Poetry: John Grey

John Grey

A humid summer dusk,
she sits in water 
up to her grizzled thighs.
Small fish weave in and out
of her fluttering fur.
Larger fish abstain.

Sun is setting
but the bear keeps faith
with her horizon,
separating sky from earth
with steady gaze, alert ears,
and long snout.

Her belly crests 
on the surface 
like a moon about to rise.

The other moon begins its arc.
Hers is full
and winter’s not for months yet.


Things were different in my grandfather’s day.
At least, according to his daily bulletins
from the distant past.
“They were real carnivals then,” for example.

Six-legged sheep, pin-headed man,
bearded lady, human centipede,
and let us not forget the tattooed guy.
(My grandfather wouldn’t let me if I tried)
He was inked from the top of his head
to every one of his toes.
My neighbor’s kid, Saul 
has a lot of catching up to do.

My last carnival 
is hardly prime memory territory:
innocuous rides,
lame games,
hot dogs and burgers
that never would have passed
health inspector muster
in most states.

But I did take my first love
on the Ferris wheel.
The closer we squeezed, the higher it rose.
But granddad took my future grandma
into the freak tent.
They were both spellbound
by the half-man, half-woman.
He/she was not an aberration, in their eyes, at all.
They had something similar to look forward to.


We write it down.
Therefore, we care so much.

More likely the problems of others
are a spigot with a shit washer.
They pour out.
And we’re not plumbers.

We employ our minds, our hearts.
Our neighbors are dying.
Time is running out.
So we do our best to pause and think.

Could be we’re no better 
than the ones who declare 
that everything’s a gift from God…
only we got a better one.

Meanwhile, we obey the rules
of the poet’s self-interest:
1. Words have an effect
2. Poetry is the one sign that we haven’t all surrendered.

The ones at the border could care less.
It’s not our metaphors they’re after.
It’s the pity of the stone-faced guard.

We get it right.
But we get it wrong.

We cut ourselves open, bleed on paper.
A bloodstained sheet of paper, anyone?


He’s off to college
with a mother’s love
and a father’s resentment.

He won’t be working in the mine.
There’ll be no mother rushing about
aimlessly, crying out for her son,
when the warning bell rings loud 
throughout the town.

His lungs won’t blacken.
Nor will his hands roughen
or his back bend out of shape.

And he’ll earn better money
using his brain,
instead of his muscle.

He’ll live in a fancier house
with a prettier wife
and two kids 
who’ll also go to college.

By the time he’s forty,
his father won’t know it’s him.
He’ll be expecting a sixty-year-old.


He came from the big city.
New York. Boston. One of those.
His hair was gray but not his muscle.
He was fit enough 
to cover the Main Street sidewalk
in about ten long strides.
And his suit was brown,
Same color as his shoes
though nowhere near as shiny.
He opened up an office
in half of what used to be
the Five and Dime.
Then he put up a sign 
that said “Lawyer.”
And his walls filled 
with all kinds of certificates and diplomas.
We’d been two years without a lawyer,
ever since Bob Harris died.
He wasn’t the first 
to move in from the big city
just like that.
The doc did it. Same as the vet.
And that guy who figured 
a small town’s lamps and light fittings
just weren’t fancy enough.
But he was the first 
with a briefcase like the one he toted,
brown leather, 
bulging like a beer gut,
and attached to his hand
as if they were cuffed together.
There’d been other briefcases.
But older. Worn. Nowhere near as buffed.
And thin as flatfish.
Folks went to him for will-making, 
trusts and advice on crop production laws,
market issues and unfair competition.
Some even showed up just to watch him
open that briefcase.
They’d never seen the city.
But, unclasped, the city filled up the room.

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