What Work Really Is
Friends ask why stay? You turn
sixty-five in June, live in a rent
controlled apartment, can afford
to retire. It’s an hour and a half
bus and subway commute each
way Queens to Red Hook.
The new executive director looks
like Michelle Obama, acts like
Donald Trump. Long time
workers have been forced
to leave, support staff laid off,
care compromised. You’ll miss,
no mourn, this place, the people
who work, who live here, taken
from Willowbrook as teens,
integrated into the community.
Your friends say their lives
have been better because
you wound up here. You know
all they’ve meant to your life.
Though you never believed
anything was meant to be,
you recognize how unlikely
it was you found your way
here, stayed forty years, helped
shape this home into something
you consider sacred. You tell
friends you don’t want to stay
home, write. You’ve always
found time for that and nobody
is dying, waiting for anyone’s poetry.
You’re worried, afraid loneliness
could deepen, boredom escalate.
Tamara yells from down the hall.
She needs help getting Larry
to the bathroom. One, two, three.
Up. Take a breath. Steady? Now,
help him shuffle to the toilet.
You latch his hands around
the towel rack, grab hold
under his arms. She bends,
pulls, and yanks his pants
all the way down when Larry
clearly says ‘I got it ‘. Tamara,
you, look at each other. His first
words since advanced dementia.
You both crack up, land high fives
as she tears his under-alls off, starts
to wash his pale, shrunken ass.
Playing Poet on a Saturday in Dumbo
Thirty years ago, I’d meet Dave
my friend from work down here,
run full court before white people
discovered this part of Brooklyn.
Back then, he lived for free
in a shutdown church as part
of some residency working
with the homeless, a half block
from the projects. Mugged twice,
he signed up for martial arts,
carried a knife and got shot
in the York Street subway tunnel
when he wouldn’t give up
his wallet a third time.
Today, it’s poets meeting
at a bar with smiles, half hugs.
When we start to talk about
writing, the constant rejection,
teaching gigs, poets we know
in common, current projects,
the difference between creative
non-fiction and narrative poetry,
and does any of it really matter
since no one reads anymore
anyway, it’s easy to forget
that years ago, we all found
words on pages that made
us feel a little less alone, opened
our eyes to different, deeper
ways of seeing and feeling
with a kind of music that sings
in our skin and started to write.
I keep checking on the Yankees-
Indians game, imagine the bartender
naked every time she leans over.
More poets arrive and we’re happy.
Especially me, because I believe
this means we will eat soon.
Busy with my three tacos
while everyone keeps talking,
I think about my real job, Thursday’s
emergency meeting, impending
layoffs, Larry’s advancing dementia
and now fewer staff to care for him.
A short walk to our evening reading
at Berl’s, an all poetry book store.
I browse shelves, so many poets,
like me, no one’s ever heard of.
I sit at the end of the back row,
five readers will come and go.
One practices alphabet gymnastics
and the sound clusters tumble, twirl
over my head. The second reads
each poem, tears the pages out.
They float to the floor like dying
butterflies. The next one rips
his pages, slowly eats them
making faces as he chews.
People laugh, not me. I hope
he chokes. Someone cracks,
anyone know the Heimlich Maneuver.
I do, but I’m not getting up.
Introduced, I read four pieces
about the woman I loved most,
her abortion, how that time
still haunts me; the nurse
at dialysis, her son’s memorial
day, the way we connected
over Monk’s Bemsha Swings;
a playful, unlikely affair; Jesse,
my sort of stepson, severely
autistic, and the first time
he hugged me, saying goodbye
at the airport, the nearly
ten seconds he held me. Happy
with how my poems felt leaving
my mouth and filling the air
despite a few coughs, my tongue
stumbling over some syllables,
I hardly hear the next reader.
I subway home with headphones
playing, but Monday intrudes
on the walk to my apartment,
when I’ll talk to three people
one after another, saying
I have bad news, apologizing,
thanking them for their years
of service as my voice breaks,
the words thudding to the floor
with a kind of force I hope
all my poems somehow find.
She can’t sleep, keeps
getting up to check
window locks, door
knobs, sits in the kitchen,
smokes cigarettes. Back
in bed, she wraps both
arms around her knees,
clenches them tight
to her chest. He reaches
for the light. She turns
away and he starts
to stroke her hair.
She tells him to stop,
please. He’s sorry, asks
can he hold her.
She breathes deep, feels
his arms around her
And she tastes the leather-gloved hand
strapped across her mouth again. Her face
slams against the garage wall and that voice
hisses don’t make a sound as he tugs and tears
at her clothes. He shoves a knee between her legs,
spreads her thighs wider with a fist. His cock
rips her open, pumps harder and faster, spits
inside her with a shudder. He steps back, starts
to run and her mouth yells and yells and yells
For help. He brings
her closer, holds her
it’s alright sweetheart,
sshh, try to sleep.
He rocks her slowly.
She tries to shut
her eyes, feels
his cock pressed
against her ass.
Tony Gloeggler is a life-long resident of New York City and has managed group homes for the mentally challenged for over 35 years. His work has appeared in Rattle, New Ohio Review, Chiron Review, Nerve Cowboy Crab Creek Review. His most recent book, What Kind Of Man, with NYQ Books was a finalist for the 2021 Paterson Poetry Prize and long listed for Jacar Press' Julie Suk Award.