Poetry: Selections from Courtenay S. Gray

empty pockets

look at me now, reduced to a bitter thing. no sourer than a rhubarb, and no drier than stale bread. it’s peculiar that one person can change the way you present yourself. having shed the devil’s skin, I was born again as a nymph-like angel. blame him if I am a blasphemous whore, an egotist or an unfeminist. girls/females/boss ass bitches are supposed to build each other up, aren’t they? that’s what society tells us. if there is a point to being jealous of you, I am yet to find it. you’re cool. you express yourself as this sad doe-eyed girl who’s humble and nervous. I am you, but not in the way it needs to be. life is an enigma, and I feel it would kill me faster if I tried to figure it out. pain seems like such a common word that we all assume we know what it means, but we never will. all we know is that we hurt, and our hearts ache with the heaviness of a stone. blame him for dying, blame me for trying. blame us for our attempted takeover. you hear about those great writers who died before they made the big time. their pockets were empty, their stomachs were hungry, and their soul was filled with absolutely nothing but contempt for the weak thinkers who surround them.

an unhappy ending

she dumped you over a thirteen-tiered cake in the smoky bubble of St. Regis. after the nucleus of your disease eclipsed, she broke your heart like a damn dinner plate. her words were the loaded gun that blew the top off it all, like a devilish whistleblower.
“It’s just not working out, my darling. You’re not enough for me. Even your mother agrees.”
you questioned yourself, how had it come to this? you kept the rest of the cake in the freezer for months until I convinced you to throw it away. we’d made love on the phone, and you’d shown me your short stories. if I’d have known I’d meet a man like you, I wouldn’t have sat in the bathroom with a blade.
you once told me that time is the longest distance between two places. that very concept is what ripped us apart. we lived for our dreams of Paris and Tokyo. it’s what kept us going, and it’s what kept us surviving. by the end, the post office heard me say:
“To Canada, please!”
enough times that it was like a thread permanently going through a loop. I never returned to the post office. I had no reason to. you were gone, and I was back to being alone. the plastic pot of wax chips vibrated with the urge to melt into the folds of those cherry pink envelopes I used.
at the moment, all of our memories are simmering in an old perfume box. the ink you used still smells like your cologne. maybe someday someone will find our letters, and they’ll know what love is for the first time.

museum glass

right now, he should be under museum glass or a bell jar. when you’re permanently stuck in the gutter of shitty existence, people see through all of the sufferings. they discover a respite that isn’t there, and they get angry when you don’t see it too. without you, our world cannot survive in the same way. loving you and being loved by you was an affair of the flesh. my smile is painted on by my own hand. every morning, I stand in front of the wooden mirror and apply string to each corner of my lips. the process of afterburn is harsh. people post about their newfound love on social media, or about their wedding day. freedom of expression is a dying art. when we express dark thoughts, we don’t intend to be seen as someone you should emulate. I am tired of my grief, and I am tired of hiding it. darling, your freedom came with a hefty price. we spent many late nights talking about all the men who couldn’t find it in them to love me back, but you still went on to hurt me. had you have broken up with me like you contemplated, I’d have hated you. doing it like this almost makes me hate you too, but then I envision you hooked up to a ventilator and being asked that fateful question you once asked me not too long ago. if this is how it ends, then at least let me join you up there. I can’t be here without you, please don’t make me beg.

a ghazal about jelly hearts

She walks with her block heels, kicking the thick cigarette ash.
Girl’s jellied heart was stomped on like her sick cigarette ash.
He undid his belt buckle and wrapped it around her neck.
Pulling tighter and tighter, with his dick — cigarette ash.
She screamed like a rabid wolf, howling and clawing for love.
Smiling at him, she coughed up cloudy slick cigarette ash.
She secretly lets her expensive lace bra slip down her.
He poured black vodka down her throat, taste trick — cigarette ash.
She struggles against the metal rings attached to the wall.
He lights up, eyebrows raised, feet move to kick cigarette ash.
Cherry lets him guide her through the sweetness of the dark.
The moon hangs like a tumour, golden, pick cigarette ash.


last night, I dreamt that you were alive again.
you had chosen to keep quiet for eight months
before making it known that you weren’t dead.
that is almost the length of time it takes for a baby
to grow into a fully formed being. if I had to be
stuck in a time loop, I would choose the one where
we are in contact. on Tuesday evenings, you would
call me from your car. for the next three hours, we
would put the world to rights by talking about
philosophy, politics, love, and human existence.
my love for you was so great that I suffered in
the thirty-degree heat of the vehicular hot box
that sat in the driveway. on the days that we
were feeling particularly dreamy, we would
discuss our plans to visit Paris someday.
your face would radiate through the Hemingway smoke
and the Camus coffee. a salesperson once told me
I looked like I belonged amongst the Parisians.
dreaming that you are still alive burns a fresh
hole in my already porous soul. we talk about
the soul frequently, but nobody truly knows
what it is until you feel it starting to drag you
down with it. having a life partner wasn’t meant
for me, I’m almost sure of that. having you in
my life was something like it, but the things
and people who make me happy have to leave
no sooner than they arrived. the problem is,
I am touch starved by you. the search for the
feeling of your skin against mine will continue
until the day I finally die.

Courtenay S. Gray is a writer from the North of England. She has been featured in publications such as Maudlin House, Daily Drunk Mag and Red Fez. She has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize (2020) and was a runner up for the 2021 Literary Lancashire Award in Poetry. Her poetry collection Strawberry  is available now from Alien Buddha Press.


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