Poetry from John Grey




Though I’m a willing audience, he doesn’t give a blow by blow.

His mouth is clenched. The lesson is up to my eyes.

Never seen such hairy hands, such huge knuckles.

The razor shrinks inside his fist, its blade peeking out

like a captured sparrow.

What hope has it against the whiskers on that jutting jaw,

the cheeks that fill the bathroom mirror.

He lathers his face with gobs of bright white foam.

Then, with blade close as a kiss, he scrapes along

that relief map of a face,

his fingers like trackers guiding the razor

over bone, under lip, across the red leather of his cheeks.

Miraculously, he doesn’t cut himself.

I swear that razor wouldn’t dare.

Next step, he slaps his skin into submission

with a hot wet hand towel, braces each subdued pore

with smelly stuff from a tube.

He then takes a step back, admires his morning masterwork.

He pats me on the head and leaves the room without a word.

Shaving begins with fascination and ends with an unerring lesson.

And, in between, years I have to grow, and no one saying much.





Mistakes are made –

I can easily be taken

for my younger brother

but I am not him.

Don’t listen to faint voices

bouncing off the walls

of your conclusions.

First remove the skin.

have me flattened, lifeless,

flesh to flesh, sweat to sweat.

Sometimes identity is exactly that.


But soon it won’t matter.

Other people will have moved into this space.

Misidentification will be replaced

by people who know each other.

Or even emptiness – although

nothing is truly empty- molecules of air

will bump against each other –

bounce this way and that.


Human shape gets some people every time.

Coming together

flutters its visions nonsensically.

What flows sweetly through the head

sounds dumb in the mouth.

Some of my

“No I’m not him” may even remain.


I’m in a new place by then,

not diffidence or solipsism

but because where I’m going

has a future, beyond where my latest step

has taken me.

And there’s my thoughts,

playing to a gallery of one.

Yes, it’s me and not my brother.

Footsteps crackle on all the leafy evidence.





Art class was a failure.

My moon was half the page

and sat on the roof of the house.

The people outside

were small and fleshless.

The moon’s heft almost drove them

off the edge of the page.


I couldn’t draw what the teacher asked.

There was no separation between my head

and what my hand could do.

I knew the moon was a midget in the sky

and people and buildings towered over me.

But facts never did sit well

with my imagination.


The teacher leaned over my shoulder

but made no remark.

But the girl behind me was rated aloud.

“Very good work, Sandra.”


The teacher had never been where I live.

She hadn’t seen it at night

when I was in bed,

eyes wide and staring out the window,

and the moon was crushing me.


Sandra’s old man beat her mother

and she hadn’t witnessed that either.

Teacher was just pleased that Sandra

had everything in proportion.




When pregnant,

she felt heavy,

like a tree trunk

and its spreading roots.


Her upper branches

bore the baby.

It fluttered out there

with the leaves and the lightning

but she couldn’t budge

from her own hard grounding.


Baby blossomed so far away

she could barely see.

It grew into fruit, ripened,

maybe fell,

but more likely was picked.


But what did scarred bark

know of that?

Or thick strands

of tired wood

nuzzling the dirt?


When pregnant,

she joined a forest

of like trees.


Life after that

was either songbirds

or woodpeckers,

seasons or axmen.


And, of course,

the wind,

the redundant shaking.


John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in International Poetry Review, Sanskrit and the science fiction anthology, “Futuredaze” with work upcoming in Clackamas Literary Review, New Orphic Review and Nerve Cowboy.