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Poets’ Basement

by Charles Orloski

An Orange Peel

Today a technician
displayed X-rays of my brain.
It was orange, snarled spaghetti strands,
something compound, had pre-frontal CEOs,
thousands of sentimental sections,
and a strictly irrational part
shared with Jack the Ripper.

I entered the thalamus,
followed a Red-Rose crack into
the Mountain Cranium,
crossed  the Blood Brain Barrier Sea,
wishing I might find Moses
and IDF armies of Israel there.

For a better view,
the X-ray tilts.
I move obliquely to the passage
where oxygen enters the brain,
where lots of voices get to talk
about Japanese radiation,
the Shroud of Turin,
impressive new Wall Street data.
I see Uncle Stanislaus
break through a coal seam, he falls
down the brain stem, breaks an ankle,
he holds on to a spinal cord ledge,
the electricity, his arms & hands still move.

I always believed in a Secret Cave,
a place where shot brain cells regenerate.
Deeper & deeper into the center of my brain,
Shackleton’s blistered footprints by my side,
I met an orange monarchial China man,
covered with zebra horizontal stripes.
He spoke ten languages,
obeyed the Ten Commandments.
It was nothing for him to have tea with Jehovah,
dive-off Acapulco cliffs, re-hab with Betty Ford,
we walk to the amygdala’s business district.

In the back of my mind,
memories of warlike confusion,
signs of seven peasant thunders,
smell of Thanksgiving dinners,
the roar of pharmaceuticals,
a million cures, a million side-effects.
X-rays ripped from the wall,
tossed into Cold-Case archives.
I enter prayers into western wall-cracks,
Saint Nicholas busy taking notes,
and before relinquishing a $20 co-pay,
my pupils beam one more atomic glare
into the technician’s rusty orange eyes.
My parched tongue needed sharpening,
words spat back, conscientious objectors,
they take leave of my mind,
and the way back to China is very long.

Only Moments to Feel Another’s Missing Limb

Nothing greater than a young man
with money in the wallet,
a man with a strong right-hand
on the gear shift of a 1976 white & black TR-6.
The man might have worn a muscle T-shirt,
khaki shorts, the woman in a sun dress,
barefoot, tan, red-painted toes,
they kiss between red & green lights.

There is nothing greater than a man
with a good job, a forgiving father,
a hand on a four-speed gear shift —
A sunny day, the blue sky meant nothing
except “better them being there ‘stead of rain,”
causing the convertible roof to rise,
which would have been a shame.

Everything in the TR-6 world
made the man & woman happy.
Boz Scaggs songs, Beelzebul, Friday night,
and the man had nothing to do
until Monday, when the TR-6
returned to the garage,
mother kept porch light on,
the woman asleep beneath a canopy bed.

Nothing greater than a long red traffic light,
lips mustn’t part, until the man noticed another man,
seated in a rusted red-wagon,
squatting upon the Globe Store sidewalk.
The other man had no legs,
no need for gear shifts, stylish pants.
He sold pencils, tried embarrassing passerbys
into making petty purchases.

Green light, the TR-6 shifted into first,
then second, third, and ferocious fourth –
cruised like Johnny Angel did
into Tombstone city limits.
She is singing, empty little Millers on the floor,
an undesired siren, hypnotic red rotating red light,
& the man stops, dares not leave the car.
Defiant lips pressed together,
a kiss lasting until Pentecost green,
there is nothing greater
than the man with a hand on a TR-6 gear shift,
and knowing somebody’s bound
to buy useless pencils before nightfall.

Light Duty 

Anyhow … four days and counting,
Warren Hill’s M.I.A. from work,
& Team Environmental owner Bobby Hutner’s
got serious concerns.
He nervously walks around the office, muttering,
“Who’s gonna’ charge our Triple Gas meters,
who’s gonna’ inventory the absorbent boom stock,
who’s gonna clean Vito’s dog shit off my porch?”

