Poetry: John Grey

John Grey

Such a good soul.
I heard it from a hundred voices,
my own included.
The priest said something the same
though he didn’t know you. 

You’re gone after two years
of shrinking down to inevitability.
I can weep for other sufferers now.
So God, pick your spots.
On whose behalf, should I next feel aggrieved?

And yet,
as I open the car door,
I can’t help looking over my shoulder,
expecting to see you pop out of that grave
explain the whole thing as a joke.

But there’s only words back there.
Ashes to ashes.
Dust to dust.
And, of course, good soul, good soul. 

It’s growing dark.
I’m in my own thoughts.
The rest are just shapes.

The past joins hands.
But the present separates them.
Only my time is going on from here.


Slap on nails
like shingles on a rooftop
at the end of limbs
bent and thin as egrets –

dip into her graying hair,
a foul and awful place,
dry as a bed of dead leaves -

let her go on about
that night's dinner party -
she needs to look her best -
in your eyes,
that is not good news -

wash and cut,
trim and dye,
to the shudder
of the overhead light -
all in the name of urgency,
need and female pride -

hands in hot water,
fingers inches from a blade,
the pain, the threat of more,
that's beauty sure enough -

waiting in chairs,
a row of women
staring with plastic eyes -
no one is alive

through the window,
a moving mass of mortality –

people never more
than what they look like -


Heading south below the Mason-Dixon line.
the old CSA,
maybe get me some of those old bank-notes with the word DIX 
emblazoned on one side –
and suddenly realizing just how Southern the south is,
eternally. ultimately and immovably,
and everyone speaks and looks like an angel –
it’s one of life’s mysteries
like how come there’s always cars on every street,
and the lamps go off and on by magic in downtown Charleston,
and it’s not flat like the Midwest
but it’s not so hilly either,
and everything comes out of some place and is laid on the table,
and the motion of the sounds is beautiful,
a form the accent takes
until some politician in a white suit has to go and spoil it –

yeah, the real south,
beware imitations,
but don’t expect an initiation 
(not where I’m from),
just take in the details:
the wooden churches that reek of heaven,
the antebellum mansions that stink of old money and new spiders,
joyous marriages laced with fear of physical love 
(wait a minute – that’s everywhere)
a difference sure
but not so much in the heart,
and the same old miseries as elsewhere
but a little more sing-song in their approach –

stop at a Bojangles
for chicken and biscuits –
it’s where I have to leave you.


The father snapped at the boy
that if he didn't behave
he'd toss the urchin
over the ditch
and into the enclosure
where a Bengal tiger paced.
Same with the python exhibit.
That monstrous Burmese constrictor
may have curled up safely behind glass
but, between the fernery of
the reptile's mini-jungle,
the boy could see
the child-size trapdoor clear.
You'll be alligator food
if you start bawling,
the man growled at his son
as they bent over the railing
and watched huge toothy jaws
snaffle raw meat chunks.
Likewise, no homework
meant jaw to leg with hippos underwater.

It was a Saturday afternoon in June: 
a boy at that awkward age, 
a father pushed to the brink, 
a zoo pressed into service.


Not now that I failed to notice it at first,
how the slower it seemed to grow,
the more it flourished.
I didn’t expect such subtlety in a red maple,
or seed escorted to far places by the wind.
I’m just not good enough at tracking scents,
at climbing trees to observe in forks, in holes,
this year’s nests.

I don’t pick up enough feathers from the ground.
Or watch drain water circle clockwise.
I can’t gather myself like crowds do.
I’ve not the vocals to be helicopter-loud.

Everything’s blighted.
And all because I never do interpret
the click of high heels on sidewalk concrete.
And I’m useless at watching the activity on the far hill.
Or admiring slick gray rocks after rain.
I’m never on my knees.
I don’t dip toes in chilly salmon streams.
And please, don’t ask me to point out
Orion in the night sky.

Between us, there is now a fissure
wide enough to encompass metacarpal bones,
apartment dwellers and cold beer in the refrigerator.
Not including taut tendons 
and a Venus flytrap coaxing flies into its carnivorous den.
Lifetimes have given up like pacifists in war.
Wings don’t work but erosion does. 
My maelstrom leaves a trail of nymphs,
none of them worth going back for.
I suddenly realize I am a small thing
being swallowed by the whole.  

It will never be the same.
Years gone by have seen to that.
Homes are foreclosed by bankers.
Cancer does the same to skin.
A whiskey bottle would do just as well
as this person I present to you.
I beg from the gutter.
I am the withered outline of a knife.  

Bio: John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Stand, Poetry Salzburg Review and Red Weather. Latest books, “Covert” “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Washington Square Review, Rathalla Review and Open Ceilings.

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