November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Tony Gruenewald/Poetry

 

Names Were Changed to Protect…
(or, The Things My Grandfathers Did to Survive)

1. John

They all called him Johnny K, anyway.
All but the many who heard

Kanciewicz

And told him to get out,
Stay out and never come back.

So he cleaved a couple of syllables
For the sake of a job

Any job

Railroad bull or driving a suicide load
Across the mountains to keep himself

And his orphaned brothers and sisters
And later his two daughters and wife

And then me

Alive.

2. Lutz

If he hadn’t been Herr Doktor,
Would he have had the nerve

To insist on a fair exchange
Of a vowel for the umlaut

The Ellis Island clerk
Was going to take anyway

When the alternative was spelled

Dachau?

 

Inventory

I think Matthew, the tax collector,
was Jesus’ staff statistician.
Why else would he think we’d care that
“the very hairs of our head are all numbered.”

And this makes me think of my pastor, John Fischer,
who sermonizes that I should think this inventory
comforting, but semi-heathen that I am,
find myself saddled
with a high-definition image of God as
an obsessive compulsive savant,
like the guy Dustin Hoffman portrayed in “Rainman.”

And this makes me think of Lenny,
the kid from my neighborhood,
who when we were growing up,
was most politely referred to as “retarded”.

Lenny could rattle off the age
of every person we knew in common.
If this conversation was happening now
he’d tell me, “I 52, you 50, Mike 49, Dennis 50, Stewie 50, Richard 46, etc.”
and seems hardwired to know
exactly when each of our odometers turns over
to another year.
So, although I’ve never shared
a birthday celebration with him,
he will wake up the morning of August 13
and instinctively add another tick mark
to the inventory of my mortality.

And thinking of Lenny makes me think
of what I’ve recently learned
is known as the “euphemism treadmill”,
the evolution… or de-evolution as two of my favorite Georges…
Orwell and Carlin… saw it, of language.
For example, forty years ago Lenny was mentally retarded.
He knew this, seemed accepting of it
and placed himself on the pecking order of others
in his situation.

He’d say, “You know Louis Nelson?
I a retart, but he really a retart.”
Today I’m told that Lenny and Louis are not retarded,
but at last check are referred to as
developmentally challenged… developmentally special… developmentally delayed…
or whatever else they’ve been redubbed since I typed this. 

And thinking of the euphemism treadmill
makes me think of Sherman Alexie,
who, to use the politically correct euphemism,
is a Native American novelist and poet.
I haven’t seen Lenny recently
to ask what he thinks about his change of semantic status,
but as Sherman says, “Indians call each other Indians.
Native American is a guilty white liberal thing.”

And of course, you, dear listener or reader, whichever the case may be,
may be thinking to yourself,
“he should have paid more attention
to hairs number 417, 2,392, 4,798, 303, etc.,
blah, blah, blah,
ha ha ha,
because they seem to have gone missing.”
And I reply yes,
I like to think of them as becoming,
what was referred to when I was in the retail business as shrink;
another euphemism,
this one referring to the stuff that was
stolen, broken or had otherwise disappeared
from the shelves without being paid for.

And this makes me think that I should let you,
dear listener or reader, know that I,
even in polite company,
refer to myself as bald.

And all this makes me think of the poet Bob McKenty,
because on one Saturday afternoon Lenny appeared in my back yard
and after he reliably related the ages of everyone he assumed we both knew,
he too wondered, in his case aloud,
“I 36, you 34, I have hair, why you no have hair?”
After he left I mulled this while stripping a chair
I’d eventually refinish and began
composing a poem,
well, more a rant, called “Bad Hair Day”
which was quickly published by McKenty,
our contemporary Ogden Nash,
who normally publishes nothing
that is not strictly metrical and rhymed,
but found it funny enough to immortalize anyway.

And so, for this poem of sorts,
I think I’d like to thank Lenny and Bob and Matthew and Sherman and George and George and John and Dustin
and most importantly, a perhaps obsessive and savant-like
God.

Amen

 

The Optometrics of Love

Thank you for being the one
who never looked
through lenses distorted
by the residue
of former boyfriends,
spouses and lovers
and saw
me. 

 

About the Poet:

Tony Gruenewald is the production manager of Edison Literary Review. His collection, The Secret History of New Jersey, was published by Northwind in 2009. To find out more, visit tonygruenewald.com.