Brad Roberts' Poetry

Welcome to Brad Roberts' Poetry collection. Here you'll be able to read each of the poems, and also post your feedback on the message board for Brad Roberts to check out. Select a poem from the right, read it, and post some feedback on what you thought about it. Click here to view or post a message.

Poetry Menu

Time Zones

I Do Not Lead A Sober Life

The Birth of Speech

The Players

The Birdcage Is Empty

For Now

And Millions of Years Later

Long Enough

When It Stops


Another Day

So What

To Crap

Two Old Ladies


Buried Alive

The Blizzard

The Theologians


The Cripple


Poetry Collection

Time Zones - Post Feedback

And then everything was put away,
and the floor had been swept
and the last candle burnt
and the old clock in the town square
struck upon the hour
and the bell rang out into the air
until the reverberation died out
and the crickets chirped
and the air was black and still…

While on the other side of the world,
it was high noon
and the leaves were out
and in the hospital
someone was having another baby,
and someone else was dying slowly and painfully
at high noon,
that was his time, finally,
his time and only his,
and he had no choices left
and his world disappeared
and the noon sun beat its steady pulse.

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I Do Not Lead A Sober Life - Post Feedback

I do not lead a sober life
I care not that you fucked my wife
I’ll always have this stomach-ache
My aching balls will always ache
So go ahead and drink and fuck
All night until the sun comes up
And if you puke do not complain
For soon you’ll drink and fuck again.

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The Birth of Speech - Post Feedback

When man first began to talk
it sounded like a bunch of damn nonsense.
The other animals were skeptical.
But, the talk continued.
Eventually, man pretty well much
had dominion over the animals.
He picked ‘em off, one by one,
with increasingly sophisticated weapons.

These days we’ve got it even easier.
We started growing the animals ourselves,
instead of having to bother with all of that nasty hunting.
Yep, raise ‘em and kill em ­
easy as eatin’ pie with a goddamn fork.

Speakin’ o’ pie, anyone hungry?
I’m about ready to throw on a burger and crack a beer…

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The Players - Post Feedback

They gathered round
in a huddle to consider the matter
throw long or short?
Pass or merge?
Take over something big,
or turn something medium-sized
into something huge?

Arguments were put forth;
these countered by others;
personal slights were thrown out,
tempers flared.

Various character-types aligned
and camps formed,
leaders emerging on each of the sides.

A war was fought.
One lost.
The other won.
More or less.
The traitors were hung,
and peace was attained once again.

Then another day passed.

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The Birdcage Is Empty 
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The birdcage is empty.
There are no more cannon balls
to put into the cannon.
If I veer to the left,
I veer one way;
If I veer to the right,
I veer another.
Soon I’ll go get another haircut.
The hair will stick to my back as it always does.
Then I’ll go home and shower it off.

The chair is empty.
There are no more shows left
to watch on TV.
If I switch to one station,
My attention wanders;
If I switch to another,
My eyes begin to glaze over.
Soon I’ll turn off the TV.
Then it will be time to try and go to sleep.

There are missing ingredients in the recipe.
The cake did not rise.
If I imagine one woman,
She begins to look like another;
If I imagine this other,
I want to turn the TV back on.
Or sit in the empty chair.

Then it will be time to go to sleep again.

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For Now - Post Feedback

The fire burns down and goes out.
Gradually the ashes cool
and turn gray.
Somewhere, far away
a plague is breaking out.

Around the corner,
a daughter buys her mother a cane.
A plane flies buy.
Inside the house next door,
A TV has been left on in an empty room.

Cars drive along the freeway.
Somewhere, a bride is wed to her groom.
Years later they will divorce.
But for now, they too are on the freeway,
driving towards a motel with the radio on,
singing and drinking champagne.

