It’s an early Monday morning
and I’m leaning against the door
of the E train, scanning the faces
of other riders. My eyes stumble
on a well dressed black man sitting
across the car, crying quietly,
streaks making their way down
his face, shoulders starting to stutter
until he bends over, tries to cover
his face with his dark brown fedora.
I look around, half the passengers
are lost to their iPhones, the others
are either looking away defiantly,
or like me, trying to believe their eyes,
feeling uncomfortable, hoping someone
would get up, do something. Maybe
the Spanish grandmother reading
her Bible. She can offer a quote, fill him
with spirit and hope, maybe put an arm
around him, pull him close. A little girl
asks her mom why is that man crying
as the train pulls into Queensboro Plaza.
I dash across the platform to catch
my transfer, miss the answer.
All day that man’s tears stay with me,
make me recall how my ex once cried
for who knows why by the turnstile
at the West Fourth Street station,
how easily, how often she would start
to cry over something I did or didn’t do,
her frustration at the way the world never
fell into place or her endless worry
over what will happen to her autistic son
when she lies down and dies, exhausted.
I remember how I loved to hold her,
the times I helped her and the time
I tried not to cry when she decided
she was better off, happier, without me.
Originally published in Poet Lore.
It’s another Saturday
and your father is still
dead. Your softball game’s
over and you’re visiting
your mother. You finished
showering, your hair is dripping
dry and you’re going to get
the paper. Does she need
anything? Milk, Italian bread,
cigarettes, her husband? She wants
to give you money, but you’re out
the door and down the stoop
before she finds her pocketbook.
The block is lined with attached,
one family houses and everyone
you knew moved years ago.
No one is playing stickball
in the streets. The schoolyard
backboards are all torn down
and the silver poles stick out
of the tar like crooked grave
markers and you feel like
a ghost. You turn the corner:
a man, three boys walk your way.
But no, he isn’t your father
and the boys have nothing
to do with you, your two brothers.
It’s just Jarod Jordan, the guy
who married your first girlfriend.
You stop, grasp hands, remember
always liking him, and wish
it didn’t make you feel so good
to see he’s fat and bald as a bowl.
You ask about Julia. He introduces
his three boys. Their names
all begin with the letter J
and they live in Jericho
with their mother. He’s in a hurry,
says he hopes to run into you again.
You watch him walk away,
picture following him home,
hiding behind bushes and trees
maybe catch a glimpse
of Julia picking up her kids.
Her hair is still long and soft
and black, and you fall in love
again. You’ll start with dinner,
live happily ever after.
Sorry, but you know that isn’t
your kind of life. In your life
you drop the shopping bag
on the kitchen counter, help
your mother put the groceries
away. Maybe you’ll stay
the night, keep her company.
She’s in bed by ten.
you go out for a walk, stop
in the neighborhood bar,
find Jarod sitting on a stool.
The Yankees are playing
on TV. Someone slides
quarters in the juke box
and the Allman Brothers
jam the Fillmore East again.
You buy each other beers.
He wants to tell you he misses
Julia and his boys, that he feels
his life is over. You want to say
you don’t know if you ever
got over any of the women
you loved. Instead, you argue
how many millions Bernie Williams
is worth, whether “Time Out Of Mind”
is as good as “Blood On The Tracks.”
When he drinks enough, he tells you
how lucky you are to never
have married. He loves his kids
to death, but the damn alimony
is killing him. He scribbles
numbers on a napkin, laughs.
Here, help me out, give Julia
a call. She still looks good.
When it gets late enough,
you talk louder and louder,
point your finger at him,
tell him to be a good father,
like your father. Play ball
with those boys. Teach them
to get down, stay in front
of grounders, hit the open
man and never spike the ball
after a touchdown. Teach them
to say what they mean and to do
everything they say. You stumble
Home, climb upstairs to the room
you slept in as a boy, drop
face down onto the bed,
your clothes still on. You hear
footsteps padding the rug, feel
fingers unlacing your sneakers.
You’re too tired, too dizzy
to turn, look up at your mother.
She leans over you, covers you
with a comforter. You lie still
knowing she’s standing there,
and hope she sees something
that reminds her of her husband
before she walks back to her room
and lies down, tries to sleep.
Originally published in Skidrow Penthouse.
Tony Gloeggler is a life-long resident of New York City and managed group homes for the mentally challenged for over 40 years. His work has appeared in Rattle, Chiron Review, New Ohio Review, Nerve Cowboy and Naugatuck River Review. His most recent book, What Kind Of Man, published by NYQ Books, was long listed by Jacar Press and named a finalist for the 2021 Paterson Poetry Prize.