“Trading Places or Out Among the Missing and Lost” by Tony Gloeggler

Tony Gloeggler


Maybe I was on the D train
methodically making my way
to a Yankee Stadium day game
when some legless beggar rolled
slowly through the car holding
a paper cup in his clenched teeth.
While I wondered if he was faking
like Eddie Murphy in Trading Places
or if his legs were really blown to bits
outside a Vietnam village in 1968,
my friend Dave leaned over, took
a handful of change from his pocket.

I think I thought about India, how
I once heard or read that fathers
would mangle, cut off a limb or two
for added sympathy when their children
were old enough to hit the streets, beg
Americans for money. I couldn’t help
but remember when I was five years old,
a cripple with a heavy iron brace strapped
down my left leg, a Frankenstein boot
on my other foot and everybody stared
at poor poor pitiful embarrassed me
as I shut my eyes, tried to disappear
to a place where no one could find me
and taught myself never to ask
for anything from anyone as that guy
raised his eyes, nodded thanks.

I was hoping Pettitte was pitching
as Dave started talking body parts,
which one he’d least like to lose
in a sudden drunk driving accident
or to some unnamed mysterious disease.
When he swore he’d rather die than lose
his cock, we both laughed as the train
chugged toward the Bronx. I don’t know
if he was afraid of the pain, worried
about the humiliation of pissing through
a thin tube or whether he was already
missing all the women he imagined
one day fucking, carefully calculating
degrees and fractions of how much
less of a man it would make him feel.
I doubt if he was imagining his wife,
pregnant with hopefully his second son
and all the times lying next to her
wishing he could masturbate in peace.

I’d already realized I’d never get to use
my cock as often as I daydreamed
and I was tired of being worn down
by expectations and unfulfilled promise.
A few fantasies had even come true
but still didn’t turn out nearly as good
as I imagined. Besides, I was always
afraid of losing my eyes, my sight
since I stood in the back of first grade
unable to read the eye chart. No,
I couldn’t make out that big black E
no matter how hard or often Sister Carolina
hit it with her pointer as the kids
all laughed louder and later made fun
of my thick framed glasses. Even now
when I sleep, I keep a hallway light on,
worried about crazy nightmares, chased
by slow motion zombies and falling
helplessly into the gaping black holes
of where their eyeballs should be.

Whenever I see a blind person walking
the streets of NYC with their gentle dog
or tapping and sweeping their cane
as they slowly make their way down
subway steps, I want to follow them
everywhere they go, introduce myself
and ask them question after question
in a too loud, silly sing-song tone
about fearlessness and darkness,
what kind of music they like, if
they’ve lost or found God, how
trapped or angry, crazy and lonely
they feel, if they’d like to hang out,
go for a cup of coffee or tea, find
a bar and drink until we sing karaoke,
get into a brawl, puke and pass out.

Me, I’d probably stay in bed, pray
it wasn’t too late to become
an old black Mississippi blues man,
wait for my friends and family
to drop off food and shopping bags
filled with bootleg CDs, listen
to baseball on a tiny transistor radio,
perfect helplessness, wither deeper
into myself and my limited imagination,
miss the things I did, didn’t, and will
never get to do, everything I never
watch carefully enough, the ugliness,
the beauty I turn too quickly away from.
I’d miss everything new and exciting
I somehow might someday stumble upon.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010
Tribute to Mental Health Workers

Rattle Logo