A Poem by John Grey

A stranger stops me in the street,
says, “Don’t I know you?”

My brain prints out a quick statement from my memory bank.
No, he’s not listed there.

ll don’t think so,” I reply, and walk on.
A block away, I turn to see him just standing there,

scratching his head.
But what if he’s right and I’m wrong?

What if he can place me somewhere I was
and I can’t?

He walks on with something of me he can’t quite focus.
I head toward home with everything but that one time.


A Poem by John Grey

A rough road rose just west of Landsborough,
through dairy country,
past an emu breeding farm,
a hermit’s shack with a rusty tireless truck out front,
into wooded uplands.

One summer night, we drove up there,
a couple of friends, our girls,
windows down so wind blew sticky air through air
as the dust we raised
left a trail of frenzied clouds.

With headlights that glowed
like possum eyes,
we bumped and bruised our way
to the abandoned dam
half way up a hill,
probably snake-infested
but we were young
and already bitten by lust.

In the distance,
I could hear my buddies
going at it open-mouthed
but Katie and I merely
sat for hours talking movies.
She had a crush on Robert Redford.
I was a Clint Eastwood kind of guy
in thought though hardly in deed.

We held hands.
I kissed her once or twice
but was far too uncertain to go on with it.
Even when her hair dropped on my shoulder,
I left it there, like a gift under a tree
to be opened who knows when.

Yet, I felt elated, inspirited, just sitting with her
and staring toward the east.
The coast resorts were a distant pinkish glow
then all went dark
before sunrise restored the horizon’s coral sheen.
It was the first time in my life
I could describe a night just so.


A Poem by John Grey

My sister calls
reminding me that
today is the tenth anniversary

of our mother’s death –
I sit with her words
in my head

like discharged shotgun shells –
I feel the need for an old photograph
or a letter I’ve kept –

nothing revealing
unless handwriting itself
is a revelation
in these days of the internet,
email and social media –

ten years without –
just the sort of thing
time would say
as it counts its millions
and parcels out so little –

I’ve found the photograph –
it’s gray and fading
and the letter,
make that a postcard,
from the days,
late in her life,
when she treated herself
to more of the world
than just the one with us in it –

my sister calls
to remind me that we were young once
and where we are now
was as far ahead of us
as the possibility of her dying –

minus ten years of course –
minus a face and a hand
and a pen.


A Poem by John Grey

Coffee from the day before,
a kitchen like looking in a mirror,
more plates in the sink
than in their assigned place…
why does the day bother to wake you?

God forbid the sun might shine
on less than perfect faces.
Bitter or belligerent,
it knows where people live.

And look, out the window,
rabid foxes, starving rabbits,
are coming down the pike.
In this sad world,
you never know
what’s happy to see you.


A Poem by John Grey

Have to wonder how I ever took pleasure before this.
A cobra rising from a basket to the tune of a charmer’s flute.
Must be my love of conflicting objects.
Sweet melody. Toxic snake.
To be in different states
in the same moment
is now a possibility.
When sweet music plays,
when slithery danger lurks,
it’s almost a requirement.


A Poem by John Grey

She is in exile here.
your mother, the gray-haired female Napoleon,
bestriding this St Helena of a kitchen.
We find her on a rock
between the wall cupboards, stove
and table.

Your father moved out years ago,

she does not recreate him,
merely nods towards the
remnants of his empire,
the walls, the ceilings,
honored by her choice
of curtain, paper, linoleum,
and this liberating cooking range.

Her eyes peck at me for
signs of constancy.

I grip your hand tight.

I’m aligning with her hopes

not planting the seeds of your banishment.


A Poem by John Grey

A thousand people
cram into a block or two of sidewalk
on a hell-hot steamy Saturday afternoon
in New Orleans –

pallbearers and coffin ease their way
through the throng
to the slow rolling rhythms
of a brass band –

street dancers follow the body,
their partners
the parasols above their heads
and the flowing scarves
wrapped around the wrist –

an old woman
looks out over her iron-grill balcony,
a drunk abandons half a glass of beer,
stumbles out of the bar –

the dead wouldn’t miss this
for the world.