What happened to 52-year old Warren Hill?
Except for an occasional lay,
he lived alone in Wilkes-Barre flat,
reported off when back’s too sore,
maybe had one too many painkillers,
and hadn’t thought much about
frequent vodka chasers.

The last time I saw Warren alive,
on “light duty,”
was during a June rainstorm,
an emergency response to a fatal
tractor-trailer accident on Route 6 –
200-gallons of diesel fuel
headed for an upscale community’s
drinking water wells, 200 yards away.
I handed Warren 50-pound sandbags,
built an underflow dam,
staged absorbent boom in ditch water,
Warren on “LIGHT DUTY,”
the 50-pound sandbags, rupturing discs.

Underflow dam finished,
gated-community water wells safe.
We sucked-down Gatorade,
rested awhile, pondered a tall granite monument
memorializing a Colonial General
who defeated Native American tribes,
made Wyalusing safe for Democracy,
advancing civilization – and we were beaten.

Five days & counting,
Warren’s a no-show, absent from work.
Company owner Bobby Hutner learns
Warren cashed Friday’s  paycheck,
and absenteeism is a biblical plague.
“He ain’t even got no sense to answer
the “beep-beeps” on the pager
I gave him,” complained Bobby.

Hey, I thought, business slow,
nothing much more to do,
& maybe I’ll fake a business meeting,
down in the area of Kings College,
a couple blocks from Warren’s place.
I’ll tell Hutner the college’s science lab
has oodles of hazardous chemicals
requiring E.P.A. Hazardous waste disposal.
Might be a $10,000 lab-pack project
laying on shelves for the taking, I said.

Aware he had several issues,
it was the Oxycontin in his apartment
that had me most concerned.
I climbed creaky wood steps,
walked the hallway to Room 22,
Warren’s room.
Knocked on the door, no answer, ear against wood,
the only sound within was Zeppelin’s
“Stairway to Heaven” and an aquarium pump.

I dunno, just a feeling —
I fall down on my knees,
placed my nose at the door’s
½ inch bottom space,
tried to sense something
that never made sense.

The familiar odor of death,
this time coming from Warren’s room.
The goddamn smell,
the kind Warren & I knew too well,
and maggot platoons cross a soiled Welcome mat.
Should I try beeping him one more time?
Maybe he accidentally left the pager
behind on a Dunkin Donut store counter,
the one on Penn Avenue,
the store Warren kept immaculately clean,
light-duty, part-time.

A couple doors down,
a Latino child appeared in diapers,
clutched a Barney doll, looked my way.
Maybe he feared Mommy’s bill collectors,
dealers, pimps, robbers at worst.
I kneel, the odor grew stronger.
This time, Warren Hill’s final scent,
a variant Vicks Vapor Rub never suppresses.

On my feet,
realizing Warren’s never again going to answer
another page,
I suggest the child return indoors,
seek mother’s love, maybe an embrace.
I calmly dialed 9-1-1,
asked for Wilkes-Barre Police Department,
hoping an official could get to Warren’s room quick,
for I knew what Summer heat does
to flesh & bone, complicates “extent of contamination.”

On Company payroll, the best I could do
was to provide the landlord
with my company business card.
Expert in cleaning up these type of things,
I had vast experience dealing with expired remnants,
even if they were co-workers,
off the clock, on light duty, billable no more,
and in 4-hours, with Clorox, rags, ventilation,
and deodorant spray, I guaranteed the apartment
suitable for immediate occupancy.

A happy ending –
Warren’s blood taken away in a bio-box,
and I never got to see if he wore his back-brace,
while leaning back, doing shots, against the rules.
There was nothing more I could do for him,
his landlord asked for a fair clean-up cost,
and who more than I deserved better than getting
another job & more revenue for the Company?

Charles Orloski lives in Taylor, Pennsylvania.   As he shares this dreadful experience, one that ended up being all too close to home, Orloski feels he is obligated to convey a different type of service & heroism Americans rarely get to see.  He can be reached by either a knock on the door or at

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