Five poems by John Grochalski

watching bumper to bumper traffic on fort hamilton parkway


there they all are
stuck in a crooked line of dull metal

as a newborn’s ass

shouting into the stale stinking air
above their digital dashboards

spittle spraying windshields
slamming on car horns

looking like madmen and women
with nuclear codes

and little else in their lives but this

risking a coronary
to get home to houses

full of families and bills
big tvs and dirty toilets

a whole palace of the damned
full of the sick slavery

that has caused this kind of mess
to blossom
in the first place.

bus driver in the snow

the winter storm is raging

they give them cutesy names
like quinn or chloe or dylan

but they are not enough to endure
wet socks from shoes with holes in them

the traffic is terrible
as the storm winds blow

cars are sliding all over the avenue

as we stand under a meager shelter
that offers no solace from the elements

waiting for the bus
they pass us one by one

buses with no one sitting in seats
buses with signs on the front saying

out of service

a whole fleet of these bastards
with nowhere else to be

it seems as though the bus drivers
are having a good time too

some honk at us
some stop for a moment but won’t open doors

one bus driver slowed to a crawl and waved

unchecked aggression and contempt
as the flakes soak us and the work day still waits

when a bus finally stops
the driver opens the door

he looks at each of us slopping inside
as if we were piles of shit on his breakfast burrito
while we scan our cards or drop in coins
when i look up to meet his eyes
there is murder in them

there must be murder in mine too

because immediately over the PA
they remind us that striking a bus operator
is a felony with up to seven years of prison

and for a moment i think
it’s almost worth it

before hobbling off to toward a seat
covered in ice and water

and nowhere left on this goddamned thing
for a fool like me to stand.


i’ve often thought
about how it will be

how it will come about

quietly in the middle of the night
or a massive coronary in a crowded theater
watching something by disney

found slumped over on the floor
right next to the toilet like elvis

with my shit-stained underwear at my ankles
some asshole’s book of poetry still clutched in my hand

for me it’ll probably be one of those mundane deaths

like slipping on soap in the shower and cracking my head
or falling off the subway platform while reading a book

i’ve often thought of suicide
but the method scares me more than the end result

so it probably isn’t for me

but after each day at work
after each ride on the public bus
after each conversation and consequence

i can see why many choose the noose or the razor blade to the wrists

sadly, i think i was meant to endure
but maybe it’ll come quick and fast

like a car wreck or a plane crash

although there’s nothing quick
about dropping thirty-thousand feet
breathlessly shitting your pants while in abject terror

i’d say i’m poised for one of those heroic deaths
like stopping a gunman or going off to war

but in public i’m a jovial coward
and i fight no one’s battles but my own

it would be worth it to be gone
just to screw over the student loan people

man, how i’d love to watch
those cocksuckers read my death certificate

of course, these days
the chances are good some illiterate madman
will start a nuclear war

most likely i’ll end up
with cirrhosis of the liver and suffer

that seems to be how it is for my kind

or i’ll grow senile and old in a nursing home
pissing my pants with no heirs to come and change my diapers

no matter what though
testicular cancer or the plague

it’s out there

like aliens and hemorrhoids

it’ll catch me one day like it’ll catch you

one pain to the rib, one hard cough
one moan on the couch

one hard shot to the ol’ ticker
and then POOF

no more of any of it

just the quiet and the void

that doesn’t sound too bad now
does it?

radio days

back then
i didn’t have money
for all of the music that i liked
any money i could scrounge
from under the couch
went to baseball cards
i remember i’d lay on my stomach
on the floor in my bedroom
face pressed up against the boombox
the pause/play button pressed down on the cassette deck
waiting for the d.j.
to play something that i liked
and then…. SNAP!
it was imperfect and a mixed bag
pop songs correlated next to rock songs
next to rap songs next to oldies
also, sometimes the d.j. would talk too long
during the song’s introduction
or he would cut it off before a song ended properly
or a song that i loved bled into one that i couldn’t stand
or, worse, a commercial
in the end i’d have these funky tapes
the culmination of hours of work
that i could play on the porch or in the backyard or in my room
songs that i loved
but probably cared about for only a week or so
before i was back on the bedroom floor
doing it all over again
i guess those tapes captured a moment in time
but if i think about those radio days now
i think what i liked best about them
was being on the floor in my bedroom alone
concentrating and creating something
in a world and within a religion
that demanded that i conform at almost every turn
those tape
that as disjointed and obtuse as they were
were one-hundred percent and wholly me
uncensored and unfiltered
thirty minutes to each side
sixty minutes of sound that i could eat
the low hiss of air
that only i could breathe.

you ruined it

james baldwin
is barely off the screen

she turns to me and says
you don’t remember the sixties but i do

i was a kid back then
i remember the marches and the speeches
and king dying and kennedy dying
and that malcolm x dying too

i never understood how people could….
then her voice cracks and she stops talking

i don’t know what to say to her
i begin to collect my things

people were cruel to each other back then
she finally says

but…the blacks aren’t doing anything
to help themselves either these days, she says

having babies without fathers
taunting the cops
spending all their money on sneakers

good christ, i think,
looking at baldwin’s sad eyes on the dvd cover
wondering how he had the tenacity to go on in america

then i look at her
i shrug and begin wheeling the a.v. equipment
out of the room

anyway, i like watching things on history, she says
this place should play more movies like this

what’s the point? i think
as the door shuts hard behind me

leaving her right where she belongs
so clueless in the dark.

John Grochalski is the author of The Noose Doesn’t Get Any Looser After You Punch Out (Six Gallery Press 2008), Glass City (Low Ghost Press, 2010), In The Year of Everything Dying (Camel Saloon, 2012), Starting with the Last Name Grochalski (Coleridge Street Books, 2014), and the forthcoming The Philosophers’ Ship (WineDrunk Press, 2018) He is also the author of the novels, The Librarian (Six Gallery Press 2013), and Wine Clerk (Six Gallery Press 2016). Grochalski currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, where the garbage can smell like roses if you wish on it hard enough.

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