds onto a small memory,
a moment before all of this.

In a room, on a couch,
in early morning,
someone said my name.

Flashing lights,
Judith on the periphery,
the sound of machines
and then my son reaching through.

It pulls something of me back,
and feels like something to save,
something that was mine that remained.

So I repeat my name until it begins to feel strange.
Until it is just a sound.

But it tires me, annoys me,
and what has held me down is gone.

I am surrounded by things I have
no names for
in a place which I cannot describe.

And there are arms lifting me.

Pfefferle, W.T. The Meager Life and Modest Times of Pop Thorndale. Rochester Hills (MI): NFSPS Press, 2007.

Halloween 1970

for WMP (1938-2010)

My dad’s Buick parked and running,
heater on, us inside.

Between his legs a squatty bottle of beer.
In my bag just nine Oh Henry candy bars
he bought me at the liquor store.

Ahead of us on the sidewalks we see
Gerry Fiske and Alan Byl,
dressed up like cowboys.

“Your mother turned me into this,” he says.
He drinks from his bottle
and I open the candy.

Gerry recognizes our car
and taps on the glass. I wave at him,
removing my tiger mask.

My dad honks the horn once
and Gerry runs off ahead.

Later, sitting in the car
outside my grandparents’ house,
Dad smokes filtered Camels
and we watch through the back window
as the rest eat at a big table inside.

He punches the cigarettes out on the heel of his hand,
then flicks the butts out the window.

“Your mother…” he says. But he doesn’t finish.

Pfefferle, W.T. “Halloween 1970,” Cortland Review. (Spring) April 2011.

The Sad Ponies

Rescued from
Bourbon County
and delivered into
square pens on Hwy. 25.

The grass here is
as good as any grass.

One keeps to himself
near the road,
watching passing trucks,

When it rains the rest
find cover,
but the one sad pony
stands by himself.

The grass here is
as good as any grass.

Pfefferle, W.T. “The Sad Ponies.” Kentucky Monthly (August 2008).

Second Marriage

Leah marries Ken on a stormy October afternoon.
We pass gifts then huddle around with strangers near the bar.

Leah is my oldest friend, 20 years running.
Ken is a new thing. A new husband.

Leah has on an avocado dress, short, bare legs.
My wife says she looks great for 40.

I stare up at the front during the ceremony,
wondering where Leah’s first husband is now.

That first wedding I watched from a distance,
in a rented car, half mad on some lovely red wine.

Ken shakes my hand, then clutches me close.
“It means the world to Lee that you came.”

At the reception I make five trips to the buffet,
for assorted relatives jetlagged for the journey.

During the first dance I nod at Leah as she swirls past.
I imagine the nod is full of endearment and grief.

Later, when the band plays something herky jerky,
Ken comes over and dances with my wife.

He claps me on the shoulder, and spins her out of her chair.
Just once around, he says, then they disappear.

Pfefferle, W.T. “Second Marriage,” Antioch Review 65:1 (Winter 2007): 116.

Night of the Pig

We smash the ceramic pig
on a still April night.

I prepare the hammer
and you prepare the pig,

green, hollow, its snout
as big as a beer stein.

There is no incantation,
but the ceremony

has a queer flow that we lose
ourselves in.

The crashing, the release, the empty last gasp.
The pieces and shards that will remain.

Consequences of the
porcine nocturne.

Pfefferle, W.T. “Night of the Pig,” Cottonwood 65 (Spring 2007) 21.

Bad History

Columbus liked to wear giant plumed hats,
and was fond of a woman he later sold for beads.

The Civil War started sometime in an early morning rain,
and continues to this day.

Nietzsche said that all that glistens is gold.
Chaucer told tales of lovers without conscience.

The houses in heaven have several rooms.
God ran off Lucifer because of my pride.

I wrote a bad check to buy the ring
and later, she sold it to pay for the U-Haul.

The railway opened the country,
the automobile dispersed the populace.

The television was invented in the 1930s,
and then later thrown down the stairs

of the Sunflower apartment building
on a day that looked like rain

but when no rain came.

Pfefferle, W.T. “Bad History,” Virginia Quarterly Review 82:4 (Fall 2006): 209.

Losing Clare

I prayed for a foggy morning,
one that would somehow shield me
from the inevitable.

A little plane can’t leave this island in the fog.
Even a wind will change schedules.
It happens all the time.

All night I stood on the shore
prayed for clouds,
made deals with the angels.

When the sun came up the next morning,
it was clear.
The water lapped lazily.

I talked about some bad movie and some bad seafood
and you ticked off in your head
all the reasons you were leaving.

Perfect sunny morning and you wore
tortoise shell sunglasses I had paid too much for
years and years before.

Later, on the beach,
I looked up and cursed the clouds
that arrived too late.

I watched children and mothers.
I drank white whiskey right out of the bottle,
and pretended you would be emerging soon

from a cabana behind me
whispering something funny
ready to lead me back to where we’d been.

Pfefferle, W.T. “Losing Clare,” Nimrod 49:2 (Spring/Summer 2006): 209

Map Reading

In a beaten down road atlas we mark places to go,
not vacation spots, but new homes,
homes away from this one.

My wife uses red pen and I use blue.
She makes neat circles around town names
and I make wiggly lines around entire states.

These decisions are not entirely our own.
There is a sick father somewhere, and
there are hard feelings and money owed.