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And Millions of Years Later 
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And millions of years later
the shark still roams the sea,
always moving, keeping that oxygen
going through those gills ­

And thousands of years ago,
up on the surface of the earth
the same old questions
were still being chewed over,
and the same old adulteries were being committed,
the same old blood was being spilled -

And there shall be an eye for an eye
and a tooth for a tooth
until finally there are no eyes or teeth
or anything left, anymore, ever.

And perhaps then the silence
really will become golden.

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Long Enough 
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And if it were really the case after all
that something beyond our comprehension
made sense of all the chaos and the cruelty ­
well, of course this would be no consolation at all.
Because whatever this benign ordering force is,
it is, after all, beyond our comprehension.

Whenever I hear the word ‘transcendental’
I hear 4 syllables:
‘going mental’.
If you’re looking for a sunset behind the sunset,
you’re barking up the wrong tree
if you don’t mind me mixing my metaphors,
as I am prone to do.

I am my only consolation.
And I can only hold out for so long.
Not as long as many others.
But long enough.

Long enough.

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When It Stops  - Post Feedback

And when that fine feeling of exhilaration is finally achieved,
the piece is finished, done with, executed -
one sigh’s a sigh of relief
yeah, you did it one more time,
you’ve still got it,
the juices are still flowing -

and the next time you sit down you stare
at the wall, and nothing comes,
and you curse, and you drink,
you chastise yourself -

and then words start floating into your head again,
and it seems good again,
just to think, put it down, feel it out….

And soon you’ve done it again,
circumstances have conspired
to make it happen again,

and then you sit there,
staring at it,
another finished product.
And you wonder when another one will come.
Or if they will stop coming altogether.

And if they do stop?
Forget it.

We’re out of here.

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This information is not available at this time.
Please try our alternate telephone number.
Our voice mail system
will take care of
all of your needs.

Should you require yet more information,
please dial our immediate access
help-line, where highly-trained professionals
will take you through your technical difficulties
personally, step by step.

You need not feel uncomfortable
with your new purchase.
Keep it well, and it will serve you will.
And never forget to call us if you
experience any difficulties.

From whom it may concern,

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Another Day 
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If the face of the day
were another face,
it would still wear
the same expression:
flat, unmoved,
the sun rising and falling
as it always does...
at least, for now,
until it burns out
like a bonfire,
or a king,
or the joint I just lit
that will only keep me high
until noon or so...
And then it will be tomorrow,
another day, again and again.

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So What - Post Feedback

And so what if there isn't anything else
and the birds continue to sing
and unread plays continue to be written
and unfound skeletons
lay buried deep in the earth,
the bones of forgotten murders...

So what if the next big thing
turns out to be kind of small after all,
and the next good time
is just that - one more good time,
and then, the old days are over,

And so what.

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To Crap  - Post Feedback

Just what sort of crap do you think you can pull off?
Because if you can pull off some real total crap -
then you're getting somewhere.
Anyone can do something good, something "worthy";
but to get right down there in the trenches
and get rich or powerful or laid or whatever
just by unloading some TOTAL CRAP -
well, that's more than I could
ever hope to accomplish.

Let's tip our glasses to crap.
May it prosper in the face of the cultured amongst us,
and may it finally overcome and destroy them, once and for all.

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Two Old Ladies
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The first sign that something was wrong
was when my grandmother started getting
these strangely nonsensical letters
from her sister in Toronto.
Noone had ever heard of
Alzheimer’s disease at that time.
Not that my grandma would have understood
what that meant, even if it were a known condition -
she’s not the brightest bulb in the house,
if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, soon after the strange letters,
her sister flew into Winnipeg for a visit.
When she arrived, she seemed a bit loopy.
Asked my grandfather, would he like to dance?
Right there in the airport.

They took her back to their place for dinner
and she continued with her eccentric behavior.
Took the plate of pickles meant for everyone,
and ate them all herself, one by one.
Later that night, she woke up my grandma
at about 3 am, wanting to go shopping...
A few days into the visit,
my grandma learned to push a chair
against her bedroom door,
so her sister couldn’t get in at night.

