John Grey ~ Four Poems


I take the leafy road
in midsummer,
below a trove of hid­den stars,
drawn by orange light
in the distance,
beyond wheatfields,
in step with a dragonfly,
like the wind’s instrument,
head­ing eastward,
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.



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.

For Annie.,
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.

But now,
he’s drinking,
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,
start­ing over,
or if they’d decid­ed to try to make a go of it.

Andy orders another.
Gerry leaves.
Annie makes her­self a coffee,
sits on a pack­ing case to drink it.
Then they start to fade.
Then they dis­ap­pear altogether.



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
out­side Hartford.

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.