“The Last Time I Used the N Word” by Tony Gloeggler

Tony Gloeggler


Was back in the New York City crack years,
a perfectly crisp fall day, climbing out
of the F train hole and walking the block
and a half to the group home, decades
before Brooklyn grew too cool for its own
good. I nodded to old man Jose as he hung
flower pots from the awning of his store.
My hands were tucked in my pockets
and Van Morrison’s “Full Force Gale”
was blowing through my head when a kid
started walking next to me and said
almost in a whisper “mister give me
your wallet.” I lifted my hands, looked
him up and down, a thin, brown-skinned,
maybe thirteen-year-old kid and I smirked,
kept walking when another kid grabbed
my shoulder, said “we ain’t shittin’”
and pressed this tiny gun against my neck.
I just raised my arms to god on high
and surrendered as he dug deep
in my pockets until Jose yelled
something in Spanish and they tore
ass through the schoolyard, down
into the projects. I waved to Jose
and walked up the steps to my job,
rang the bell and Liz, who told everyone
that she was my black mama, asked
“child, what happened to you”
and wrapped me in her huge arms
saying “those fucking niggers”
and I mumbled mostly to myself
“yeah, those fucking niggers”
as if I was singing along to the radio
and the word felt so right, so good,
rolling, tumbling out of my mouth.

from Rattle #46, Winter 2014

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Tony Gloeggler: “I started writing as a way to try and figure things out for myself. It was mostly about things that people I knew didn’t talk about. And I think that’s why I still write. As a narrative poet, I’m often asked about how much of my material comes from everyday life and the answer, degree, depends on each poem. While all of the poems convey a true intent, the genuine feeling, I will sometimes change the actual facts to make the poem more effective. With this one, I didn’t have to change a thing. It happened exactly like this. I just wrote it down. I don’t think a lot of white poets write about race and I sat with it for years. I got a bit of a nudge when I became aware of the Hoagland/Rankine debate and I’m really interested in how these kinds of things play out on a Brooklyn street corner.”

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