Archive for the John Grochalski Category

John Grochalski

Posted in John Grochalski with tags on April 11, 2023 by Scot


bread money

my parents tried
to do right by my brother and i

they tried to keep us safe

catholic school and daycare
after school in some rich lady’s house
full of kids who looked abandoned too

there was hardly any money
left to go around after that

we had to break open my piggy bank
for a loaf of bread
so that we could make lunches
for the next school day

the car wasn’t working
so we had to walk
up to the grocery store

it was a cold winter evening
and the house lights along the street
were dim and warm looking

with people inside
eating dinner
watching tv
or reading a newspaper
that i’d delivered to them hours ago

we passed the house
where my brother and i
went to daycare

it was huge and glowing
and i hated the place upon site
for how much it took from us

some kid was in the window
a straggler whose mom was still stuck at work

when we made eye contact
he gave me the middle finger
and i gave it right back to him

and the next morning
when our moms would drop us off
we’d forget it even happened

because we were two kids
fucked by a system
that purported to love families

yet made them work so hard
just to feel hollow and alone

with nothing
but a few crumbs

to show for it.

viretta park by John Grochalski

Posted in John Grochalski with tags on September 13, 2017 by Scot

–for kurt cobain

i couldn’t write a poem
with enough sorrow back then
although i tried on the morning bus
looking out at east liberty concrete
in the new pittsburgh spring
all sad boy poet pose playing nevermind in my headphones
maybe i lacked the proper empathy
didn’t understand suicide
with a girl willing to take her clothes off for me
telling me she loved me all the time
kris and i saw allen ginsberg read poetry
the night i found out you died
and i turned twenty the day after
that girl i mentioned
well…she wanted to make the night special for me
so hopefully you can forgive me
for being just a touch distracted back then
but kurt the thing is
standing here in viretta park, seattle
twenty-three years later
in a neighborhood i could never picture you living in
looking at a bench with your name
your lyrics scrawled all over it
that ghostly house hanging in the distance
an older, gray man
at an age you could never even contemplate
i’m still not sure that i have the words
or maybe my existence since that time
has now far outstretched my empathy
and capacity for sorrow
how terrible that we missed each other in that cosmic way
i wish i could tell you something dumb
like just concentrate on the music
or that life doesn’t just become habitual
and that you’ve really got to search for the moments
after you reach a certain age
but right now, kurt
i kind of don’t want to prove you wrong or right
or even lie to myself
i just want to take a picture of this bench
hold my wife’s hand
and walk down to lake washington
watch as the sun shimmers off the water
before we head back to the city
where the young kids
are all still wearing your t-shirts
still looking for signs of life
still looking for a way through you
to escape.

emperor of 26th avenue by John Grochalski

Posted in John Grochalski with tags , on November 27, 2016 by Scot

the emperor
of 26th avenue
stands baked a fine brown
wielding his cane like a sword
outside the deli
underneath the pimple dick sun
he says, we don’t rent from the chinese here
i don’t let ‘em
good italian folks, he says
you can’t be renting apartments
from those chinese
when there’s still good italian people
that got clean rooms for rent
this neighborhood
everybody back then
they were the salt of the earth
but now…
now they’re all in those muslim headbands
or speaking spanish
squawkin’ that gook talk
the emperor
of 26th avenue
has his two dollars at the ready
for a cup of coffee and the post
the trick is, he says
i don’t let ‘em rip me off
i know what coffee
and the news are worth
but do they?
back before when this deli was run by italians
sometimes you didn’t even have to pay
or they’d let you slide a quarter here and there
folks helping each other out, ya’see?
but not them running the show now
they want to take over america
and turn us into something different
all those buildings
with all those different languages on them
muslim and chinese and spanish
chicken scratch
that’s why i stand here
most mornings and most afternoons
hell, i’ll stand here all day if that’s what it takes
to get things back
the emperor
of 26th avenue
puts his coffee cup on a stoop
and hobbles to the corner
he stands there by the stinking garbage
and the blowing leaves
like a bird shit statue
then he shakes his head
and comes hobbling back
looking like the statue of liberty in bermuda shorts
nursing a bad back
and a bum right knee.

