John Grochalski

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homeless joe
approaches my wife and i

says he needs a buck for coffee
and in my head i’m willing to oblige

but i always have
to move a few paces ahead of him
before turning back
and giving him the money

like i’m contemplating not doing it

just ignoring the request and moving along
on my own good goddamned way

or like i’ve got
this stack of bills stuffed in there
that can’t be seen by any naked eye other than mine

receipts for purchases
that i’d have to kill homeless joe for
if he found out about them

my conspicuous consumption my only defense

or maybe i just like the aurora of surprise
when i’m giving alms
against the stark fallacies of the capitalist system

mostly i move ahead because i’m scared
and i’m getting older and not so quick on the draw

in need of a head start
just in case joe isn’t being honest
about the coffee

and wants to reign his own
brutal form of government down upon me

a lifetime in the city will do that to you
a lifetime in this nation will make you believe its rugged lies

make you distrustful of the simplest request
turn every stranger into a mortal enemy

unless they’re dumbstruck
and waving the flag

but ultimately homeless joe
gets his dollar from me

his thank yous
ringing as hollow as my deed

and all of the precious secrets in my wallet
remain mine

the record store purchases
and the freshly squeezed orange juice
bought to quell a hangover

joe goes his way
we go ours

as that colossus of a leech america
still tries its damndest and its best

to suck up all our precious blood.


slave city

slowly sipping
double vodka number two

as old crooners play on turntables
in the lamp-darkened living room

told myself
that i’d be off
double vodka number two by now

or five years ago
when i turned forty

or last month when my wife told me
that her blood pressure was at stroke level

but who could tell
if it was the alcohol
or a stark fear of oncologists
that spiked her?

still tonight
we sit here
as songs melt into songs
melt into memories

sipping our precious poison

as the other denizens
of slave city make their way home
from their thankless jobs

to their own miseries
and self-defeat

to the same dinners
and conversations
that they have every night


all those unkept promises and lies
that they can disguise
with booze and tv
until it’s time to go to sleep.



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), and The Philosopher’s Ship (Alien Buddha 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.