Eventually, grandma had to place her sister
in an institution.
Her sister seemed quite complacent
about the whole thing,
until she finally arrived,
and was put into her new room.
"When am I going home again?"
her sister asked.

Eventually, her sister died.
Sad, but a relief too, really.

Years later, my grandmother ended up in
the same institution.
Not due to senility, mind you.
She’s still as sharp as a tack,
even at age 95.
In fact, I visited her just last week.
She’s been having insomnia lately.
She pointed to a photo of herself
and my now-dead grandfather,
taken on their wedding day.
"Do you know what kept me up
all night last night?" she asks me.
"I lay there, looking at that photograph.
Back then, we had no toilet, no running water.
And I wondered to myself,
how did I ever manage to get myself
cleaned up and looking so nice
for the wedding?
I thought and thought,
but I just couldn’t remember.
Now why would a silly thing like that
keep me awake all night?"

I used to think that my grandma’s sister
had suffered a terrible fate.
In the end, she didn’t even know where she was.

But now I know better.
My sharp-as-a-tack grandmother
has a much worse time of it:
she can still think.

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Whenever the topic of music comes up,
it seems everyone starts getting
all misty-eyed and sentimental.
They remember the first time
they heard this or that song,
how a tear came to their eye, etc...

For centuries music has been used
in war to enliven the troops :
those pounding drums,
that shot of liquor,
those wailing pipes,
and then its off to the slaughter.
Bagpipes did it for the scots;
the dudes in Vietnam played
Led Zepplin’s "Whole Lotta Love"
at top volume on 8 track players
strapped to the sides of their tanks
as they rode in to blow away some gooks.

Even now, as we speak, popular songs of the day
are being played in torture chambers,
spurring on the torturers during the fatiguing job
of breaking people physically and mentally...

A few hundred years ago,
there used to be this theory
about the heavens, and how all the planets
were hooked up to these spheres;
and it was said that when they rotated,
God could hear the "music of the spheres,"
a sublime ethereal music.

This is the sort of crap they teach you
in the history of science.
But the real history of music
is not nearly so pretty.

Long live music.
Long live the slaughter.

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Buried Alive  
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I go to visit my grandmother
at the old folks home.
She’s 93 years old.
Health isn’t too bad, considering her age
she’s not in chronic pain,
doesn’t have cancer.
The nurses at the home are kind,
and take good care of her.

We’re having a cup of tea.
Her husband has died, all of her friends have died,
but she just keeps living and living.
She’s been drinking a couple of cups of tea
every day for, let’s see, about 70 years:
365 days per year, multiplied by 70 years
of 2 cups of tea per day,
makes this about her 52,000th cup of tea.

It’s like being a vampire, I think to myself,
condemned to live, the centuries going by,
everyone you know is dead.
You’ve drank over 50,000 cups of tea.
But you’re still here.

Last week one of the nurses died.
She was 63.
My grandma has been puzzling about this.
"I can’t understand it. Here I am just waiting around
for the grave, and that young woman dies.
It doesn’t seem..."
(she’s struggling for a word
to express the problem)
" just doesn’t seem proper."

Hmmm - "Proper."
Don’t you mean that it doesn’t seem just, grandma?
Are you really NINETY-THREE years old
and only just now starting to twig on to the idea
that MAYBE life isn’t fair?

Why does it take so long for some people?
What can I possibly say to her about this?

I feel irritable.
The nursing home is full of
incredibly old, useless people.
The air smells stale.
I can’t think of anything to say to grandma,
so I turn on the TV.

There’s a documentary program on.
They’re discussing the fact
that since the advent of the portable video camera,
all kinds of political unrest and human rights crimes
are now being recorded, live.
Then we see a wobbly hand-held shot of
some revolutionaries firing
at their opponents in the jungle.

