I AM STRANGE
I take the leafy road
below a trove of hidden stars,
drawn by orange light
in the distance,
in step with a dragonfly,
like the wind’s instrument,
toward the hill’s green terrace,
the air gentle
and slightly tipsy,
the sky painters hard at work
but making it look easy,
forests from when I was young,
all these years later,
every memory resuscitated,
a dream that lingered
and still wants me dreaming it,
unnumbered herds of the invisible,
a small matter
of life and kindness.
They’re fifty years married,
but now she’s a child
and he’s the parent
bathing her in the tub.
No rubber duck floating on the suds
but the back, the chest,
must be scrubbed and rinsed.
He closes his eyes as he does so.
Her nakedness has lost out to time.
It’s a difficult job
that makes his hand tremble.
But if he doesn’t do it, who will.
He can’t afford a nurse.
So it’s up to him to venture near
the places that once brought pleasure,
that now only sag with sadness.
She mutters something occasionally.
But mostly she giggles.
She never says his name
or asks him what he’s doing.
His hands caress her still soft cheeks.
They’re the last of the one he remembers.
Wrinkles have left them alone,
as if in pity.
When done, he lifts her up,
towels her all over.
She’s clean of body at least.
But there’s nothing he can do for her mind.
It must make other arrangements.
Then he dresses her as best he can,
sits with her on the front veranda,
treats her to the dawn.
Air warms. Light spreads.
The sun, at least, knows what it’s doing.
LOOKING IN ON TWO LIVES
Annie says she hates to move
and yet this is the third time this year,
her good friend Gerry
borrowing his brother’s truck
and helping her load the thing
with all of her possessions,
including the couch she’s had
nigh on fifteen years,
and the percentage of possessions
shared with Andy
that she’s certain, in her heart,
are more rightfully hers than his,
for what will take two trips
from one side of the city to the other
where a smaller apartment awaits.
Andy’s having nothing
to do with the relocation,
though he’s resigned to it,
in fact, sees the breakup
as being for the best
so he’s out drinking
with his buddies,
making a pretense
of drowning his sorrows
but mostly playing the blame game,
with heavy lacings of
“after all I did for the bitch.”
Annie sits contentedly enough
in the passenger seat
as Gerry steers the truck
through Saturday morning traffic,
though she doesn’t say much,
using the time to give her thoughts
the chance to line up
into the benefits and the downside
of this latest dramatic change in her life
while he does nothing more
than what good friends do,
looks straight at the road ahead,
and plays the radio softly.
Beer reinforces Andy’s exaggerations
about how he was the one with the steady job
while she flitted from waitressing to sales clerk
without ever staying anyplace long enough
to save a dime
and she was lousy at housework
and insisted on wasting his nights
on reality TV
and how now, at least,
he can watch the ballgames in peace,
and that good stuff on tap
also spurs along the internal dialog
about how cold she could be at times
and, his favorite,
the way her looks at 35
are a damned insult
to how they were at 30.
As Annie and Gerry
haul furniture and boxes
up a narrow flight of stairs
to the second floor,
she makes a vow
that this is it,
no more moving,
and she embellishes her conviction
with every step,
every piece of her history
that begins to make homey sense
of the vacant rooms she’s renting.
Loneliness never enters
Andy’s way of thinking,
not now when he has enough company
to stuff a barroom,
but tonight could be a different story,
when he collapses
in a parlor,
that’ll look like it’s been eaten half away
or a kitchen without food,
not even a microwave,
or crawls off to sleep in a bedroom
that’s one hundred and thirty pounds darker
than it was the night before.
it’ll be different,
old feelings in new surrounds,
rather than the opposite,
and the solitude
will feel like a hard-earned prize at first,
and she’ll figure that the five years
with Andy were wasted,
but then she’ll pull her memories out of the bog,
clean them off,
figure they don’t look so bad
if you can ignore the grubby clothes
tossed on the floor
or the coffee cup left
where only a rat could find it.
she’s getting things done.
He’s drawing a line
across his life
with cool one after cool one,
she with a grunt
and a weight on her shoulders.
This is all happening under the nose
of the business community,
city transport systems,
retail and entertainment,
lives ordinary and spectacular,
and it matters to none of these
if Annie and Andy are breaking up,
or if they’d decided to try to make a go of it.
Andy orders another.
Annie makes herself a coffee,
sits on a packing case to drink it.
Then they start to fade.
Then they disappear altogether.
ABANDONED MILL AT DUSK
The crumbling tower reminds me
there is no return to the past.
Not if empty liquor bottles have their say.
All of that sweat
offered to some water god
is nothing but a solitary abandoned mill
As oral history tells it,
the machines fell silent
and most of the people moved away.
An old streel fence
still strains to divide the years,
from the good times
to homes sacked,
then put to the bank’s torch.
The sun sets on
Main Street’s empty store fronts,
vacant lots and , of course,
the rotting wooden mill-wheel.
It’s what the sun does best.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Stand, Santa Fe Literary Review, 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 California Quarterly.