Thursday, February 5, 2015

John Grochalski- Three Poems

part of the problem

freezing my ass off
on a street corner

i see them coming from
a few blocks away

i can already hear the one
trying to calm the other down

one of them is mental
and the other is about half-way gone

the mental one is always shouting
about minorities in the neighborhood

he’s been waging his own personal war
against the latinos and arabs for a few years now

this morning he’s at it again

they’re killing me! he’s shouting

there’s more of them and they’ve boxed me in!

no, it’s a cage!

it’s a goddamned dirty cage
and we’re surrounded by all of them!

stop it, the other one says
just stop it right the hell now

he grabs the mental one’s arm
and pulls hard as they make the corner

i catch their eyes
the mental one recoils then his face slacks

as the other one points to me and says

see, i told you
he wasn’t a goddamned chinese

the lift

we were sitting
on the yellow-painted curb
in a strip mall

calvin, tom and i

there were girls in the parking lot
but, as usual, none of them would talk to us

we watched them laugh and giggle
in their short shorts with tanned legs
wondering what magic it would take to land one

we were killing another summer night
in the southern suburbs of pittsburgh

too dumb and young to realize
that this was time that we’d never get back
that this was one of the better moments of our lives

he seemed to show up out of the blue
a sixer of iron city hanging from his fingers
a brown bag with another cradled in his arms

one sixteen-ounce pounder,
sweating and cold in his other hand

he said, you look like industrious young men
but you probably don’t know a goddamned thing
about a hard night’s work

then he parked it on the curb with us and drank

he watched the girls with us
said, if i was your age
i wouldn’t be sitting here like a pack of fags

hindsight is 20/20, i said

he said, i’ll give each of you a beer
if you can go over there to those girls
and just one of you comes back with a name and number

not one us took the bait
christ, we really were a pack of fags

the guy laughed
boys, he said, i’m tired
i’m sick and tired
how’bout i give you my other six pack
if you guys just give me a lift up the hill behind us

i shook my head
i’d been warned about strangers
i wanted to make sure that i had plenty of days left
to sit in strip mall parking lots and look at girls that i’d never speak to

but it wasn’t my car

calvin said, all right
he got up off the curb and took out his keys

tom stood too

the man sat there for a moment finishing his beer
he gave me one from the promised six pack

a down payment he called it

he slapped me hard on the back
and three of them headed toward calvin’s car

when they drove by
the man was still drinking his pounder
even though calvin had a thing about us drinking in his car

he gave me the thumbs up
made a finger trigger and winked

i stood and watched them go up the hill
until the car drifted behind the kmart

then i sat back down next to the can of beer
watching the girls as they danced to a radio song

that i’d hated all summer long.

for the common man

bill smelt of urine
they complained

he smelt of fecal matter at times
and of vomit and bad breath

the first day i was there they told me
that bill’s wife left him for another man

she left him with nothing but a bottle of pills
and a deep, incommunicable sense of worthlessness

this all happened before you arrived, they said
but bill became my problem anyway

i hadn’t been there a week
geraldine was at my office door every morning
with her tight jeans and her tits hanging out

you’ve got to do something about bill, she said

which one is bill? i said

the depressive

i looked out of the office onto the main floor
there were a group of people i hardly knew
drinking coffee and staring into computer screens

they all look depressive, i said

geraldine rolled her eyes, i’m serious, she said
i’ll go to the union

i hung around bill for a few weeks
got close to him while he sat there playing video poker

who knows what he thought of me
lingering around like that

he was probably too concerned with his philandering ex-wife

he smelt no worse than i did
smelt no worse than anyone on the bus or train

i can’t work in these conditions, geraldine said
i’m filing a grievance against you and bill

good christ, i said

i brought bill into the office
i sat him down across from me
and handed him the company’s policy on grooming

we just sat there and didn’t say a word

i felt like such an asshole
i sat there with bill staring at the floor
remembering all of the offices
and all of the small men that i sat across

middle-management wastes by the dozen
who had problems with my hair, my beard, my clothing
my earrings, my voice, my face, and my very being

now i was joining their ranks

this shit happens to all of us, i told bill
a man can never please the masses when trying to please himself

bill nodded
are you writing me up? he asked

they were the first words he’d spoken to me
and the idea seemed absurd

no, i said
i’m just trying to keep us out of union entanglements

bill got up and left
an hour later i found the grooming policy
rolled into a ball by the garbage can in the staff room

while they all sat there talking about bill’s ear hair

i slam dunked it into the cylinder
raised my hands up into a fit of victory

for the common man.   

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