In the next scene, we’re in Burma.
A man is being interviewed.
There are subtitles in English.
He’s talking about something he saw.
The police had come and hauled a young man
out of his home and taken him to a field.
Two men were waiting for them in the field.
They had just dug a hole in the ground.
The prisoner was made to stand in front of the hole,
and put his hands on his head.
They shot him, and he fell back into the hole.
But he was not dead.
"I’m not dead yet!" he cried.
The policeman ordered the gravediggers
to fill in the hole.
"Please shoot me again!" cried the young man.
The gravediggers hesitated.
The police repeated their order
to fill in the hole.
The gravediggers began to shovel.
"Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"
the man cried over and over again
as they shoveled the dirt on him.

"The gravediggers looked like
they were not happy to be shovelling
the dirt into the hole onto the man,"
read the subtitle as the man
concluded his interview.

Then grandma and I are interrupted
from watching the program
when a nurse enters the room.
She has a handful of variously colored pills
for my grandmother to take.
Grandma gulps them down with a glass of water.

When the nurse leaves, grandma says to me,
"Do you know that one day I said to the nurse,
‘what would happen if I stopped taking all these
pills every day?,’ and she said
‘I guess you wouldn’t be around any longer’
and I said to her, ‘well then stop giving them to me!’"
Then grandma laughed a scoffing little laugh.

But they’ll keep giving her the pills.
And she’ll keep taking them.
We both know this.

Whether it’s proper
or not.

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The Blizzard
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It happened one day, as it often does,
that a boy became lost in the woods.
On and on he walked, further
and further away from his home.
It was a cold day, and soon it began to snow.
The boy began to grow very afraid.
But then, just as night was about to fall,
he came to a small, long-abandoned wooden shed.
The boy wept for joy at the sight of this
meagre shelter, and he climbed inside.
He was very tired from all of his walking,
and fell asleep quickly.

When he awoke again
he found the snow had piled up so high
that he couldn’t open the shed door.
Now he was trapped inside.
He was a small boy,
and had not the strength to dig himself out.
He was very thirsty,
so he did what many others have done
in similar circumstances
he put some snow into his mouth,
and let it melt on his tongue.
This did not quench his thirst entirely,
but it helped.

The boy hoped that the snow would soon melt
so that he could escape.
He was by now very hungry.
He cried out for someone to help, but noone came.
Then he wept.
After he could weep no longer,
he began to scratch
little messages onto the wall of the shed.
He fantsized about being rescued,
and how he would be able
to point to these scratchings,
which would describe the time of his getting lost,
and of being trapped inside the shed,
and of how terrible it had been.

But, as is often the case at that time of year,
the snow did not melt,
and the boy grew colder and colder.
In a few days he no longer had the strength
to scratch on the wall,
or to melt the snow onto his tongue.
As he lay in his weakened state,
he looked at his messages, and was consoled to think
that even though he might die, someone would one day
come along and read on the wall
of what had happened to him.
Finally the cold and the lack of water
over-came him, and he died.
Scavenging animals arrived and ate his flesh.

When spring eventually came
and the snow had all melted,
there still stood in the forest the old shed
that had been the boys last refuge.
Spring turned to summer,
and soon a not uncommon event occured
there was a lightning storm.
The forest, in which the boy
had become lost, caught fire.
Great sweeping flames tore through the woods,
and a full week passed before the fires
finally began to be cooled by steady rains.
When it was all over, the trees
that remained were but charred logs.
The old shed was only a bit of ash
floating about somewhere.

Of course now noone would ever
read the boys messages on the wall of the shed.
But, as the boy was dead, he never knew
that his little diary was never discovered.
And so, in the end, as always in cases such as these,
it did not matter that his scratchings were destroyed.
For the boy never knew the difference,
and neither did anyone else.

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The Theologians 
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Am at the bar around the corner in Harlem again,
sitting there drunk again,
when this woman next to me says
"What goes around, comes around".

I lay into into her.
"What if someone who has no fucking conscience
does terrible things, and noone ever catches him?
What about then? What’s goin’ and comin’ around then?"

