WATCHING MY FATHER SHAVE
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.
WHO AM I EXACTLY
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.
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.
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,
but more likely was picked.
But what did scarred bark
know of that?
Or thick strands
of tired wood
nuzzling the dirt?
she joined a forest
of like trees.
Life after that
was either songbirds
seasons or axmen.
And, of course,
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.