Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Poem by John Grochalski


steve kept two tadpoles in a large red bucket

in his old man’s work garage

when i came over to visit

he would take the bucket out

and we’d watch the tadpoles swim around

after that we went off swinging bats at that summer’s locusts

or building our fort of twigs and thorn bushes

in the woods behind his house

i was new to the neighborhood

and steve had become my first friend

seeing those tadpoles every day kept me going

after two moves in two years

two new schools in two new years

i liked watching them swim around

the knowledge that they would soon grow into frogs

i also liked the lava soap

that steve’s dad had resting on his sink

the way the deep red color contrasted

with the gray light filtering through the garage

after looking at the tadpoles

steve and i would wash our hands

and he would tell me that once they reached maturity

he’d release them near the creek where he found them

then it became bittersweet looking at those tadpoles

watching them go from black sperm

into gray-green slugs

with coal eyes and small legs and long tails

those tadpoles were growing up

and steve was losing interest in them almost daily

he was more concerned with building our fort in the woods

our jail he started calling it

i could tell that he only pulled the tadpole bucket out

for me to see them

it was one day that i went down to steve’s house

and there was yelling from inside

steve and his old man

but i knocked anyway

and steve came to the front door red-eyed

he told me to meet him around the back

when i got there

he had our tadpole bucket sitting out in the sun

along with a block of wood

a hammer and nails and a can of silver spray paint

without saying anything to me

steve took one of the tadpoles out of the bucket

and set it on the wooden block

while it squirmed

he grabbed the hammer and nails and went to town

impaling the first tadpole onto the wood

when it stopped breathing

he sprayed it with the silver spray paint

do you want to do the next one? he asked me

i shook my head

and ran into the garage

i went over to the sink and started washing my hands

with the lava soap

that red octagon building up a pink lather in my hands

when i shut off the water

steve’s old man was standing there looking at me

and my red, raw flesh

that soap costs money, he said

before pounding back up the basement steps

when i found steve

he had both tadpoles nailed and spray painted

to the block of wood

they were sitting out in the hot summer sun

their carcasses waiting to fry

just like jesus christ at a disco, steve said to me

the hammer still in his hands

then he went over to the bucket and dumped the water

it made a black splash

that rushed toward me and the sacrificial tadpoles

before getting caught in a small drain

all of that life water swirling down into the ground

like it never existed at all.
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), and the forthcoming The Sun Causes Cancer. Grochalski currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he constantly worries about the high cost of everything.

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