The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Joseph A. Chelius

Cleaning Up After the Nar-Anon Family Group Meeting


Doing service, we call it,
but it’s nothing, really—
no more than the courtesy
of guests after a party
that prompts us
to gather up the folding chairs
or tend to the coffee,
a few stiffened Fig Newtons
on a paper plate.

And in the dim light
of this church basement
to find ourselves glancing back
for stray cups and crumpled napkins,
postponing it would seem
before someone hits the switch
the moment we adjust
scarfs and hats
and like passengers on a train—
stiff and bleary
after telling our stories—
nod cordially, then allow our faces
to become inscrutable
as we disperse in the parking lot
to separate cars.



Joseph A. Chelius

Crossing State Line


In the dentist’s waiting room
I breeze through the A’s
on the medical form—
no anemia, no asthma—
as if acing a test.
But when I come to cancer
the chained pen
hesitates over the little box,
and I’m reminded all at once
of trips on the Turnpike:
those long stretches
when lulled by the engine,
some jazz on the radio,
I pass the same
barns, haystacks, abundant trees
that sway at roadside
like an amiable citizenry—
bid farewell, then hello
as I cross the state line.



Joseph A. Chelius

Soda Machine at the Garrett Road Laundromat


Humming in the corner,
its face lit up,
it seemed happy to see me
as I fed it coins
and barely took in
through the harsh fluorescence
the notched brown tables
and plastic chairs;
a few solitary people
at the odd hour
smoking or reading magazines
while clothes tumbled
in the windows of driers:
plaids, stripes,
the faint percussion
of hooks and buttons
tapping a plaintive beat.
And once in the stillness
a blue denim work shirt
with arms reaching out
to cuff the dark;
and me feeling the jolt
of those first cold sips
of a Frank’s black cherry
as I resettled the weighty bag
on my shoulder
and went out again,
bearing news.



Joseph A. Chelius

White Rambler, Last Ride


After weeks at the curb like a codger
parked in a favorite chair,
it seemed resolved to go on its own—
over potholes, past the drug store’s
prosthetic limbs in the window,
slow, then slower,
in the jolt of bad shocks, bald tires,
my years of neglect.

We rode down 5th past the Olney Colony
and the Portuguese bakery
with its twelve-cent rolls;
past The Church of the Incarnation
to forgive the fickle carburetor
and leak in the windshield.

To remind me with tenderness
of our aimless drives,
the sibilance of trees
along the Wissahickon;
nights seeing me home
after pitchers at The Blind Pig,
four in a booth
debating literature and religion,
napkins blotted from Genesee steins.

Under the overpass,
Ed’s scrap yard in view,
we went on without flashers
at our decorous pace—
drivers in a procession behind us
not honking, not gesturing
as though out of respect.




JOSEPH A. CHELIUS works as an editorial director for a health care communications agency in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  His full-length collection, The Art of Acquiescence, was published by WordTech Editions in 2014.  Recent work has appeared in Rattle, rk.vry, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and The American Journal of Poetry.



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