Poetry from John Grey


Audra was Lithuanian.
Her family escaped from behind the Iron Curtain.
She spoke little English 
but, with her parents and siblings, she took 
English classes twice a week.

I learned that, “Hello” in her language
was “sveiki” and that the name Audra
translated into “storm.”
While I nibbled on ham sandwiches,
she ate cold potato pancakes for lunch.

Her father was a nurse in Lithuania 
but a tradesman in Australia.
Her mother worked at a convenience store.
Her two older brothers and younger sister
also attended the school but made no friends. 

Audra did try to fit in
but her accent was a formidable barrier.
And her plainness was no help.
She was something of a whiz at math.
Her neatness of hand embarrassed my sloppiness.

Audra left the school after one year.
A job in nursing opened up for her father
and the family moved north. Her chair wasn’t 
vacant long. A boy from Hungary took her seat.
But he, like Audra, couldn’t sit in it for long.  


In the bed beside me, she's a comfort.
Once again, I'm gently hugged off to sleep.
But then I dream of traveling through a land
destroyed by nuclear holocaust.
The ground is scorched, the air black with soot.
Smoke rises from holes in the earth,
slow, continuous farts of charcoal and charred flesh.

I stop to examine a badly burned man,
his skin like a plague victim's and still smoldering.
The explosion simmered down,
raw wind starts getting its own back,
swirls the ashes, the filth,
makes sure I breathe every last mote of it.

Do I dream of such vile endings
because I can't take, for company through my subconscious,
the other in bed with me?
Is sleep, instant amnesia?
A loss of contact with everything short of Armageddon?

A lizard crawls across the simmering ashes.
It's moves quickly, then stops when it sees me,
raises its head as if it's the more important now,
like it's been suddenly liberated from human rule.
I crawl under the rock that reptile has left behind,
discover it's the pillow my head is burrowed into.

Awake, at one a.m..,
I'm like a beggar on a lonely dark street,
starving and terrified.
Thankfully, she breathes some silver in my cup.


He performed that
old bines number
in an open tuning on D
with the capo on the fourth fret.

He' d seen Led Zeppelin play it
back in the mid-seventies
but his version was softer, more plaintive,
like gospel turned down a few notches.

You can imagine the chills
troubling my spine
knowing he had cancer
and that part of his gruffness
came from the corrosion in his throat.

D-A-D-F#-A-D -
that was the medicine
he prescribed himself.
It didn't cure him
but I know it healed somebody.


When it is done,
it doesn’t matter
that you roll your body over,
look away from him.

You’re drawn 
to the sight of yourself
strutting giddily down
some tree-lined avenue,
wind-blown hair,
bells chiming 
as you swing your arms,
legs doing just enough
to sway your hips
and keep you upright.

“Are you okay?”
he asks.
He doesn’t know
you’re out of earshot.


I stop and stare into the non-eyes
of the rhinoceros that is not a rhinoceros.
From there, it’s to the African elephant 
or, mucho stuffing wrapped in chemically 
preserved skin, topped off with real tusks. 
Then it’s the un-monkeys, nailed to
branches in mid-frolic and the constrictor  
that won’t be constricting anything any time soon.
Meanwhile, the pseudo whale, suspended by strings,
swims in an ocean of glass-enclosed air.
It makes me think of how much money and time
it cost me to go on that unsuccessful whale watch 
out of Bar Harbor.
I could have just sent a dummy in my place, 
one dressed


She was a runner,
little weight, astonishing speed.
Someone made her face sit still for a photograph.

Her battle was lost on the fields of bedroom.
Her eyes raced miles ahead
but her body stopped at the oak tree
mincing words with her window.

Jet planes couldn't keep up with her pace.
Satellites had no chance.
Her vision was around the world twice
before a soul could whisper "Amen."

"Write it down, write it down."
they implored her.
But her hand wasn't part of the flight-plan.
The pen on paper was the first to die.

She was a pilot of great reach.
No stopping at the stars for her.
She settled for nothing less
than a thrilling dash to her own mind.

Too late, too late.
She was expecting thought, imagination.
But it was something else
when she got there.

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..

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