Poetry from John Grey

 

THE GIRL AT THE BAR IN THE DREAM

 

Sure I wanted her.

But wanting isn’t everything.

There’s also fumbling and mumbling.

In the end, I turned away.

My wants and I moved on.

 

There was the dream of course.

No compromise there.

Everything desired became immediately accessible.

My words…her surrender.

But then I awoke.

 

There’s a world in my brain

where the most amazing things happen.

But there’s this other world,

composed of one part frozen tongue,

one part trembling knees,

and one part okay but nothing special looks.

Can’t expect much from it.

It’s a raw deal long since dealt.

 

And sure I wanted her.

But, most of all, I wanted an excuse.

She was waiting for someone.

She wasn’t really so hot.

It’s the lights. It’s the cleavage.

And she was probably dumb as three twigs.

Is that what I want for a lover?

 

But in my dream, she looked no different.

And she was sure no Einstein.

And she was waiting for someone.

She just didn’t know it.

She was waiting for me.

So my dream was a compromise after all.

Nobody’s perfect.

They just look that way.

 

And sure I wanted her.

Why not want what you can never have.

And even if you did have it,

it would just leave you wanting more.

And there’s always my dreams.

My wants like it there.

 

THE BETTER OFF

 

A man walks past a poor woman,

under a gray sky borne

beyond themselves

but for now each step

carrying iron down a rocky path

flanked by a flight of birds

which they cannot follow.

 

He’s ignores her,

his head in hands, her mind alight,

her vision immeasurably far

in a shabby sort of way,

in flame, in silence,

burdened by this path to truth.

 

It’s too quiet,

no alarm to raise, no message,

just a bare tree, a bare-footed woman,

and he recently returned

from every other place,

rests in front of her, on a stick.

 

She’s only just awakened,

Soon she must find food, shelter.

But now, she tells him,

that all straight lines sear away

the streams, winds, bear us,

the yearning’s tunneled down, turned aside.

gives gossamer to the eyes

that match day’s narrow prism,

that see only fake horizons

as up ahead we travel weathered

 

What could she say,

What survives the dead?

What does it mean

to ask whose heart is fire,

with a fiery knowledge,

with one absurd center,

with one unwitting voice?

 

RHONDA RECOUNTS

 

I walk down to the mailbox in the shivering cold.

I would not do this if it weren’t duty.

I slip, slide, in the snow.

Ice cracks under my slippers.

Birds, whiter-thin, nibble at the feeder.

Is that a rabbit? And is it frozen, dead?

 

Inside, Amelia won’t get out of her sick bed,

prefers the flakes on the window

to the letters in my shivering hands.

No two alike, she says.

But every day like the one before.

 

I hear mice scrambling between the walls,

Good luck to them

if they can live in such uninviting, dark places,

They hate the cold as much as I do.

 

More orders from Amelia’s bed.

She’d like a cup of a coffee.

Is there a magazine in the house?

Could I bring the small black and white TV

up from the kitchen and place it on the dresser.

 

I vacuum. I rinse dishes.

I throw clothes in the washing machine,

turn on its cycle,

listen to the burps, the grinds,

the rough and tumble, of cleansing.

 

Later, I sit in the chair beside her.

I still haven’t dressed, still haven’t showered.

I’m still subject to time

but the demands of a single day elude me.

Amelia is my hours, minutes, seconds now.

 

She recounts a dream of her husband pushing a cow up a hill.

And then one of her father sinking into a swamp.

She says, at the end, all she can see is hands reaching up.

She laughs though it hurts her insides.

 

A voice inside me whispers, “You have no life of your own.”

It’s simply Amelia, in her bed, somewhere behind my rib-cage,

some place so near the heart.

 

DEAD MEN POSING

 

I’m staring at a picture in a magazine,

two guys in their seventies probably,

in a Maine General Store,

circa 1976.

They’re dead now,

I keep repeating over and over and over.

They’re dead as door knobs,

as door frames, as donuts,

even the ones made on the premises.

They’re dead as the racks of Maple Syrup

on the shelves behind them

or the shovels, hardy and deep,

for that wicked Nor’easter snow.

Some cameraman figured he was snapping

a picture of life as it used to be

but it’s really death as it can’t help but being.

Those wise eyes, that skin worn down by

too many mud seasons, that leathery mouth…

all gone, now nothing but the skull

that almost penetrates where cheek meets bone.

The flannel shirts are dust.

The overalls likewise.

And those shoes, resoled more times

than they’ve had hot pancakes,

are all soul now, all spirit.

They’re captured at a moment

when one dead man is telling the other man

a long dead joke.

One’s about to grab a newspaper out of the rack.

Nothing deader than a newspaper in this day and age.

And a rack too for that matter.

The other slips his hands into his pockets.

Neither hand survived.

 

INTRUDER

 

Cougar snarls,

what am I doing in its Eden.

All of the heathen

in a lone intruder

is broached in one long

defiant coyote howl.

Junipers shake

to my trample of a twig.

Wind shifts

at the impediment of my flesh.

I sit on a rock

to clear my head.

But suddenly the rock’s head

is as cloudy as the upper sky.

A man is on its throne.

Water falls from high ledge in disbelief.

A creek cannot understand

why it trickles that first step

toward the river and the towns downstream

when civilization is already here,

a pebble toss from its novitiate current.

Send the man away, whispers the canopy.

Who needs his junk, his anxieties,

his hypocritical pieties.

Every forest creature hurtles away

from any place my foot may fall.

The trees would if they could.

Yet I am only here

to wallow in their peace, their loveliness.

How war-like, how ugly that must be.

 

John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in The Lyric, Vallum and the science fiction anthology, “The Kennedy Curse” with work upcoming in Bryant Literary Magazine, Natural Bridge, Southern California Review and the Pedestal.

 

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