Wednesday, September 30, 2015


think i’m so out of practice
can’t help watching you
blonde hair
mustard coat
cross-legged on the bookstore floor
reading history books
pizza-breathed and beer burped
i’m trying to calculate the months
over two years
and one mary bermiano at least
since i’ve been out
with someone new
but we know each other cassandra, don’t we?
i have a mental journal
of looks
of little laughs at the jobs
of riding out to mary’s on saturday nights
for the same depression
the same arguments
on mary’s bed thinking about you
as her hypochondria mother
shoves pills down her throat
the endless doctor’s appointments
i told you about, cassandra
riding home half-asleep with autumn windows down
so i don’t wreck the car
wreck the car over mary
thinking i ain’t gonna work on mary’s farm no more
and here were are in the pizza joint
in the movie theater in the bookstore
in your kitchen that’s bigger than my home
in your living room looking at old photos
i twirl around
your white pillar porch
three little stars in the sky
love the way your perfume lingers in the night
mixing with your marlboros
hanging on faintly in my car
as i marvin gaye
my way back to the duplex suburbs
wide awake
in awe.


sandy comes to the door
hair wet in something tattered
mutters to calvin about buying a watch
we’re early by forty minutes
one of those nights where calvin and i
have nothing to say to each other
and all i can think as sandy pounds back upstairs
is that she gave colby bad head years ago
after his senior prom
where is colby tonight?
down in maryland down in maryland
all he did was die
calvin leaves me alone with sandy’s fiancé, ray
while he calls in reinforcements for the night
ah, the socialist, ray says
he and i don’t like each other
last time i was here he started in on his whole
white-bread-clean-cut-closet-bigot-conservative-extremist routine
to try and get a rise out of me
so i started in on my
gop-abortion-war-mongering-classist-liberal-extremist rhetoric
but all i could do was sit there sober
wondering if sandy gave him bad head too
ray has no beer for me tonight as well
his fridge as dry as some southern towns
i’m holding one joint in my camel lights pack for later
but might go onto windy forbes avenue
and smoke it now
calvin on the phone with stevetomgeorge
sandy pounding upstairs on her own clock
ray says, you fellas haven’t been drinking tonight already?
strolls like jay gatsby around the place
no old sport, i tell him
but i’m a few up and so is calvin
so i trip stagger down steps
in the car to wherever we play it drunk to scare ray
can feel him clutching my headrest
legs navigating calvin’s backseat full of
coats papers tapes cds bowling balls mickey d wrappers
the passenger seat goes off its hinges again
me sliding back and forth ray sliding yelling
sandy telling calvin to stop the goddamned car
we laugh and tell them it was all a joke
everything except the car seat, old sport, i say
what are we doing tonight? i think
breaking apostolistic bread with these wet blankets
in a strip district primanti bros
with so much to do in the city?
calvin and his mundane loyalties
his jesus christ cyo friendships
his coleslaw and french fries on the side
ray says to me, you don’t believe in god do you?
of course he does, calvin says answering
halfway through my second jack daniels and ginger ale
this joint burning a hole in my pocket
ray finger-waving homosexuals downfall of america
calvin and i leave those lovebird christ children
go outside into the night of the city of my birth
this city of bridges and rivers and holy immaculate disappointments
get high down an alleyway
as women saunter in high heeled majesty
toward rosebud or the metropol
if cassandra is in there tonight
i just know i’m gonna play her fool
stevetomgeorge arrive and we end up in north hills
kangaroo’s bar tv pool tables dart boards
frat boys and frat girls crawling in expensive flannel
women walking around like hooter girls
with neon liquor in test tubes
saying, sex on the beach anyone?
to hootie and the blowfish national anthems
i pump ten bucks into the jukebox
play the whole of oasis (what’s the story) morning glory?
pump pint after pint of buck-fifty honey browns in my stomach
as tom tells the table he’s in love with colleen
as calvin tells the table he’s in love with amanda
as ray and sandy are in love with each other and god
and america and newt gingrich and bad head
as everyone’s in love
colby in maryland in love with a teenager
as i got the cassandraportiamarilyntombstone blues
as steve says, wonderwall? who in the hell played this shit?
as ray and sandy join hands and pray over
a bucket full of chicken wings and fries
i stumble into the men’s room singing
down in kangaroo’s down in kangaroo’s
all i did was die.

replacement umbrella blues

wednesday night i sit
in dead rosebud café
nursing budweiser specials
calvin waiting on a woman
it’s so hard for calvin to meet anyone
worse than me he keeps falling in love
with the girls he works with
they keep falling in love with everyone else
i realize i’m still wet because the rain pissed on me
the umbrella portia gave me
to replace mine a month after the fact
fell apart on craig street
so i was soaked all the way through
pittsburgh has been a monsoon since march
and i should’ve called portia on monday
she left tuesday now it’s wednesday
and calvin keeps checking his watch
i think i still haven’t called marilyn
when did i become someone
with so many people that i had to call?
calvin says, so what’s going on?
as if we haven’t seen each other in weeks
as if we hadn’t been here in rosebud not four days before
picking each other up off the floor
of another beer-drunk saturday night
i should tell him my grandmother is dying
cancer here cancer there cancer everywhere
she has no hair now and can hardly get food down
the fiery whiskey throat of her life going out
but calvin takes grandmothers hard
like he takes women and falling in love
and i don’t think this woman is showing up
so i tell him the fucking umbrella died on me
he shakes his head like it’s this grave
understanding between us
umbrellas die like grandmothers die
like romance dies and phone call never get made
i finish my beer and order another round
get up from the bar to piss
as calvin leans back to check the front door
i tell myself i’ll write portia a letter explaining everything
i’ll tell her the umbrella works like a charm.

