Poetry: John Grey

John Grey
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in New World Writing, California Quarterly and Lost Pilots. Latest books, ”Between Two Fires”, “Covert” and “Memory Outside The Head” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in the Seventh Quarry, La Presa and Doubly Mad.


I'm watching dancers swing and spin,
soar and loop and summersault,
everything short of the physically impossible.
Then they do even that...
toss and orbit and circulate their bodies
places bodies have never been before.
I'm moving one foot gingerly at a time
to the next open space on the dance floor.
You follow me into what we perceive
as shark-filled oceans
but are really stocked-with-minnows ponds.
And yet, despite our awe
at the brilliant choreography around us,
we're comfortable in our awkward steps,
our pipsqueak bumps,
our miniscule grinds.
Champion or novice,
this music's here for all of us.
Besides, what if I'm a better lover
than that rubber-bones hoofer?
What if you're a kinder, more caring soul
than that acrobatic chorine?
They stop when their song ends.
Our music keeps on coming.


There goes another thought,
too restless to find a place of rest
inside my head,
thinking it’s been called upon
when what I’m trying to do
is push it to the side,
neutralize the damn thing,
an impossible task
given the way 
what I thought a minute ago
and what I think now
clash like black and blue.

My mind’s this rooming house,
crowded floor to ceiling,
with always someone new
moving in,
while nobody’s ever evicted,
and clashes erupt all the time
on every floor
and the only hope for clarity
is demolition of the entire place
and I’ve thought about that
more than once
and I’ve thought about its opposite
more than twice,
and those thoughts
occupy the same space,
breathe the same air,
and even now
they’re at it.


He learned the hangouts, 
studied the challenging, 
near to impenetrable language of the enemy.
He dressed and groomed himself
in a manner to best infiltrate,
educated his tongue and ear
to find the right hit
to match their moods and manners,
to respond when expedient,
fall silent as necessary.
His veil of indifference,
kept him safe initially
allowed him to linger
in places ordinarily forbidden:
their secret cells,
arcane installations.
He extended his lip-reading skills
to the entire body,
broke the code of
the one thing said
that means something else entirely.
He asked the soft questions
that led to the hard answers.
Even to himself.
"Who among them can I
convince to defect?
Which of these are out to harm me?"
Then, one evening,
hi a party in a third floor apartment
as he sipped a glass of wine,
admired the decor,
a little high and in thrall
to the music and laughter
pally and gauzy-eyed
his cover was finally broken.
"Are you flirting with me?"
she asked.


Sit on the boulders under a bridge and fish.
Or throw rocks.
Early morning, watch the couples making out
by Manning's pond.
Just traipse up and down Main Street
or sit on the sidewalk outside Andy's bar-room,
listen for the clunk of pool balls.
Ride a bicycle hard down a rocky dirt trail.
Show your knee scars to a girl.
Feed sea-gulls when you're not chasing them.
Throw rocks for no reason.
Shoot baskets until other kids come and it starts
to feel like a real game.
Steal traffic tickets from the windshields of cars.
Get close enough to bums to smell their breath.
Don't play chess or, if you have to, don't get good at it.
Wear sneakers with holes in the soles.
Throw rocks at trees.
And don't forget to break into the abandoned farm-house
in the woods (cut yourself on glass if necessary.)
Breathe the air floating in off the sea and the dumpsters.
(Compare the two in your mind but don't share the results with anyone.)
Get drunk once. Smoke a cigarette once.
Hurl rocks in the air.
Lie to a teacher about your old man's job.
Do homework begrudgingly, like downing caster-oil.
Sleep late. Don't go anywhere near a church unless dragged.
Watch so much television it feels like it's watching you.
Like every song your big brother hates.
Love cars as much as people.
Prefer the taste of sugar to just about everything.
Join a clique or, better yet, have one join you.
Spit every place but where you sleep.
And if someone says that it’s all in this primer,
hurl a rock at him and run. 


Any time now, the jock 
with his flashy pecs
will come for my girl.

That temporary relationship
of poet and cheerleader will fall apart 
like a sloppy high splits pyramid

and a more perfect union will arise,
a godsend for school titter.
Then I can go with whoever I want,

find someone better even,
more suited to my quirks, 
my artistic predilections.

I’ll sweat over a poem for her.
Maybe she’ll wave her pom-pom 
while I’m writing it. 

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