Poetry: Selections from John Grochalski

such strange luck

we talk about brendan
brendan has consumed this place
since he was hired six weeks ago
brendan hasn’t learned the job
brendan won’t do the jobs he’s been taught
brendan falls asleep in the office
brendan doesn’t take lunch or his breaks
at the required time
brendan creeps up behind us
while we’re having conversations
about how weird he is
sometime brendan just sits there
and stares at the wall
he doesn’t flush his bowel movements too
what we talk about
when we talk about brendan
is fear and incompetence
and he lives in all of our heads rent free
there is so much brendan
that i have to have a conversation with my boss
about all of the brendan we’re drowning in
my boss says brendan is on probation
my boss says brendan needs to shape up or ship out
my boss says that if he were a new employee
that he’d be doing his job…and then some
he says, brendan is lucky to have this job
i think about brendan
while my boss talks about work responsibility
and i think about me
rising before the sun
shitting, showering, shaving
sucking down coffee as i race to put on clothes
to join the other depressives on our commute to work
i think about the eight hours a day
this job takes from me
all that time and energy
decades of it now…just sucked away
i think about the forty hours a week
and the fragile exchange of my life for money in a paycheck
i think about brendan
and me
and luck
and if this is luck
then it is such strange luck
if this is luck…
sometimes i’d rather have no luck at all

the howling

a crazed man is howling
is the restroom
behind my office
the sound is guttural
like the dogs barking
outside my window
the man is howling
smacking his head off the wall
and the thump
is so rhythmic
i subconsciously beat along to it
my palms on my desk
the tribal noises
of mediocre white men
in full capitalist emotional breakdown
then comes the howling again
a lonely wolf leaning over a ravine
and i don’t know what brought him here
brought us together
he in his prison
and i in mine
our sickness covering both ends of the spectrum
but i know how this will end
with the cops
like it always does
cops making their cop faces
making their cop sounds
beating their authoritarian chests
as they drag the man out into the street
to join the car horns
and detritus of urban decay
and it will be quiet again
inside this prison
and i will go home
to the old couch
to the stale vodka in the fridge
to the few graspable hours remaining in the day
i will tap my toes to nothing
and the dogs
will bark again
tomorrow too.

96-degree afternoon in august

the teenage girls are laughing
in the back of the bus
hanging out with boys who say, bro
from this window
the street looks like scorched earth
the sidewalks smell like death
and i am covered in sweat
like someone threw
a bucket of hot water on me
fifteen minutes waiting for this thing
96-degree afternoon in august
after eight-hours playing public servant
to bastards with nothing but time on their hands
i feel like scorched earth too
probably smell like death
and the teenage girls keep laughing
squeaking their tight asses
across dirty blue seats
as their boyfriends slap five
and say: bro, bro, bro
i spy an old man
limping quickly toward the bus stop
he looks ready to fall over from the heat
and the bus just passes him by
instead of stopping a few feet early
the bus driver actually beeps at him in warning
when he lurches for the street
humanity never ceases
to beat each other down
and the girls laugh at nothing funny
their tight asses squeak like unicorn farts
as the bros slap five
i look back out the window
at the old man propping himself up
against a telephone pole
my cell phone tells me it’ll be
another twenty minutes
before the next bus arrives
and the sign in front of the bus
says you get seven years in jail
for punching a bus driver in the face
and that, like everything else,
about the miserable, hot, fucking day
just doesn’t seem fair
doesn’t seem goddamned fair
at all.

gig-economy workers outside the starbucks
they want to be the one
to bring you your
caramel ribbon crunch frappuccino,
deliver your
cookie crumble mochaccino
straight to your door on this hot summer day,
you and kylen
just need to get up out of bed before noon
and get on that app pronto
grub hub
uber eats
apple pay
the world is your oyster
after a long, hard week
working from home again
gig-economy workers outside the starbucks
on a merciless, humid eighty-five-degree morning
with a heat index of one-hundred
and it looks like a moped show
mexican men with helmets on
trying to make a buck in the plastic hustle of america
frantically checking their phones
for java chip orders
salted caramel concoctions
mango dragonfruit lemonades
or whatever flavor
those wonkas in corporate will think up next
men by the dozen
standing anxiously around the door
waiting to dodge traffic
and run red lights
for pennies on the dollar
for the round-up money
to deliver that
vanilla sweet cream cold brew
to otis or emmet
or ethel or mable
some twenty-five-year-old
with a geriatric name
whose time is too important
if only you’d get up
and get on that app now, amelia
or charlotte
or dylan
or liam, oliver and elijah
and place that order
so that all those phones could ding
like a symphony
all over the block
and man upon man
could claw at each other
to get inside the front door
where your pineapple passionfruit refresher
is on the counter waiting for you, harper
your name in big, black letters
on the cup
with a big fucking smiley face
drawn on the sucker too.

freeze out on craig street
it was cold
january of 1994
below zero kind of cold
so cold you didn’t want
to walk anywhere
so cold i smacked right into
a telephone pole
because i had to keep my head down
from the wind
but her place was warm
and she was warm
we huddled by her radiator
drinking coffee
and looking out her window
at all of the ice and snow and cold
at angry people being blown about
she loved pop music and sitcoms
and wanted to be a veterinarian
i thought i was jack kerouac
and bob dylan mixed together
writing nonsense poems
chain smoking cigarettes
wearing wool coats
and sunglasses indoors
the two of us nothing alike
but somehow
we ended up friends on campus
and it was cold
that january of 1994
but in the previous months
she’d made mr grow warm
as we drank coffee
and the radiator clanked
the people outside
rushed by her window
like they were in pain
i told her what was in my heart
just spit it out
threw it up on her carpet
i stuttered like her radiator
having used up all of my words
she said, nothing
just moved away from me
like i was infected
and something had suddenly
gone cold between us
that miserable january afternoon
the coffee
her heart
my perception of situations
and soon i was back outside
standing at the bus stop
in the twirling
street salt and old snow
looking up at the amber light
of her living room window
having lost her
in a matter of moments
chain smoking cigarettes
as the wind blew up my ass
the first of this hard land’s

John Grochalski is the author of the poetry collections: 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), The Philosopher’s Ship (Alien Buddha Press, 2018), and Eating a Cheeseburger During End Times (Kung Fu Treachery, 2021). He is also the author of the novels, The Librarian(Six Gallery Press 2013), Wine Clerk (Six Gallery Press 2016), and P-Town: Forever (Alien Buddha Press, 2021). Grochalski currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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