She snaps right back -
"You think that motherfucker’s goin’ to HEAVEN?"

I go at her again.
"No, I don’t think he’s going ANYWHERE.
Just like everybody else."

People started listening in, and staring at me.

"But I respect your belief,"
(I had to throw that in,
even though I didn’t really respect it all;
I mean, I’m the only white guy in the place,
I gotta cover my ass a bit.)
Then I add - cleverly, I thought -
"Hell, if everyone was like me
the world would be a worse place."

This guy sitting on the other side of me
touches his glass to mine
and smiles as he toasts me for my remark.
Then he says,
"if you had no mind,
where would God be?"

"If I had no mind,"
I said, "I wouldn’t be able
to ask myself that question".

"Exactly" he said.

He looks at the woman on the other side of me
and says "God’s in your head, woman."

They glare at each other.


"Sure is fuckin’ cold out tonight, eh?" I say.

More silence.
Some snow flakes blow in the door.

I order a round for the 3 of us.
We drink some more,
not talking.

It feels good not to talk.

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It was getting so bad that I was at the point
where every time I had to fly,
I obsessed about it for weeks.

So, I began constanly plotting, using all of my cunning
to make the flight as bearable as possible.
Carry-on luggage only, of course.
The problem what if the flight was packed,
and I didn't get onto the plane first,
and by the time I got to an overhead bin
to store my carry-on in, there was no room left -
What the fuck then?

I worked on this problem for many days.
Then I remembered that anyone needing
extra time boarding could PREboard,
yeah, they always had that "preboarding announcement" -
so, I'd just get myself a cane and pretend to be
a bit of a cripple, you know,
the kinda guy who needed just
a little extra time to board.

So I go out to buy the cane.
Of course the tube ride is a nightmare,
stuck down there in that hoary old London tunnel,
in a car that might get stuck at any time -
you were just a sitting duck really...

I finally get to the store where they have the canes.
Pick one out, buy it.
As I leave the store, I figure
I'll give 'er a little trial run.
Then I realize that I don't know how
to use a damn cane.
I'd never even considered the matter before.
I mean, say I've got a bum LEFT leg -
which hand do I hold the cane in?
Left or right? How does the cane work anyhow?

So, I checked out a few real cripples,
to see what was up.
It was a busy street, and soon
a couple of them went by.
I caught on pretty fast -
I'm a pretty fast learner,
and no idiot, as I'm sure you've noticed,
what with my obvious narrative powers
and great ear for the rhythms of language
and my keen sense of the poetic line -
anyways, like I say, I caught on pretty fast,
and decided to make a trial run of it on my way home.
I'd pretend I was a cripple from the store
all the bloody way back to my flat.

Let me tell you something:
it takes quite a bit longer to get anywhere
when you're a cripple.
I hobbled along back to the tube stop,
and it took fucking forever.
Inside the stop, it was even worse -
I missed a train because I couldn't
break into a jog to catch it.
How was this going to work out in an airport?

So, the cane plan was out.
I had to go back to the drawing board.

After much pondering,
it suddenly occured to me that
I could just limp.
I didn't need a cane.
What was I thinking?
I could walk normally until I got to the gate,
and then just limp in last minute.
Fuck I was brilliant.

The big day came.
I walked through the airport,
limped when I got to the gate,
preboarded smoothly with my carry on luggage,
which I stored easily in the completely
empty bin above my seat.
Then I stretched out like a cat,
first one on board,
thinking smugly about how I'd taken in these suckers.
But suddenly, I realized I'd have
to limp around the plane now, too.
It was an overseas flight,
that's eight hours of fake limping
back and forth to the bathroom.
And I go to the bathroom A LOT.

This was going to be a long flight.

But then another brilliant thought
occured to me:
I was on the plane now,
I didn't give a shit how I walked,
my carry on was stowed,
the plan worked,
I'd never see these people again -
I'd walk around however I wanted
and let God sort it out!

