John Dorroh

In Need of Swallowing Stars

In flux with Pythagorean equation glued in my eyebrows
can’t shake the numbers or calculate the length
of the missing side of the triangle.

That was always an issue – the grunt work that got me
nowhere and a day. Use the space below to show
your work. Points for the Given.

You lied to my mother with your big fat lips that He
has so much unused potential. What a trite thing
to say to a grieving parent.

They thought I might be a doctor or an architect
but would have been happy as the manager
of a book store.

Instead they got this: starstruck and anxious, too
nervous about the End Times, overly nice
for my own good.

I needed every dog and cat in my bedroom, fireflies
in mason jars on hot summer nights, thief–
stealing money from Bill Drane’s

bright blue bank bag that he left under the driver’s
seat when he came to visit my parents
with a bottle of Jack Daniels

under his arm. It was twenties at first then bigger
until I knew I had to stop. My father wanted
ball games. I gave him hand-drawn maps

of South America, properly labeled with capitols
and current populations in parentheses.
My mother wanted free doctor visits

but she got stories about high school students
on the rampage for kicks. I wanted peace
& quiet & a world without band-aids.

I got a ruptured appendix, one compound fracture
in my left arm, scissors through my head,
and an insatiable appetite for seafood.

I went to bed with my mouth open, dreaming
of being a guitar-playing singer
who could write lyrics

on the backs of receipts and dirty envelopes
from the glove compartment
in my car.

I feared meteors and atom bombs and having
catheters stuck into my penis. Shot
needles made my curl up

into the fetal position. I swore I’d never
go to a doctor or a dentist, or eat
liver & onions, that I would

keep my childhood friends until they started to die
off. And they did. And I was sad
and still couldn’t sing

at their funeral. It all seems silly now,
what kids dream, what they fear,
what they think about the future.

I’m all grown up
and still wondering
what is the best way to stay pain-free,

and how to find the length
of that missing side of the triangle.


After Not Quite Recovering from Gall Bladder Surgery
after Dorianne Laux

The coffee was bitter this morning,
like unsanctioned chocolate from
some new country tucked away
in serious bondage of jungle greenery,
wrap-around killer vines and a pulse
rich with heat & humidity. It tasted fine
yesterday. Some things change

I found myself with cleaning rags
in my left hand, staring at the coffee table,
lemon Pledge in my right hand, index finger
pressed against the nozzle, ready to spray
a swath of aerated wax across its surface.
Sweetie, I told myself, put that down
right now
. A pair of doves with their
exaggerated small heads sat wing-to-wing
on the deck railing. Come talk to us,
they said.

I dreamed last night that I was a short-order
cook in a famous cafe in Miami. Customers
yelled at me in Spanish, their fists pumping
rapidly like pistons, their eyes black & hollow.
I knew I was doing something wrong but didn’t
know what. A woman in a red dress with a slit
up the side motioned for me to come sit with her
and share a $10 coffee drink with ice cream &
fruit. Spend time with me, she said.

Today I pumped $4.20- a-gallon gasoline
into my Honda’s hungry fuselage. Storm
clouds swelled up in the west like dirty giant
cotton balls. The air smelled of electricity,
pungent & garlicky. I felt as if lightning
was going strike someone before my eyes,
and I didn’t want to watch. I said prayers on the spot.
I drove to a grocery store for mandarin oranges
in the can, two red onions, a bottle of Bacardi,
and a new bag of coffee. Standing in the check-out,
I smiled and said hello to the pimply-faced teenage
cashier, her mouth a garrison of metal. To my left
I swear I saw Jesus sitting at a table, having a latte
and cinnamon roll. Come drink with me, he said.
I have a proposition for you.


John Dorroh understands that words are more than some magic potion, that words engage themselves with the soul. He appreciates the work that went into each and every poem he reads in journals by every author. He thanks them. Three of his poems have been nominated for Best of the Net. Others have appeared in over 100 fine journals such as Feral, River Heron, Pinyon, Burningword, The Orchards Poetry Journal, & North Dakota Quarterly. He had two chapbooks published in 2022. Twitter: @DorrohJohn