During the day my wife works. And I,
too frail from these thoughts in my head,
pop aspirin and stare at the map.

At night we lay on the bed and let
the evening warmth pour in here.
When I dream, I dream of us on that map.

I take giant steps, a hundred miles long,
a foot in Colorado and one in Utah.
At the California border my wife zigs when I zag.

Pfefferle, W.T. “Map Reading,” North American Review 289 (Spring 2004): 29.


My brother says Birmingham is the ass end of everything.
He whacks a tree branch against the side of his leg
while we wait outside the church reception hall.

His new bride is inside, dancing with her fat and white-haired father.
She has brown skin that shines against the white of her dress.
Her father is talking loud over the music and letting her lead.

My brother goes to AA ever since he met this girl.
He thinks he can handle it on his own,
but stops by my place for a beer after his meetings.

We’ve lived in Birmingham since Daddy brought us here
in the late 70s. We dragged up and down Mitchell Street
in the Bonneville we bought together in high school.

As I watch his wife inside I think about how I kissed her
more than a dozen times when we were all kids together.
I remember she used to wear cherry lip gloss.

My brother says Birmingham can suck it right out of you.
That Birmingham killed Daddy, and that Birmingham
is going to kill us, too.

He says it like Birmingham is this thing.
He drops the tree branch and he grabs the beer in my hand.
Just a sip, he says. Then I’m going back in there.

Pfefferle, W.T. “Birmingham,” New Orleans Review 30:2 (2004): 79. Pushcart Prize nominee.


for Chet Hicks

There are, of course,
all the jokes about its size.
The big brush joke.
The joke that ends,
“...the only place big enough to hold me.”

I sell it to my pals as a sort of nirvana,
where we ride cows to work,
and where women with big brown hair
scratch our backs with red fingernails.
(You were the only one ever to believe me.)

I think of you leaving the state and I think
about some kind of present.
Maybe a shot glass with Kennedy’s head and a target.
That’s how far I am willing to go today.

Your name will always remind me of music.
Of guitars and a dream about the desert.
We never went there, by the way,
although in my head, I always held it
like a little promise or reward.

I suppose that it is just hot and sandy,
no hamburgers for many miles,
not a decent fucking motel anywhere.

When the apartment on Kings Highway
filled with new people, I walked my dog
in the other direction.
In nameless bars, for the benefit of mean drunks,
I’d sometimes send some bad song your way.

I think about what happened to you,
and that Cort bass.

Pfefferle, W.T. “Texas,” South Carolina Review 36:1 (Fall 2003): 29.


We’re racing across Charles on a cloudy day,
wind pressing newspaper to store windows,
people in gray and black raincoats shoot past
in clumps of threes and fours.

Now we’re standing on a patch of beach by an ocean
that we’ve never seen before,
and you’re throwing pieces of broken shells
as far as you can into the water.

We’re on a highway in Wyoming
and you’re rolling the spare tire toward me.
We watch it roll down the embankment,
moving quickly away from us.

In an open field outside Wichita,
we spot shooting stars in darkening sky.
I’m wishing on them.
747s, you say. Russian satellites.

You tell me things change.
You turn it like a lock.

Pfefferle, W.T. “Satellites,” Hayden’s Ferry Review 32 (Summer 2003).


for Steve Carter

Slow witted,
but getting sane.

The heart of a champion.
We drove a car across Texas
in the middle of the night.
Cigars and speed and open windows.

We were friends first,
and then all this happened.
He is comfortable with my wife,
in the same way I am not with his.

My eyes aren’t what they used to be,
but my hearing is sharp.
My reflexes are tremendous.
I once caught a fly in my mouth
on a very dark night.
It was easy.

It is a phone call at odd hours that marks us.
And there are those weekend trips to the coast,
a bar called Burners, a waitress,
and the Kon Tiki motel.

He will die of liver disease,
and me of a heart attack.
We will be young and pretty still,
like shells on a beach.

Pfefferle, W.T. “Meetings,” The Ohio Review 50 (Spring 1993): 99.

Emily at the Playground

for Emily Pestana (1964-2002)

I take them to the playground
at night.

Naomi, the oldest,
gets to play by herself.
She climbs the jungle-gym,
silent, moving through the bars,
her hands slick on the steel.
I watch her for a second,
she’s nothing but blonde ringlets,
streetlights shoot off her.

And Emily and I go to our swings.
She’s the forgotten child,
our relatives say. The quiet one,
the one who we sometimes let disappear.
So I swing her here first, alone,
my hands on either side of her,
pushing, catching.

As she swings,
I stand behind her,
and sometimes I’d like to look inside
her small, dark eyes.
What’s going on in there.

Instead, I whisper things in her ear.

“Emily at the Playground,” Mississippi Review 15:3 (Spring 1987): 59-65.

How to Throw a Baby Chicken

First pick one out.
Get a fat one, they fly better.

Then put its head in the palm of your hand,
and close your hand into a fist.

You'll hear some cracking,
but it will be over in a second.

Then when it's shaped like a ball, wind up.
You've got to wind up.

Then you throw it,
as far as you can.

We were young.
That's the first thing you have to understand.

Pfefferle, W.T. “How to Throw a Baby Chicken.” Mississippi Review 15:3 (Spring/Summer 1987): 59-65.