John Grey is an Australian born poet, playwright, musician. US resident since late 70’s. Latest book is What Else Is There
from Main Street Rag. Recently in Agni, Drexel Online
Review and Arkansas Review with work upcoming in
South Carolina Review, Hubbub and Sojourn.
BARE FOOT BOY
Your shoes and socks come off.
The water's tempting, ripples like the
sun's dipping its fingers of light, but it's
sure to be chilly and you can't swim.
So you watch: the leaping fish, a turtle
basking on a log, an egret on the far shore
nibbling in the shallows, two mallards,
shiny green male, dull brown female.
But no you plowing laps like Johnny
Weissmuller, the depth, the distances,
surrendering to your stroke. No Jane
either, to take in your dripping arms or,
share an underwater ballet.
Maybe if you just dunked a wet toe
or floated your hand atop the surface,
you'd be no lord of the jungle but maybe
it'd mean strike awe into the tiny green frogs,
the dragon flies, the midges, the minnows.
But no, they'd just swim or fly out farther
where you can't reach them, where,
for all your brainpower, it takes a strong kick,
a smooth freestyle, to leave your human shore.
It's sunset, time to leave. On go the shoes and socks.
Perfect protection but from what?
If this city had gates, they'd be closed by this.
The market place would be nothing but heaps of rags,
a carousel of swirling papers.
The high-rises, haunted by ghosts of the cleaning crew,
would flicker like fading cigarettes,
And if the streets had bolts, the slamming of them
still would echo in my footsteps on the sidewalk.
And if time could close its doors,
it would shun me from all sides.
Speak to God, somebody whispers,
but He's gone back to the sky,
and there's a ceiling to this world
despite what the stars may tell you.
HOOKED TO THE MACHINE
Dialysis... reminds me of a telephone.
The impure is calling from a dark rainy street
to a parental machine... get me out of here.
Ted is oblivious, drifts in and out of sleep.
For a moment, I'm wishing
there were such hookups to the heart
but then it hits how much I value
my movement above all else, even love.
Meanwhile, Ted must dream
if he's to get away from here,
dream of deep woods perhaps, wildflowers,
thick grassy fields, mechanism all
but their minute gears and pistons hidden.
His soulless savior chums on into the night,
sucking up waste, convincing his kidneys
they're organs after all.
Meanwhile, the apparatus is telling me
he needs more than what's inside him to live.
Emotion has already been down that road...
and now the body also.
It's the night of the urge
for cutting into pieces.
It's the end of the sun
so why not the end
of the letter or the poem.
It's the man as stripping blade,
as battering tool,
as ultimate divider
into half a word,
half a meaning,
not so much muting voice
as making it unintelligible.
It's the night in which
too much civilization
has made me a savage,
where the connection
to people, to places,
is snipped into
departments of nonsense,
districts of dismembered sentences.
If I ever decide
to put them back together,
it will be from disjointed pieces,
scraps the wrong way up,
like the scissors that
like the paper that is life with you.
There is the elm,
shimmering in sun's oil,
dappling the inn roof,
a tenant for a hundred years,
and you on your honeymoon morning.
How solid that trunk, you sigh,
as you sit up in bed,
tapping its hardy bark with your eyes.
But how casual its branches, leaves,
rubbing against the window.
The room is hospital white
and you feel like a patient,
drugged and nauseous.
Your new husband slips in beside you,
about to dose your breathing in more ether of love.
Can you die of last night, you wonder.
Outside, the elm,
ten thousand nights of sex
packed into its solid wood,
turbulence ringed into grain,
memory steeped in foliage.
Beneath the sheets,
a kind of seed scratched into skin
with his hard tongue.
Can anything grow from fearful pleasure?
Last night, so dark,
you couldn't see a thing out there,
his body atop yours
like a bandage barely covering a wound.
Still, but for him,
there would have been a bloody void
between your nakedness and stars.
The tree fills it now
in lieu of your surrender.