Poetry from John Grey

SAVE ME

 

Please take care of me, Anna.

There’s a storm on the horizon,

 

as wild, as swirling, as primal as a Turner painting

Thunder’s a certainty. Lightning more so.

 

It could bring rain or hail or even snow.

My current status is that of abject fear.

 

I can’t just sit here, passing off the world

with my most blessed indifference.

 

when it’s about to spin in some

uncontrollable vortex, turn upside down.

 

bluster tempestuously, burn and flood,

shatter or smother.

 

I’ll be King Lear before all this is over,

out in the midst of it, howling madly.

 

Look, my face is pale, my brow, my cheeks,

crunch my eyes together.

 

The blanket across my knees shakes.

My knees thump like braking train-cars.

 

And all you can do is ask, “Is something wrong?”

When the storm’s passed, then I’ll know.

 

 

 

 

 

A COAL TOWN NUMBERS GAME

 

I’ve heard the story a thousand times –

real men went down the coal mine,

hard-hats, Davey lamps,

heavy boots and picks and shovels.

 

No make that ten thousand times,

and throw in any number

of near-unpronounceable Polish and Slovak names.

 

Black efface and lung,

shirts sweat-stuck to chest.,

they worked to make a better life

for somebody – just not themselves.

 

But when a kid turned his back

on the coal-face,

the word “ungrateful” was never far

from any greasy tongue.

Ball-players, guitarists,

even doctors and lawyers –

many were the traitor’s names.

 

And then the mine closed,

and the town just floated downhill

like some of that lumber farther north.

 

I heard the story maybe a hundred thousand times –

company owners all millionaires,

retired to Palm Beach,

and those left behind barely scraping by.

 

Then there’s this story told a million times –

better start shagging flies boys,

or practicing that damn instrument,

or studying extra hard

if you want to snag that scholarship.

 

Sometimes the stories gelled

and sometimes they contradicted one another.

You have to make allowances, my mother said.

Not once, not twice…

she lost me at a million and one.

 

 

BARRY EXPLAINS

 

They ask me how

am I liking school,

what’s my best subject,

why don’t I get a haircut.

I’m too young to stare into

their wrinkled faces,

those rough red eyes,

inquire, “What was it like

in the death camps?”

 

One pats me on the head.

Another pinches my cheek.

They don’t lead me down

long concrete corridors.

They don’t snatch my mother

from me,

leave me on my haunches,

loudly sobbing.

 

I tell them mathematics

is okay,

but I really love history.

They just mutter “Good, good.”

They don’t tell me that

history is mathematics,

that there have been years past

of a great insidious subtraction.

 

They’re just distant family.

Only ever see them

at weddings and funerals.

And I never do

cut my hair.

 

 

UNCLAIMED

 

I think of unclaimed baggage at the airport,

its sticker flaked off, sucked up by a belt,

stuck in some far corner of a locked room

that no one living has the key to,

its insides sealed, its outside gathering

whatever dust the spiders do not need

to build their webs.

 

And there’s a body in the ground,

buried with its sickness, cocooned

in coffin, slowly disintegrating, dissolving,

if claimed at all, only by worms

and weevils with no clue what they’re getting.

 

Maybe that baggage at the airport is mine.

It wouldn’t be the first time

I’ve forgotten what I’m supposed to remember.

And maybe the buried one

is someone that I know.

I can’t keep up with everyone in my life.

 

There’s these self-evident truths

and there’s these truths that get away from me.

If only I still had the receipt for that baggage.

Or if, when people fell out of my life,

they checked with me first.

 

 

 

 

EXTINCTION

 

The radio is nothing but beats

and rappers, occasionally

an overwrought diva

massacring a song.

But the square is full

of actual musicians,

a girl with a guitar,

a guy with a sax,

some Jamaicans banging steel drums,

even a string quartet

playing Bach.

 

Everyone’s got their cap out

or they’re selling home-made CD’s.

I spread my loose change around.

I even buy some flute music

straight from the Peruvian mountain country.

I feel like I’m doing my bit

to save musicians from extinction.

 

But they keep coming back,

every weekend, bad weather or good.

They’ll be here plucking

and blowing, scraping and harmonizing,

long after I’m gone.

I’m the one most likely

headed for extermination from this earth.

So help me, folk duo.

Come to my rescue, fiddler.

They stretch their tonsils

around an old blues tune.

They rollick through some jigs and reels.

They do their best to keep me here.

 

 

 

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