Poetry: John Grey

John Grey

Someone just like you
has made you a criminal.
Someone with the same color skin,
the same sloppy out-sized clothes,
the same willful street corner pose.
Someone with a gun
has handed you a gun.
A humiliated someone,
an angry someone,
has snarled your mouth,
infested your body
to the point
where your anxious hands,
your dark eyes,
are swarming with
their humiliation,
their anger.
People cross the street
because three weeks ago,
in some other place,
some other guy
blew someone else's
brains out.
They cross the street
to avoid him.
And yet you’re the one 
hanging there.


Live in an illumination of yourself.
Like you’re being photographed
in a secluded field
in the autumn of your twenty first year.
A dynamic sculpture.
Not plaster. But light.
Gaudy vestments and plenty of color.
Rose. Magenta. Cobalt.
But no edges please.

Breathe in and out
like you’re everyone’s provider.
Make daisy faces
with dairy-maid cheeks.
Leave mystery to hieroglyphics.
Just rise from your surrounds flecked gold.

Be open 
but with a precious refusal to answer questions.
Imagine a red heart where yours beats.
And nudge shadows behind you,
perfect hair away from your brow.
Do not angle.
Do not drag.
Do not stress.
Elongate gently and briefly.
And demurely of course.
Most importantly, don’t bother
flirting with anonymity.
The effort would be futile.

Just bloom like lilies.
Disperse like fragrance.
Shine like a beach.
Rule with wordless wisps.
And be mistaken for nobody else.

Did I say get to heaven?
What I meant was
get to me.


He made it out of Vietnam alive.
Despite all the noise, the smoke, the craziness,
the best the Cong could do 
was graze his arm with a bullet.
He didn’t drown in a rice paddy.
Or drop dead from the intense jungle heat.
He even survived a bar fight in Saigon.
He said there were many times when death felt near
and he just got lucky.
His wife said something like 
“God was watching over you.”
But he could have rattled off the names
of so many in his platoon that God 
should have kept an eye on but didn’t.
He figured life had more to do 
with invisible dice rolls than religion.
And then he got cancer. 
He looked around to see who else had it
and there was no one.
He didn’t feel special.
He never said it straight out,
but he always figured that the Big C  
was just an alias for the bullet with his name on it.
He got careless and the enemy snuck up on him.
Bang! One rotten cell. Bang! Another.
Everyone kept telling him that he’d beat the disease.
But not with all that lead in him.
Not while the war could get at him any time. 


A levitating friend of your father.
A bad omen. Blown in from the street.
Your face blanches.
You do your best to not act like gravity.

He’s coming down.
His drunken red face looks heathen.
There’s no place to put your body
except for under his.

Then you punch.
Then you kick.
Then you scream.
He backs off,
says he was just being friendly.

You punch, kick and scream at
your friends from then on.


The parlor is the perfect place
for watching war.
The newsreader’s handsome,
his suit’s Armani-lookalike.

Bombs drop 
but we control the volume.
Lots of smoke and dust
but we don’t have to breathe it.

And strangers run this way,
that way, panicked, crazed,
while we huddle together,
no movement but for the odd fidget.

It’s not that we are callous.
We are all capable of feeling from afar.
But, as the cliché goes,
we have no dog in the fight.

Besides, how bad can something
really be when it can 
stop for commercials.
and our favorite sitcom follows.

We’ve had family members
involved in battles.
But that’s in the past.
And none of it was televised.

The only evidence  
is faded photographs,
great uncles smiling 
from some street in Cairo,

third cousin waving a flag
from a piazza in a liberated Rome.
No nerves on high alert.
No bullets flying everywhere.

More like vacation shots.
They stare at the camera. 
They stare at us 
like we’re the news. 

Bio: John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Stand, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. Latest books, “Covert” “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Ellipsis, Blueline and International Poetry Review.

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