the ghost of pennoak manor drive

marilyn finally calls
on this night of all nights
says, you sound like you’re
in the middle of the street
five cop cars racing up
my little dead end block
i tell her i don’t know what’s going on
marilyn says, anyway i heard you called
four times, i think, while she was in jersey
as cop cars surround my neighbor’s house
marilyn back from two weeks in jersey
where she roamed her kid streets
and dropped her prudish act
to drink in bars with old friends
sweet lemony sugar drinks, she says
cops going up the neighbor’s driveway
to murder screams tv blasts electric guitar chords
and the sound of a motorcycle revving in a garage
are you sure you’re not outside, marilyn says
it’s my neighbor, jim, i tell her, and the cops
she says, i thought about you drinking those drinks
and wouldn’t you know it?
but on the plane ride back to pittsburgh
i got stuck sitting next to some christian fundamentalist
who kept asking me what i’d say
agnostically, of course, if god to spoke to me
impossible, i say
but not to marilyn to cops frog marching
crater-faced restless jim down his driveway
pressed up against the white car swirling blue/red lights
marilyn says, that’s what i told him
she says, you know i already feel comfortable talking to you
and i laugh
thinking she feels comfortable talking to me?
comfortable in my humorous madness restless heart
that wants to just finally get on a greyhound bus
and shoot straight to d.c. with colby and hit bars
drink the same sugar lemony drinks and make love words
to d.c. girls who don’t know me from anything
girls i’ll never have to muster the courage to see again
or have to call four times while they’re in jersey
this is what marilyn is comfortable with?
what’s happening? she says
i mean with your neighbor
they’re arresting jim letting jim go, i think
but the cops stick around
marilyn says, so are we getting together or what?
late may i’ve been at this with her for a month
to no success
yaass, yaass, i neal cassidy into the phone
groucho slouch around my room
looking for a paper and a pen to transcribe our fate
look out the window
jim whose crazed antics are legend on this street
jim who begged his wife to knife him last fourth of july
jim rumored to mentally torture his family
jim rumored to have killed his girlfriend’s dog
back in the sixties
jim the great satan shroud of pennoak manor drive
dressed year round in camouflage 
ghost white skin and bones
i’m sorry
i’m sorry
into the black night
while his wife and kids cry on the porch
while the cops slouchwatch against their doors
while the cops pushpullshove him into the backseat
and marilyn says, it sure sounds crazy
where you live.

in reverse

julie gave me a last little wave
from the backseat
and i knew i wouldn’t call her tomorrow
before i fell onto the pavement
rainy cul-de-sac and told tom i was all right
so they drove away
before i’d been in tom’s car
colleen telling us we should get a room
before i’d been backseat kissing julie
while tom swerved the car trying
to get us to stop
before she’d been making those eyes at me
before she’d burped beer but i didn’t mind
before i lit us cigarettes
even though tom didn’t want anyone
smoking in his car
before we’d tumbled down the steps
of the bar and into the humid summer rain
before we did those last shots of house vodka
before julie came back from the bathroom
with that look in her eyes
that i understood and decided everything
before i sat down and wondered
what in the fuck i was doing with this
before i stood there and thought
about how she had a two and a half year old at home
before some dude told me that he’d seen julie
making out with at least two other guys
before julie kissed her finger put it to my lips
and shook that ass to the bathroom
before we’d been on the dancefloor making out
before i’d spent twenty minutes trying to look for her
because tom and colleen wanted to leave the bar
because i wanted to find her for myself
before she’d been sprawled over a pool table
her ass spread nearly across the room and then gone
before i’d seen her kiss those two guys
one to the other and back again to both
and figured fuck this too
before tom said, julie likes everyone when she drinks
and i thought, thanks dude
before colleen told me
that she thinks julie likes me
as i watched her laugh and clap and shake
make eyes toward me on the dance floor
before julie said, fuck this dull shit
i’m going to dance
and then got up stumbled on one heel
before she and i drank a row of vodka shots
and chased them with a pint of beer
before she said, you still have my number, right?
to get me to stop talking about whatever
before tom said to me on the way in
don’t get any ideas when she starts getting drunk
as if i were that kind of guy
before when we were in tom’s car
and i could tell julie had already been drinking
thinking maybe i’d get lucky tonight after all
before when she got teary eyed talking about her kid
and i thought, good christ
before when she was walking down her steps
and i said to tom, what kid? who cares about a kid?
before while tom was honking his horn
because julie kept us waiting
and colleen said, even though you’re a cop
it doesn’t mean you always have to act like an asshole
before as i thought about every other woman
i’d beatified with no regards to their reality
before when we were on the way to get julie
and the night seemed fresh
and the air seemed clear
and there was no hint of rain
no hint of intrigue no hint of anything
just me thinking a girl
another chance with a girl
like it was some holy event
another night
came crashing down
to earth.

John Grochalski

Helpless I do not know if good intentions prevail among the elected, among the appointed, leaving me apprehensive that the fate ...