Poetry from John Dorroh

A School Mix


Mary Jane Blalock taught me Algebra I. She had Mediterranean skin and jet black hair that she wore shoulder length. The ends curled up toward heaven.

One Monday she didn’t come to school. Mr. Guin, an old man who kept bricks in his back pocket to help him from falling forward, was her substitute. His hair was white. His skin was white. There was a lot of dandruff on his black coat and tie.

It was a crucial time in algebra. Seems that every day in algebra is crucial. Such a linear discipline. Don’t go to Square 2 until you understand Square 1.  Factoring polynomials. Anyway, we were stuck with Mr. Guin for a while.

I listened to what he had to say about the topic. He seemed to know his stuff. Even though my classmates were rude, he ignored it, as if it hadn’t happened. Maybe he’d seen a lot of action in foreign conflict and nothing bothered him. Maybe he just didn’t care about anything. But for some strange reason, I picked up on factoring polynomials and aced the test. When Janet Blalock returned, she gave me an innocent kiss of the cheek.


Mrs. Schmidt, the art teacher, was having an affair with Mr. Jennings, the assistant principal. Everyone knew it and gave them their privacy. Their cars took bay at opposite ends of the faculty parking lot an hour before the first bell.

I made a bet with my friends that I could manage to secure videos or pictures of them doing whatever it was that they did two mornings a week. My key to the school (another story) finally had a purpose. The schematics of the buildings allowed me to guess where they might have their nest. Afraid to breathe, I hid and waited close to their makeshift bed.

There was fondling and giggling; partial undressing and penetration. Shelves rattled; glass jars broke on the linoleum. I forgot to take pictures.


Mr. Ruffin was in love with the student teacher. We could tell by his latest poetry that he read aloud every Friday. We felt bad for his wife, and for Marsha, that he was behaving so badly. But who were we to confront an adult?

When my father died in January, Paul Ruffin and Marsha came into my bedroom where I was lying on my bed, avoiding the crowd of people in the house who’d dropped by to pay their respect and bring fried chicken and casseroles.

“Here,” he said, handing me a book of poetry. “This might not help. I wanted you to know that we are thinking about you. You should write about your feelings when the dust settles.  You might find some inspiration in this book.” Marsha grabbed my hand and squeezed.

“Thanks,” I said.  “Are you in it?”

“Yes, page 47.” He patted my leg and said not to worry about my school work. “Marsha can tutor you to help you catch up. She’s really good at that.”

“Ode to Drosophila melanogaster”

She had a difficult time finding the white-eyed

male under the microscope, and the red-eyed

female. I rearranged the scope for her and 

found it every time. “Here it is,” I said.

“Damn fruitfly!” she said under her breath.

I hear the diesel burps of yellow dogs

on the other side of red bricks. “You’ll miss

your bus,” I said. “One more time,” she

begged. I checked the focus once again, and

there he was, brilliant plumage, two globe-like

compound eyes, red like the sun setting before

a hot summer storm. She placed her palms

on the black lab table, slung her pony tail

to the side of her neck. “I SEE IT!” she

shrieked. “It’s so beautiful. I gotta take a

picture, Mister, somehow, please. The bell

rang and I had to send her out into the rain.

School buses don’t wait forever.

“While Australia Burns”


Widespread panic, hot hot planet on fire.

One billion animals charred, burned – the silent

outrage, people dying, homes as kindling for a do-nothing

Oz sleeping on the job while oxygen supplies deplete themselves,

while freakazoid doxology fills up the smoky heavens; while fat tongues

vibrate lost hearts and souls; while the status quo is honored and worshiped

like Baby Jesus. You tell me not to worry, that these things happen;

natural phenomena; a catastrophe that doesn’t involve us.

It’s on the other side of the planet, right?


I never bought the bill of sale that Gary Pounders

tried to deliver in mechanical drawing class. He tried to steal

my mathematical calculations, my format, and called me

Squarehead and Tree-lover. I stepped right up to the plate

on that one, and hit a high pop fly that flew over the river,

over the ocean, landing on the other side of the planet.


Wouldn’t line up with the fire and brimstone spewing

from the pastor’s mouth, the End Times are here, unfolding right before

our bloody eyes. Waiting since childhood, when I first learned to read,

when teachers told the truth and said that boys should never cry; waiting

on confirmation that my foundation was sturdy and reliable.


I tell you not to worry about these things, that it’s merely a predicament

of breathlessness, of uncharted territory, of excessive disregard of what the trees

were telling me long before we cut them down in order to count their rings. 

“Eating Paul and Getting Yoko Ono’s Drink by Mistake”


I ate Paul with meatloaf today. Yoko

Ono drove by the window in a pink-and-white

Studebaker, ran the red light on the corner

as if it wasn’t there. It wasn’t there yesterday

so maybe it wasn’t there today, just something

my mind did to me.  I told him that his beard

looked good and mentioned how neatly he’d

kept it up


since the last time I ate him in the German

restaurant, the one that was closed because

the owners refused to pay their taxes. The

brats were half the size they should have been

but no one complained. It’s not natural to hear

an oompah band crank up in the middle

of the day. Large numbers of Germans

make me



The Starbucks barista mixed up my order

with something that looked like a dead wren

in the bottom of some tar. My coffee was too

simple – a grande Americain with whole milk –

so I think my drink was for Yoko. That sounds

like something she’d order.

“Cold Storage”

While you are shoveling snow, I am up to my ears in wishful thinking. Traded day-trip to the

mountains for becoming one with the refrigerator. I find my childhood on the first shelf, the stuff that really matters. Latest left-overs, some sort of surprise that everyone fights over: banana pudding, Hawaiian pizza, cold turkey.

Inside its bowels, the filthy blood smudges from a leaky steak on a glass shelf, cottage cheese containers full of the most beautiful mold – dark gray fuzz with hints of lavender, and the oddest shade of blue. Bacon that’s in the preliminary stages of breaking down, rotting but ever so slightly; three craft beers, and part of a colossal green salad. There’s Kikkoman soy sauce, some left-over Yum-yum shrimp in a small white take-out; batter from unpoured pancakes, five brown free-range eggs, grape jelly, and all of the ingredients to make some damn-fine Bloody Marys.

I discover unimaginable things, unlike tuna salad and left-over vegetable casserole, pickled beets

perhaps? Ancient vials of pasty, caramelized substances. The vegetable bins, speckled and hard-crusted bottoms, dried juices from any combination of green thing and nerve. Meats, both raw and cooked, stare up at me like tumors. I want to kick them in the shins, move them out of here, warn them of pending doom, dark and mysterious. There’e a quart jar of mayonnaise with an expired date, two bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, a half-full package of Kraft American singles, and a dozen hearts.

There’s no compromise for what you keep, what you discard, what you treasure and hoard; what you give away to someone in need; what ends up being your favorite thing on the list. House all of it in cold storage, use it judiciously, timely, and as wisely as you know how.

John Dorroh spends time digging in the soil. He travels as often as possible and discovers fodder for poems and short fiction.  His poetry has appeared in about 75 journals, including Dime Show Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Ospressan, Selcouth Station, and Synchronized Chaos. 

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