Then I got nice and drunk and
went all the way from London
to New York, without a care in the world.

Because I'm a fucking genius.

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The Cripple 
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When the cripple first saw that his dog was
becoming very sick,
he put it out of his mind.
The cripple ate his crust of bread;
and if the dog didn't want to eat,
then he didn't want to eat.

The cripple and the dog
continued to sit together
as they always did during the day,
next to the stone wall, in the sunny spot.
Here the cripple could watch the beautiful girls walk by.
Of course they were untouchable,
but he had grown used to this by now,
and he found enormous pleasure in simply
watching them as they passed.
Sometimes a pretty young girl would ask her mother
to let her throw him a crust of bread,
and her mother would indulge the little thing -
then the cripple could take in her beauty entirely,
and he often would be intoxicated for an hour afterward.

Eventually the dog became even worse, and even those
who deigned to throw the cripple a crust of bread
began to remark on the poor thing's feeble condition.
Then one day a beautiful young women
stopped, and spoke to him,
imploring the cripple to do something
for the creature.

That night the cripple could not sleep.
No woman who passed by had ever spoken to him.
He knew he had to do something for her.
He would obey the command of the beautiful woman.
He roused himself from his bed and began to act.
The cripple had no gun, nor knife,
nor any conveneint instrument
with which to release the creature from his misery.
He had nothing but a piece of rope.
And so he took the rope and crept up to the sleeping dog.
The dog whimpered as it dreamt of its pain.
He tied the rope gently round the dog's neck.
Then he threw the other end of the rope
over the branch of a tree,
and slowly lifted the dog by its throat.
The dog struggled, but only feebly so.
Its legs dangled gently in the air,
just above the ground.

And as he held fast to the rope,
the cripple thought of the beautiful woman,
and how good it would be to tell her
that the poor thing's time had finally come.

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Time to go and visit, for the third time now,
a dying grandparent in the hospital.
In this case, it’s my grandfather, on my mother's side.
A huge man in his prime,
lifting weights, hating Jesus and the Quebecois
with equal passion.
Only once did I ever hear him admire the French:
during the war, he said,
those bastards from the Quebec regiment
were known as the toughest fighters
in the Canadian army.
That meant something.
He never had time for Jesus though;
neither do I.

By now he is shrunken and withered.
Laying in his hospital bed.
I know that this will be our last visit.
He had always been a modest man in his way,
and he had a solid ethic
each day, no matter how sick he might be,
he would rise from his bed,
and fully dress himself,
even putting shoes on,
though he was too weak to go outside.

But the approach of death seemed to change him.
When I arrived at his hospital bedside,
he told me of the catheter they had put in him;
then he lifted his pyjamas, and showed me
the plastic tube shoved into his penis.
I was quite taken aback by his sudden openness.
"Does it hurt?" I asked him.
"It did at first, but now I can’t even feel it."

As he had nothing to look forward to,
I asked him about the past.
We drifted to the topic of his time in World War 2.
This was a subject to which he always warmed.

"I remember the first time I went to Scotland" he said.
"I went to a barber, and he asked me
if I’d like a shampoo.
Well, I’d never even heard of such a thing.
I’d only ever washed my hair with hand soap."

Later that evening, grandpa went to a pub.
Men only in those days, of course.
"I went up to the bar and ordered a beer.
Drank it back, and soon I had to relieve myself.
But I didn’t see any sign of a toilet.
Then the man next to me opened his zipper
and peed into a trough right below us,
just beneath the bar.
That’s how they did it back then
drink, pee, drink, pee,
never having to move an inch.
I’d never seen anything like it in my life."

Now grandpa peed into a tube, I thought,
and he wouldn’t have to move an inch.
But this irony would have been lost on him,
so I kept my little joke to myself.

Goodbye, grandpa.
Goodbye men-only pubs.
Goodbye penis.
Goodbye everything.

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