John Grochalski


trolling for hookers




in the morning

liberty avenue

is a ghost town

steve wants to go to the gay bar

to see what it’s like

whatever that means

he shakes his porn shop bag

full of blow job videos

says, come one, dudes, come on

we follow

two men holding hands

bold even within the desolate confines

of downtown pittsburgh

watch them

go inside a club

pounding music

we stand outside the steamed windows

daring ourselves

but for what purpose?

when calvin says,

but i thought we were looking for hookers

we move on

turn the bend

and there’s this six foot black thing

in a gold-lamé mini

a mound of red hair in the street lights

she stubs out her smoke

with gold heels

looks at us bored

says deep voiced

what can i do for you gentlemen tonight?

and steve and calvin

are gone before we can even answer

running drunk two blocks

i find them in an alleyway

pissing against a graffiti wall

porn bags hanging out

of their mouths like dogs

muffled voice saying

but, dude,

she had an adam’s apple.



some panic



there are mornings

where i wake up wondering

less about my own day

than maybe the end of someone’s life

there’s some panic in my heart

but little fear

the noise of a city will wake you up into reality

the way some civilizations are just meant to rise and fall

like lumbering giants or explosions in the sky

each one of us a cog

a galaxy stretching itself to the end

disengaged and ignorant by their ease

tethered more to little failures than the big picture

but still playing their game

one pitted against the other

make the other man fall

it’s very hard to look around

and in the brief moments that i do

it might just be better to shield my eyes

avoid the ideologue chewing up oxygen

at the end of the bar

the abject racist who lives up the street

on the news the bloodshed can be tremendous

it can look like a film set if you let it

really, you don’t have to face anything at all these days

no matter what’s coming in the end

this life can be for getting lost

amidst the shattered bones and charred flash

the endless war and animosity

live online and prosper

or it could be best that there are people out there

trying with violence and rhetoric to suck up all the gray

forcing us to pick a side

but which one when they both seem so the same?

there’s some panic in every decision

in moments like this

i’m anxious for the very next line

but it will get written

as this history of alienation gets written

murder upon murder

tragedy heaped upon tragedy

genocide around every corner

a whole love-starved world of us
waiting only to drown.



the hypochondriac



i used to keep myself

up so many nights thinking about sickness

about dying in my sleep

about being the only twelve-year-old boy

who was going to have a heart attack

every growing pain that i suffered

was proof positive that my body

was failing me from the inside

i couldn’t sleep as a result of my worry

so i added insomniac to the list

all i could do was lay there in bed

listen to my brother snore across the room from me

my mother snoring in my folk’s room

the old man downstairs asleep

where we’d left him since he passed out at eight o’clock

with the television on as low

as we could secretly put it in our small home

and i’d think this is it, the end

i’d stop breathing the minute i drifted off to sleep

suffocated by i have no clue what

or that headache from yesterday was a brain tumor

the scratch from the cat would get infected and poison my blood

i’d stare at the clock knowing tomorrow at school

would be a long fucking day

if i didn’t get those thoughts out of my head

and get some sleep

but i couldn’t help it, it was all there in me

cancer, HIV, pneumonia, the plague

the black death, latent chicken pocks,

the mumps, the measles, that heart attack lying in wait

all of it coming to get me

sometimes all at once

while i laid in that bed terrified

until morning or sleep would finally come against my will

or i’d start thinking about something else

instead of all of that rot

something like the front door being unlocked

my old man’s cigarette still smoldering in his ashtray

set to burn the whole house down

or that my dear old snoring mother in the other room

had left the gas range going

and the goddamned oven on.






duncan is running around the kettle bar

with his sister olive

screaming and yelling

while people are eating bar food

or starting in early on the day’s drunk

duncan is maybe three but still looks vacant

olive is pushing two at best

and has a set of pipes on her

that could raise the damned

there are no other children in the bar

because it’s a bar

duncan’s old man is your garden variety domestic asshole

with his receding hairline and dad gut

his sculpted man boobs

under an ugly maroon v-neck sweater

with tufts of chest hair coming out

he apologies to my wife and i

when duncan and olive repeatedly smack into our table

but he doesn’t mean it

because we reek of childlessness and other malaises

because his america counts more than mine

dad is enjoying his stolen afternoon beer too much

to worry about duncan and olive

killing other people’s time

he’s too caught up in the entitlement of being a parent

at the turn of the twenty-first century

praising his children

for what used to garner an ass whooping

duncan’s mom is a beast of a woman too

who wears the wounds of a war

of knocking out two kids in under four years

on her soulless stomach

i think she has diamonds

embedded into her glasses frame

for that extra douche bag oomph

and somewhere on her fat dego ass

i’m willing to bet

is a faded tattoo of a beloved cartoon character

she got at the beach

before duncan and olive were a drunken mistake

in the gleam of her eye

she thinks naming her children

duncan and olive

makes them more than the common

screaming creeps they are

mom had been carrying olive’s dirty diaper for fifteen minutes

until she set it down on the table next to us

blue and white and brown ball

of non-biodegradable plastic

a table someone else will eventually eat/drink on

she doesn’t care

because duncan and olive are so precious

their shit doesn’t stink

they’re the zenith of what she’ll accomplish in this world

ignorance that she’ll pass on

like family jewels and disease

boutique named monsters free to run around a bar

screaming and yelling

and raising hell on a monday afternoon

where we are all captives to this mundane madness

that gets passed around these days

under the guise of precocious ingenuity

duncan in his rookie-of-the-year t-shirt

olive in her plaid dress

smacking their heads off the worn bar and laughing

the little philistine prince and princess of bay ridge

with ketchup stained faces

from french fries flung on the bar floor

like nut shells and sawdust

little landmines we’ll try not to slide in

as we forgo another beer

and get up to leave

to duncan screaming bloody murder

to an old hootie and the blowfish song

as olive prat falls and farts

and our proud patriotic parents

order another round.



