Poetry: Selections from John Grey

Safety in Poetry

Somebody dies in a drive-by shooting.
So what has that got to do with poetry?
Body's sprawled across the stoop,
red gushing from the chest
while family dash down the tenement stairs
and neighbors take sides —
concerned or just curious.
What do I know about it?
Poetry's a safe occupation.
It's not like being a cabbie
or minding the till at a convenience store.
It's not a cop.
It's not like a kid who may or may not be
in a rival gang.
I'm part of this careful occupation campaign.
When the barrel is pointing, be elsewhere.
The cops arrive.
Ambulance too.
No point getting worked up over all this,
they say
It's the ghetto.
Getting yourself killed is standard procedure.
My advice is don't be poor
and live in the inner city.
Move to the suburbs. Write poetry.
Own your own home
with a yard and a garden and a fence.
Green grass, shady trees,
rippling creeks - that's it.
Write the first blank verse
that comes to mind -
the blanker the better.

Something for the Pain

She doesn’t cry all the time.
Not from the pain that makes her sleepy.
Just the one that keeps her awake.
Nor does she laugh so much.
For the joke is mostly on her.
And she lacks the cruelty
to burst out in hysterics
when bad things happen to other people.
She will laugh or cry at movies.
If the film is sappy enough,
she’ll giggle at the death scene.
Or if the characters find happiness
in the life she once dreamed of,
she’ll come over all sadly warm.
They’re just movies.
She knows they’re not real.
She knows that everything else is.

Wife of Sorrow

Night is at the heart of it.
And there’s always another night.
Sun goes down.
Evening begins.
And she makes up the rest of the story.
The next light
is always an artificial one.
It can’t find another living soul
but it knows where she will be.
In the morning,
she looks at the trees,
the garden flowers
and knows that they’re not looking back at her.
The day has no age.
But she is of every age.
Her head droops.
Her feet are a valley.

Bar Stories

"I had this teacher in high school,"
he tells me.
"Right in front of everyone,
he says I'm stupid.
Which was true I guess.
But I didn't need to hear it from him."
He sips his beer.
His speech is slurred,
cheeks scarred,
like he's been through all the horrors.
"I punched him in the nose,"
he continues.
"He sure weren't expecting that.
His face swelled up
like one of them Japanese fish."
He takes one long gulp of his drink
after saying that word "punched."
It must have felt good.
Like all of the things in his life
that were so amazing and fulfilling
in the instant
but rocketed downhill soon after.
"They sent me to this camp in the woods
like mother nature and some tattooed thugs
called counselors
would straighten me out.
Didn't work.
I chopped wood,
got bitten by bugs,
trudged through mud, climbed rope,
and I still figured that teacher for an asshole."
He slurps up the last of his drink
and then pours himself another.
I then relate my life story.
It isn't a pitcher of beer like his.
More of a martini.
I grimace as I swallow the bitter olive -
stupid but I don't whack myself for it.

John Grey is an Australian poet, and US resident, who has recently been published in Sheepshead Review, Stand, Poetry Salzburg Review and Red Weather. His latest books, CovertMemory Outside The Head, and Guest Of Myself are all available through Amazon.


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