Poetry: John Grey

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Transcend, Dalhousie Review and Qwerty with work upcoming in Blueline, Hawaii Pacific Review and Clade Song.


What you see of me
is only skin.

It’s not a veil.
It’s not a cowl.
It’s simply something
I was born inside.

Yes, it’s a husk.
But it can’t be removed
by eyes alone.
Some insight is required.

Start with yourself,
how you look 
in everything but a mirror.
Then look at me that way.

In the meantime,
could you remove 
your knee from my throat.

We’re talking
sensitivity toward others
and it looks bad.


To be honest
I have nothing to complain about
compared to those hospitalized,
in the ICU,
on respirators.
My whine, my grumble,
is on the same level
as the ones who miss the days
when they could pop into
their favorite bar 
for a cold one,
nibble on peanuts,
and bullshit with buddies.
But until I start 
coughing and sneezing,
shaking and wheezing,
it’s the only moan I’ve got.
It served me badly
when I was underage.
It’s doing its best 
to break my spirit now.


Up trash-laden tenement stairs,
the retired janitor one-upped his old age 
with a tiny heel click
that almost sent him tumbling 
back down, head first.
“Take it easy, Bojangles,” 
said an old woman  
from a half-opened door.
She was in her best outfit,
with a hat pinned to her gray hair,
ready for church,
her voice primed by fervor
to join the choir in song.
A kid came down those stairs,
his head in headphones.
A young girl played on the third-floor landing.
Her dolly sang, “Happy birthday.”
Sunday morning, each as poor 
as cement for growing
but a little music in all of them. 
It had no right to be enough.
But that’s how it was shaping up.  


Madame is wearing the mink’s coat.
Not just one mink. Many minks.
Madame seems comfortable enough 
in the snows of winter

but what of the skinless minks?
They’re as naked as they were
back in their mother’s womb.
Just by looking at Madame

I can imagine how any creature 
would feel, exposed to the elements
without the protection nature intended.
So Madame serves a purpose. 
But what that is, I shudder to think.


He tethered his pit-bull to the last fencepost standing. 
He slept in an old truck on blocks.
Scars struggled with tattoos for control of his surfaces. 
The stream behind the old mill was his personal washtub.
His old man died drunk and in debt.
His mother was a memory of bright red lipstick
forever missing the target of her lips. 
He took odd jobs where he could.
And panhandled. And dealt. 
And used his fists when nothing else was convincing.
He had a brother who either died in the Gulf War 
or was serving time in state prison,
depending on who you asked.
He had tried to enlist but was turned down.
Parents warned their kids about him. He played two roles -
what could harm them, what they could become.
He drove an old Chevy with an exhaust like a farting Goliath.
The cops were always stopping him to give him a hard time. 
They were too late. He already had one.
Setu, October 2020

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