A LACK OF CONCENTRATION I heard you wrongly because I was too busy thinking of the next poem. A dinosaur and a bottle of red. It has to do with singing in the car and cracking on the high notes. The business of no better, no worse pertaining to another’s meanness. Hearing can be such a sad time, lobes in fragments, ears bathed in blood. It is this business neither of us sweaty and soft any longer. You, laughingly titled, me, what meaning means. Would urge anyone to get up close and really listen otherwise, the opposite applies: in this case, the ear. SUSPICIOUS Recollection, down through the generations, confuses the spot. Did it happen here? Was it over there? All they know is that Dave loved Millicent more than life. So why did he knife the poor woman? And in broad daylight. In this park. But was it in the gazebo? What about behind the bandstand? The library’s old newspapers are no help. A suspicious death is all they say. A year later, her husband went to the chair. For the crime of suspicion no doubt. Don’t go looking for bloodstains. Not on the swings. Or the grass. Or down by the duck pond. And the only women alive then, who’s living now, is in her nineties and interred in a local nursing home. Someone paid for a plaque in Millicent’s memory, even though no one remembers her. It’s nailed to a bench and is so rusted by the rain, her name is barely legible. It’s a rather drab town these days. Some people do talk of the good old days, when the mill was a going concern and local businesses were thriving. But how good could it have been if some guy went and stabbed his wife to death and was fried into the next world by the state. The only murder in the town’s history and it happened when eggs were cheap, gas prices were low and you could buy a newspaper for a nickel. And you could stab your loved one through the heart and have it called merely suspicious. To me, the whole past is suspicious. I call for my first witness, Gladys Broome, 97, resident of Greengage Nursing Home. She claims that, when she was young, she trapped a rainbow in her butterfly net. She took it to Millicent’s funeral, pinned it on the poor woman who died. TADPOLES Early morning, I’d be on my knees, bending over the pond’s edge, scouring the murky waters for those wiggly creatures. I was armed with two glass jars one for scooping, one for collecting. Every tadpole was a frog in water’s utero. Left to nature, the black worm would grow into the bug-eyed green monster. My task was to intercept the miracle, have it play out in my bedroom. Most of my catch died, of course. Or my mother tossed them out. So I never did witness the metamorphosis of a larval stage into its ultimate state of being. When it came to the facts of life, I learned them through the usual channels. HOUSE OF BOOKS A good laugh or an even better grief - books, arranged on shelf after shelf, floor after floor, put paid to any boredom – consider the beginning, the end, and all in between, a precious gift, incapable of diminishing. Family will arrive tomorrow, sort through the news I'm willing to give them, but more concerned with all that didn't happen. They worry that I live so alone. As if Emerson, Irving, Dickens and Shakespeare are not company. I even share this abode with women— George Eliot, Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, even Mrs. Gaskell. No little ones in the immediate future though. Okay, so even if there's something I've never done, at least I've read about it in one of these volumes. I'm happy with that. So why can't they be? They prefer to weep over the way I keep myself, as if dishes in a sink are equally stacked up in the brain. They see clothes flung everywhere and ubiquitous pizza boxes. I admit my body doesn't always see the best of me but my mind is a pillar of this community on my shoulders. They'll tidy up here and there. My mother will even run a vacuum. Cleaning is the best way she knows how to love. A dust-free television screen is supposed to touch the heart. I'll let them have their way. And their criticism. "Moby Dick" was trashed on first appearance. And the white whale now swims supreme between my Mehta and my Mencken. As some have found to their cost and others to their illumination, I can only be who I am. Or sometimes as young Werther is. Or Holden Caulfield. Or Prince Myshkin. None of whom are neat-freaks by my reckoning. IN THE YEAR OF THE DROUGHT A herd of carcasses swarms with insects. So hot and dry, the land feels angry underfoot. Nothing can graze. Nothing can grow. Even the birds have run out of ways to feed themselves. A boy wakes exhausted. A man barely bothers to wake at all. A girl and her dolly sip from an empty cup. A woman feels like a suckled-out breast. In the church, prayers bypass God, ask scattered clouds for deliverance. But they are as light and thin as the sky. Some say, hang in there, better times are ahead. But only for the blowfly is patience rewarded.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. Latest books, “Leaves On Pages” “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Ellipsis, Blueline and International Poetry Review.