NAMES IN MY HEAD
Before we sit down at the table
for Monday’s shift meeting,
the guy whose name everybody
gave up pronouncing and started
calling Joko says he had a rough
weekend. His sister died. I say damn,
I’m sorry, hope he doesn’t want to talk
about it. We’ve worked together
nearly a dozen years. I’m the boss,
he’s a direct care worker and unlike
most of the people in the place,
we’ve never really connected.
I struggle with his African accent,
long sentences he blurts out, loud
and too fast, how his face crinkles
into a question mark whenever
I crack a joke, try to be ironic. We both
love the guys who live at the group
home and trust each other to carry
more than our share of the load.
Usually we talk about overtime,
double shifts, lifting Larry out
of his bed, wheeling him down
to the corner bodega for ice cream,
driving Lee to his weekly massage.
Today, Joko talks slowly, softly,
explains he hadn’t seen his sister
in eight years. She lived in England,
died on a list waiting for a kidney.
He knows all about my disease,
saw what it did to me. I think
about Jaime, my youngest brother
offering to be a donor, his kidney
a perfect match, giving me back
my old, normal life. I don’t mention
Michael, Elisa, Erica, all willing to be,
if needed, back up donors. Afraid
to ask, I wonder if Joko was tested.
I don’t want to put him on the spot
and I know I’d think less of him
if he gave the wrong answer. Instead,
I name names in my head, a long list
of friends who would have let me die.
TONY GLOEGGLER is a life-long resident of New York City and has managed group homes for the mentally challenged in Brooklyn for 40 years. His work has appeared in Rattle, New Ohio Review, Spillway, Juked and Columbia Poetry Review. His full length books include One Wish Left (Pavement Saw Press 2002) and Until The Last Light Leaves (NYQ Books 2015). His next book will be published by NYQ Books in Spring, 2020.