the wine clerk



i remember

needing a job in buffalo

when there were no jobs

sitting in some half-empty frat bar

while the college chick bartenders

got drunk on white wine and watched tv talk shows

scanning the local rag

and coming up with nothing

i remember needing rent money

and gas for a car that ran when it wanted to

arguing with my wife

because i felt impotent and dull

sitting in the apartment all day

or hustling it out on the streets to no avail

the temp agencies couldn’t find me anything

they could only test and test and test

and shrug their shoulders when i failed them all

i remember not taking a job for bath fitters

because the boss thought that writing, listed on my resume

would interfere with me working the warehouse

because he was afraid i’d leave the job

if i ever sold a book

because he asked me if i liked kayaking

how i couldn’t work for someone who liked kayaking

and how i’d leave the job for less than selling a book

i remember seeing that ad for a wine clerk

in the midst of my fourth pint of the day in that frat bar

while the college chick bartenders got sloppy

and started spilling their plastic cups of purloined white wine

thinking that a man shouldn’t shit where he eats

but i remembered the rent and the car

and the testing and the temp agencies and kayaking

then i thought how hard could selling wine be?

i remember that warehouse as big as a car dealership

the shelving a silver and red metal skeleton city

reaching up toward the sky

my clumsy, hungover ass carrying cases

of wine and booze down ladders

hoping that i didn’t fall to the concrete

and die in a hail of wine and scotch and glass

i remember feeling sore

the pain of hauling boxes for a solid eight

watching kids ten to fifteen years younger than me

do it with such ease

laying on the couch at home listening to the classical station

because i thought i was some kind of bukowski

wondering where all the decent jobs in buffalo were hiding

getting hauled into a wine testing center

being told that the varietals tasted of black currant

or grapefruit or cherry or blackberry

that you could taste the dirt of france

the stone sea sides of italy

thinking how i’d never get to france or italy or anywhere

making the kind of money i was making

thinking that it was all bullshit

and forgetting to spit the booze into the sink

after each sip as my only revenge

i remember

drinking wines that cost more than my whole paycheck

and the irony in that

i remember not shaving, not bathing for days

going a month in the same clothing

my pants stained in wine from asshole customers

dropping bottles every hour on the hour

and i remember that little man

that little napoleon of a boss

who hauled me into his office every day

so that we could talk about the state of my wardrobe

so that we could talk about why i hadn’t shaved

so that he could tell me the customers paid my salary

and put his kids through school

so that he could give me a routine psychological evaluation

but never once giving me the gentle mercy of firing me

i remember sitting in my car

in the parking lot of the wine store

drinking half a six pack or two tallboys

just glaring at that building

before i found the courage to walk on in

and start the retail horror show all over again

i remember getting drunk on my lunch

at an old man bar across the street

spending saturdays drinking wine samples

until i couldn’t see

only i don’t remember how i made it home most nights


my wife

the rent

our life

the chance to one day maybe see france or italy or anywhere

and i remember them working us nine til nine

every day for over a month

when thanksgiving and christmas came

how i grew to hate christmas carols

how i still can’t hear them

how that little napoleon watched me work for twelve hours

building booze display after booze display

hauling case upon case, as customers crawled up my ass

how he then pulled me into his office

to tell me what a shit job i was doing

how i needed to be more of a people person

be a little ray of sunshine, he said

to remind me about the wine-soaked pants

and the dirty shirt and the facial hair i refused to shave

i remember thinking

how i could commit murder if i put my mind to it

i remember drinking vodka

straight from a mag bottle in my car on my dinner break

watching the customers stroll into the store in santa hats

not a goddamned care in the world

how they must’ve worked better jobs

found the buffalo, new york that had alluded me

i remember how the months moved

like dragging anvils across broken glass

how the want ads still held nothing for me

the hopelessness in a saturday night driving down delaware avenue

too tired to fuck

too tired to sleep

too shell-shocked from the hoi polloi to even go out to dinner

another month of nine to nine shifts

for inventory in that metal warehouse city

the christ wound i received on my side

cut from a nail on a case of french wine

that cost two-hundred dollars a bottle

i remember suicidal thoughts

thinking that i didn’t want to be bukowski or anybody

how i was sick of being myself

nothing but a wine clerk in buffalo

on eight bucks an hour

and i remember the sinking stench of failure

when i woke up the next morning

hungover immaculate

the scent of stale beer and wine in my nostrils

having to rise up out of that warm bed

to do it all again.


John Grochalski is the author of 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 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.


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