Part of the Job
When the new worker
forgot to give the new resident
his favorite coffee mug
Monday morning, he called her
a dumb nigger. She left me a note
saying she needed to see me
at my earliest convenience.
Tuesday, she sat in my office,
angry and teary eyed. I explained
that Frankie doesn’t know
what he’s saying, doesn’t
know what the word signifies.
That’s why he lives here,
that’s why we have jobs.
He says it to see the look
on your face change, show
himself he has some power,
some control in his own life.
I said I could only imagine
how she must feel, told her
I was sorry, but it’s always
best to keep a blank face,
an even voice. It’s never easy
but you can’t take anything
personal, it’s part of the job.
I told her about the time
I didn’t tie Larry’s sneakers
the exact way he likes
and he kicked me in the chest
with both feet and knocked me
flat on my back, how badly
I wanted to jump up, grab
his bald head, knee him
in the nuts, but didn’t.
I didn’t say anything
about putting my fist
through the bulletin board,
papers flying, sliding across
the floor. I said I asked him
to calm down, waited a half
minute while I lifted my shirt,
traced the red mark gingerly,
then leaned over, tried to tie
his laces the right damn way.
First published in Chiron Review
Songs and Illuminations
Flying home from visiting Jesse,
you’re strapped in for the hour flight.
A young woman, all flush and out
of breath, stops at your row, apologizes
with her eyes for making you get up.
You fumble with the seat belt, struggle
with your cane like a creaky invalid
or a shy schoolboy as you rise
to let her slide by. Thirty years ago
when you were young and a whole man,
she’d still be too cool and pretty for you.
If you tried to start a conversation now,
she’d turn your way, nod, be polite
and sweet, maybe pat you on the wrist
as if you were harmless. But the scent
of her hair fills you up and her tight
ass brushes your crotch and you hope
for the start of a hard on as you try
to recall the last time you were this close
to someone so beautifully alive. You both
fit head phones on. Music, the one thing
that hasn’t abandoned you. You daydream
while flying over some wooded expanse
that the same song is whispering secrets
into both of your ears’ while you both
sing along as it leads you home.
For now, Van Morrison’s playing
Tupelo Honey and already you miss
Jesse, the autistic boy you took as your own
when you lived with his mom. You love
the way he lives in his own apartment,
staff supervising him twelve hours a day,
cameras and locks keeping him safe
overnight. You love how he smiles
as soon as he sees you, rides city
buses to eat at his favorite places,
how he talks more and more after
years of silence, how his patience
has lengthened, tolerance for change
grown. You wish you lived closer,
had more say in his life. Maybe
they’d listen when you complain
how staff make him quiet down,
lower his happily humming voice
even in his own home, or force him
to march with the group on this soft
spring day as he walks to the water
fountain for a short break, the way
he vaults in the air, stomps his two
feet on the ground, folds into a fist
and begins to bite his wrist. Angry
and frustrated, you shake your head,
wish he’d bite his workers instead.
Across the grassy field teenagers
are running full court, nobody playing
defense, too much show boating,
one on one play. You picture
yourself bringing the ball up court,
finding the tall black guy down low
for an easy basket. Over by the stream
a blue jeaned beauty is walking a big
brown dog as you lip-synch words
you could say to her while staff waits
the three minutes for Jesse to collect
himself, take ten deep breaths and hold
his hands in prayer to show he’s ready
for work. You look at him, wonder
if he knows all the things your lives
are missing on this breezy April day.
Before leaving, you agreed you’d be back
in June for dinner at Texas Roadhouse.
That evening, June 14th, you got tickets
for Brian Wilson, your musical god,
who has lived longer than anyone
expected. He’s playing Pet Sounds
and you wish Jesse could tolerate
crowds and flashing lights to sit
next to you, get to his feet, clap
along to the brightly lit Wouldn’t
It Be Nice with its infectious melody
and climbing harmonies, close
his eyes, let his spirit fill
as Brian hits most of the notes
of the holy God Only Knows.
Instead, you’ll ask Jesse’s mom
who stopped loving you years ago
to the show. After, with Love
and Mercy still lingering
in your ears, she’ll drop you off
at Jesse’s apartment and you’ll check
that he’s sleeping, that everything’s
intact, nothing’s been poured
on the floor, no clothes torn.
You’ll unfold the couch, make
your bed and hopefully sleep
until Jesse wakes you for a 7:30 bus.
Breugger’s Bagels. He’ll order a plain bagel
with peanut butter from the counter girl
who won’t understand him the first time.
You’ll ask him to say it again, slower, clearer.
He’ll find a blue drink from the giant
glassy refrigerator and slide into a booth
as you wait for a steamy hot chocolate.
He’ll watch you drink the last sip, crush
the cup, drop it into the trash. Finished,
you’ll walk two blocks to the bus stop.
Jesse will keep looking back. Slowing
down, he’ll let you catch up, wrap
your arm around his shoulder
as he never stops humming
his beautiful, unnamable song.
First published in Nerve Cowboy
Tony Gloeggler is a lifelong resident of NYC who’s managed a group home for developmentally disabled men for 40 years. His chapbook One On One
won the 1998 Pearl Poetry Prize. His first full-length collection, One Wish Left, published by Pavement Saw Press went into a 2nd printing in 2007. Until The Last Light Leaves, published by NYQ Books, was a finalist for the Milt Kessler Book Award in 2016. NYQ Books released his new book What Kind of Man in 2020