comply flee or die by John Grochalski

Posted in John Grochalski with tags , on November 25, 2016 by Scot

rafael says
these days you either
comply flee or die
leaving el salvador was the hardest thing
he ever had to do
where he and his wife had a livestock business
and two kids on track for college
leaving their home, their family and their friends
because the local gang
wanted their son for a drug mule
then beat him up when he refused
because the local gang
wanted their ten year-old daughter for a wife
because they said they’d kill them
if they didn’t turn over their kids
rafael says,
the gang put the dead body of a boy
in front of their home to show that they weren’t joking around
so they went north with only what they could carry
hit the packed migrant shelters in tapachula
near the guatemalan border
but still the gang tracked them down
so they moved on toward the boarder
rafael says,
these days you don’t go it alone
you travel as families
sometimes up to fifteen at a time
these days you’d rather put up with america
and its racism and its walls and its donald trump
and its patriots waving flags at busloads of your kids
telling them to go back home
because back home to what?
police informants and the violence
your boy turned into a drug mule or killed
and your daughter gang raped in a metal shed
your spouse shot dead in the street
like it just happened to fatima
rafael says,
this is a refugee crisis
and you don’t migrate to america now
for the dream, man
rafael says,
you do it for your kids
you do it for your life.



casualties of war by John Grochalski

Posted in John Grochalski with tags , on November 21, 2016 by Scot

drones drop
as i argue american exceptionalism
with a co-worker

she keeps telling me
how truly great america is

so i turn to a
twenty-one year old clerk
ask her if she’s ever known
a nation not at war

she stops for a second
puts down her books
shakes her head

no, she says
no i don’t

then we all go back to work silently
back to doing whatever it was
that wasn’t so exceptional nor so great
to begin with either.

obama shook the hand of a bigot by John Grochalski

Posted in John Grochalski with tags , on November 19, 2016 by Scot

obama shook the hand of a bigot
in the white house
in front of the press
obama took the hand of the bloviating
half-senile, orange-faced, baby-dicked,
racist, sexist, xenophobic, short-attention spanned
thousandiare, groping, child raping, man-child
and gave it a hearty shake
for peace
for unity
for america
obama shook the hand of a bigot
with over four hundred years of racism hanging over his head
with his legacy in jeopardy
with all of the progress of eight years disappearing in the dust
with fuck niggers written on manhattan walls
with black lives don’t matter and your vote doesn’t count
echoing through this once promised land
obama shook the hand of a bigot
while flags with swastikas flew proud over sand diego
and white nationalists planned inauguration parties
while hajibs were ripped off the heads of muslim women
and a black co-worker of mine said,
i knew they hated us, but damn i just didn’t know how much
obama shook the hand of a bigot
as old white men wrote american obituaries in the press
and left us hanging to go off to tend their gardens
as white kids went on twitter in black face
with the confederate flag hanging behind them
as middle school students shouted in lunch
build that wall! baby, build that wall!
as four trans people killed themselves
because they saw no other way to salvation in america
obama shook the hand of a bigot
who will be the president of these united states
who called the deaf retarded
who mocked a handicapped reporter
who said to treat women like shit
who said women should be punished for having abortions
who has fourteen sexual assault accusations against him
who advocated killing terrorist families
and a registry or a ban on muslims
obama shook the hand of a bigot
who advocated shutting down mosques
who thinks climate change is a hoax
who wants to sue the news media for reporting the truth
who has been endorsed by the KKK
who praised putin and kim jong-un
and now has his hands on nuclear codes
who has a list of atrocities so long and gruesome
they could be a poem in and of themselves
obama shook the hand of a bigot
while online some inbred, hick white dude told me
to stop acting like a fucking baby and get in line
as latino churches opened services
with hate written on their walls in maryland
as black baby dolls wear nooses in buffalo
as cops shoot and pepper spray protestors
for the last five days and counting
as seig heil 2016 rears its ugly head in philadelphia
and all over the country
obama shook the hand of a bigot
in the white house
in front of the press
for peace
for unity
for america
and the coward couldn’t even look him in the eye.

Two Poems by John Grochalski

Posted in John Grochalski with tags on May 23, 2015 by Scot

vanity fair

the poet
had a display for her new book
up at the old squirrel hill barnes & noble

but that wasn’t enough for her

she found me working the circulation desk
in the midst of another hangover

contemplating my fourteen thousand a year salary
and the fact that no one wanted my writing

she said, there’s a display in the lobby
for black history month

okay, i said

i knew the poet from seeing her around campus
back when i went there and thought that college
meant that you’d amount to something in life

other than being a guy with a hangover
working the circulation desk for 14K a year

she said, where’s my book?
you have all of the usual suspects in there
baldwin, hughes, dubois, wright, douglas, and ellison

all men, she said

if you look closely, i said,
i think there’s some rita dove

the poet said, that’s not the point
the point is i’m a woman, a black woman

i’m an artist in this city and a teacher
i do readings, i sit on committees

i’ve written three books in twenty years
and none of them are in your display

i want to know what
you’re going to do about this?
the poet asked me

i shrugged
i said, lady, i think you’re overvaluing
my place in this institution

they check my bag when i leave here
to make sure that i don’t steal anything

oh please, the poet said
because she wasn’t buying my oppression

i wanted to tell her all about hangovers
and fourteen thousand a year
rejection letters and manuscripts fit to burn

but she said, well, something has to be done about this

i said, why don’t you go
up to the barnes & noble
stare at the display of your book for a few hours

maybe that’ll help

the poet rolled her eyes
she said, this isn’t finished

then she stormed out of the library
into the bright cold of an early february afternoon

to go and teach people
how to become poets just like her

while i stood there and checked my wallet
found that i had three dollars left

almost screamed out hallelujah
then wondered what it was i’d do for lunch.

