Tony Gloeggler

Link to home pageLink to current issueLink to back issuesLink to information about the magazineLink to submission guidelinesSend email to

First Night

The driver’s right hand
guides the steering wheelArtwork by Gene McCormick
lightly, his dreadlocks
sway to a radio groove
as the taxi moves around
two newspaper trucks,
slips in and out, between
cars. His big eyes peek
in the rear view mirror,
try to catch my hand
holding yours, stroking
tiny circles with my thumb,
our quick tongue kisses
licking little brushfires.
Can he tell? We’ve waited
all day for this. He makes
one last light, glides
over to his right, stops
and drops the meter.
He keeps the change, sits
back with the motor
running, nods as we float
across his headlights.


My friend’s wife has a niece
who is autistic. He doesn’t seem
to believe that I never wish
Jesse was different. He talksArtwork by Gene McCormick
about missing the big things
like proms and graduations.
I joke about the perks, not
worrying about Jesse using
nonprescription drugs, driving
drunk on weekends, paying
for college, pretending to like
the woman he wants to marry.
I tell him I take Jesse as he is
and I know what not to expect,
how every new tiny thing
he does grows in magnitude:
the first time he ran to me, grabbed
my hand when I picked him up
at school, the first morning
he walked into our Brooklyn
bedroom to cuddle between us,
that one time he scavenged
through his cluttered sensations,
strung four words together
and told me clearly "Tony
come back August ." I explain
I am one of the chosen few
that Jesse invites into his world
and it helps me imagine
I am special with unique super
powers. But yes, I am lying
a bit. I’ve always wanted to lift
him on my shoulders, six years
old and singing that he believes
in the promise land at a Springsteen
show, play some one on one
in a schoolyard, keeping it
close and never letting him
win until he beat me on his own.
And yes, this past weekend
in Vermont, I wish he watched
television. We would have sat
and argued when Girardi
benched A-Rod, ate salty snacks
as the Yanks played the Orioles
in the deciding fifth game.
Instead, I sat on a kitchen stool,
listening to the radio broadcast
while Jesse was happy in his room
tearing pages of picture books
into piles of thin paper strips.

(first published in Columbia Poetry Review)

Disney World

John’s the highest functioning guy
in the group home. He always
says hello, asks about your day,
smiles and never forgets your name
like I often will. Everybody
loves him and every Monday
he sits by my desk, tells me
about his wonderful weekend
whether he went to the movies
Friday night, spent Saturday
winning ribbons and medals
at Special Olympics, played
Coney Island Skee Ball
all Sunday afternoon or sat
on the couch staring into space
with Channel 13’s pledge week
blaring in the background.

No, he’s not on any medication
and no I’m not too jealous
he appears happier than me.
Maybe I should be grateful
he doesn’t shit or piss his pants,
rip his shirts or throw chairs
at the ceiling like the others
and be satisfied helping him
learn to cook, cross streets,
count his money. Yet sometimes
he pisses me off with the way
he says he likes everything
exactly the same amount
and never lets anyone know
what he’s thinking or feeling,
how he takes so long to answer
a question or make a simple
choice as if he’s worried
or scared that anything he says
will be wrong and something
terrible will happen to him
and sometimes, I admit it,
I do imagine smacking
that sweet dumb boring smile
right off his damn mouth.

But I’ve tried to let John know
that this life is his and my job
is to help him live it the way
he likes, that it’s okay to tell me
what he wants and doesn’t want
and he doesn’t need permission
to feel sad or bad or angry.
Every once in awhile I think
he’s beginning to understand.
I now know he’d rather eat
McDonald’s than Chinese food,
that there’s no way he’ll ever
get on a roller coaster or step
into a pool more than two feet
deep while wearing a life jacket
and holding a staff member’s hand,
that he prefers staying home
watching Country Music Awards
over sitting in tenth row seats
as Springsteen and the E Streeters
play a benefit show. I tell myself,
it’s okay, everyone has opinions
and fears, none are good or bad
and I try to pretend to believe
that bull shit when talking to John.

Still, these past few days,
John’s really surprised me.
I didn’t know what to say
when he told me he’d rather not
let me borrow a Johnny Cash CD
I gave him for his last birthday.
Even though I swore I’d buy him
a new one if I broke or lost it,
he shook his head no, said
if it was okay with me, he wanted
to keep the one he had. Today
when he asked about my day,
I told him I was tired and stressed
worrying about his roommate.
John hoped Joey would get well,
come home from the hospital soon.
He then paused for a moment
asked if this meant he wouldn’t
be going to Disney World.
I tried to describe what it meant
to be generous and thoughtful, why
no one really likes self centered
cheap bastards. When he looked
down, took a deep breath, I thought
he might apologize. Instead, John
asked about Florida again, started
clapping when I finished explaining
about reservations, penalty fees
and packing properly for an 8:00 AM
flight out of LaGuardia next Monday.

(first published in The Ledge)


Tony Gloeggler is a native of NYC and manages group homes for the developmentally disabled in Brooklyn. His books include two full length collections One Wish Left (Pavement Saw Press, 2000) which went into a second edition and The Last Lie (NYQ Books 2010). Until the Last Light Leaves was published in 2016 by NYQ Books.