Poetry from Mitchell Grabois


Black Tooth Rapids on the River Ardeche

I’m a skilled kayaker

but I approach this easy, class 2 passage

with trepidation

On this trip to France

our teeth

fight us

first me with a toothache

that takes a root canal to put to rest

then Concetta, a shattered molar

We are climbing Dr. Montrose’s marble stairs

as if we are priests

performing regular


Then Valerie gets drunk and falls on her face

knocks out a tooth

Blood runs from her mouth

scaring the Arab children

Is there a vampire mythology

among Algerian Arabs?

Who is their Dracula?

Maybe a Jew

who wandered the desert for a hundred years

in inexorable progress

toward their blood

The children run to their mothers

who come out of cluttered apartments

their faces inked

and tight with maternal care,

ready to rush headlong

into rage and battle


and these mothers

terrify each other

Something horrible, devastating is going to happen here

I step over Valerie’s mangled bike

and reassure the mothers

in my bad Arabic

It is only Valerie, drunk

She fell on her face

The mothers spit

Whore they accuse

Valerie doesn’t understand Arabic

All she has is her pearly French

and her big, manipulative boobs

that the Arab husbands have been

coveting for months

I help her back to her apartment

She’s still very drunk

She wants her bike

She wants me to take her clothes off

pour soapy water down her thighs

Concetta agrees with the Arab women

Valerie is a Jezebel

and she’s not getting me alone with her

Where’s John, her husband?

Why isn’t he here

taking care of her?

Then John arrives

and he and Valerie get into a screaming fight

We leave

go back to our adjoining apartment building

the smell of garbage in the halls

These Arabs don’t care enough to close the door

to the garbage room

so it stinks day and night

Concetta starts to complain about it

She complains about it every day

but I don’t want to hear any more

I go out on the balcony

and smoke a cigarette

I remember our passage down the river

early that day

knocking the edge of my paddle blade

against the rock that gives

Black Tooth Rapids its name

The river swirls around me

None of my teeth hurt

I paddle on


We stop for lunch

We climb some rocks above the river

and find a

flat sandy place

Concetta’s made sandwiches for everyone

Salami, camembert, fresh goat cheese

hot French moutarde on cereal bread

2 huge chocolate bars for desert

The sun shines and Valerie takes off her top

lies in the sand

eyes closed

maybe she’s fallen asleep

I pretend not to notice her breasts

but I watch her nipples harden as

wind blows in dark clouds

the sun disappears

the temperature drops twenty degrees in minutes

My Tilly Endurable blows off my head

and is restrained by its neck cord

which threatens to strangle me

The distant thunder comes

close in the river canyon

the wind pulls Valerie’s blouse from

her hand

Above, a lightning bolt hits the sheer rock wall of the gorge

Valerie and John, like crazed horses

run to the river with their paddles

I have to stop them

I have to knock John down

He remembers this two weeks later

when we carry a load of tile

up three flights of stairs

a job we’re doing for an Englishman

Twenty years younger

John feels he has to reestablish his position

He hauls two boxes of tile

for every one of mine

I am so happy about this I could shit

I’m sweating, breathing hard

I stop to take a break

John brushes by me with two more boxes

Haul those boxes, sucker

I silently tell him

God bless you

and your machismo

Strong Cheese

We’re leaving Provence

Louis the goat man has given us strong cheese

wrapped in plastic

but the smell still comes through on the train

and a couple of Frenchmen in suits

give us dirty looks

as if we were the ones who invented stinky cheese

We’re too hung over to care

We’re headed for Paris

to stay in an apartment

belonging to a drug dealer now in jail

We don’t stay long

The building adjoins the train station

All day and night the ground rumbles

like a Los Angeles earthquake


we’ve eaten all the stinky cheese

 Mitchell Grabois may be reached at grabmitch@hotmail.com and is a newly recurring contributor to Synchronized Chaos Magazine. 


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