emmylou harris

when i turned thirty
i told my wife
when i turn forty
i’m going to start a punk band
with some old warriors
with teenagers and kids in their twenties
we’ll be the fuckheads
last night she reminded me
that was eleven years ago
i told her time flies like time flies
plus kids in their teens and twenties
are dull substitutes for humanity
they know everything
and they know nothing
they always have their heads buried
in some device made in china
plus i always hated punk music
and i never learned how to play guitar
but would if i could now
i wouldn’t start a band
the idea of collaboration is so foreign to me
i’d just want a bunch of yes men around
to carry out my ideas
my each and every whim
or maybe i’d go it completely alone
record my old man jingles on a computer
give emmylou harris a call
and have her sing background for me
like she did for dylan and neil
and practically everyone else
old emmylou has to be pushing seventy now
but i’ll bet her voice is like a fine wine
more refined than
some twentysomethings
who’d spend their breaks in the recording sessions
smoking e-cigarettes and texting
looking up videos
of people cracking each other in the nuts
instead of coming outside
to get high behind the trash bins
with the rest of the fuckheads
in the band.

pink liquid by John Grochalski

Posted in John Grochalski with tags on August 4, 2012 by Scot

there is pink liquid
in the syringe
and i am at the mercy
of the gods
in this bright room

pink liquid
and as he cleans her leg
i begin to cry again
stroke her ears
and tell her that it is all right

what a fighter she was

there is pink liquid
that he holds up to the light
like wine in a chalice
but her head is still moving a bit
i tell him

it’s covered in my tears

pink liquid
almost neon and lively
i think
as he shoots the solution
into her

and she sighs
one last time

pink liquid
like the tongue that is now
hanging out

a pink so soft and peaceful

that i just know
i’ll hate that color
for the rest of my
fucking life.

punching a fourteen-year old in the face by John Grochalski

Posted in John Grochalski with tags on June 8, 2010 by Scot

i tell him
you wait and see, man
when you turn eighteen i’m going to rent a car
no, a limo, motherfucker,
i’m going to rent a limo
and have him drive me all the way out here
because i’m sure you’re not going
to be in college
you probably won’t even be in high school
and i’m going to have that limo
drive me all the way out here
on my dollar
and i’m going to have him park the limo
right in the middle of the street
so that all your neighbors can see
then i’m going to casually walk up
your driveway
ring the doorbell
and then when you open the door
i’m going to just haul off and punch you
right in the face
how do you like that?
right in the goddamned face
with a limo waiting in the middle of your street
and all your friends and neighbors
lingering outside their doors to watch it
what do you think, huh?
oh, you think it’s funny?
you think i’ll forget?
you just wait and see, man,
because fate is a bitch
and i have one long ass memory
and little else to do in the ensuing four years
but mold and shape this plan
so you keep on laughing and smiling
and thinking i’m just a drunk old fool
but you’ll see
four years from now
a limo and everything else
parked right there on your street
and you knocked out cold
wondering what in the hell just happened
and then you’ll remember, kid
you’ll remember this moment like all hell.

wrong conversation by John Grochalski

Posted in John Grochalski with tags on December 1, 2009 by Scot

you see
without kerouac i don’t know
what would’ve become of me
maybe i’d have become some office drone
or a teacher living in the suburbs
with a wife
and two kids that i hate
or i would’ve stayed in the warehouse.
it was his message and that verse
that got me
it’s what i tried to emulate for years
or recreate in my own stuff
the exuberance
the joy
but i’ve never been a joyful person
i’m spiteful and mean most
of the time
i never saw things with any kind
of holy glee
humanity has been a horror to me
ever since i was a child
and that might be why
i picked up bukowski
and fante, and all of those stone cold
why i like ray carver stories
i don’t know
that stuff just seemed real to me
like their guts were spilled out
on the street
instead of being stuffed up buddha’s asshole
don’t get me wrong
i still love kerouac
and i still get that tingle of youth
when i read on the road
it’s ginsberg and corso
and all the rest
that i can do without now.
and don’t get me started on gary snyder.
i just don’t care for that
shit anymore.
that’s nice, she said,
but can we get back to talking
about why
you don’t want to
go to dinner
with my family
and your family
next friday night?