WAS IT ME?

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 NIGHT JUST SO

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.

TEN YEARS SINCE

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.

THIS MORNING VISTA

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.

SNAKE CHARMER

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.

I MEET YOUR MOTHER FOR THE FIRST TIME

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.

NEW ORLEANS FUNERAL

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.

IN THE GARDEN

A Poem by John Grey

Some petals are dressed in royal purple
Others apprise me of their sound.
A few carry a smidgen of bee.
And there’s one whose flower
reminds me of an overbite.

I don’t so much prune and plant
as synch, emote, provide
a platform for all that is truly
relevant to beauty in our culture,
not just for the current blooms
but the ghosts of blossoms past.

This stamen shimmers like glass.
Another nibbles minerals in the shadow.
Here, silver-blue.
There, a kind of botanical rhetoric.

Dawn sets some spiny leaves ablaze,
informs a shrub its going everywhere
but in the one place.

Twilight is lock-down,
but white bells shrug this off,
exist in a kind of nostalgia for the day,
stay afloat in moon-shadow,
rock the fine-toothed vessel of the stars.

No burdens.
Some rose-red exhalations.
A few clustering low.
Many speaking for the current climate.
Others in a lovely morning re-deploy.

This garden is my house of mirrors.
I see my face in the density of its soil,
the frenetic colors of the wind,
in the lightness of tiny and white,
in the darkness of full and everlasting.

EXPLORING THE DIFFERENCES

A Poem by John Grey

Each time I come back here
I expect to find it the same,
like there’s this pact
between myself and the waters.

But the harsh does not cooperate,
seems strange.
Yes, the crickets chirr,
But it’s not the same insects.
The throaty whistle of the blackbirds
is the sound of strangers
as is the rump-pump of the frogs.

I am almost saddened
because there are these ways
in which a once-familiar landscape
can go on without me.
And the mallards don’t need my permission
to glide on the waters.
The purpose of the slithering copperhead
does not include me.
It is not their function to make me understand
what I do not know.
They can surprise me
like that black bear high up on a tree branch.
But I am not part of the plan.
I am not essential.

And when I try to hold the landscape
to how I remember it,
nothing helps out –
not the driftwood, not the mangrove roots,
not the sighing cypress.
People may come here from time to time.
But it is only about them incidentally.

On My Return

A Poem by John Grey

It’s not what I expected on my return.
My boyhood home hadn’t changed
one slap of paint, one poster on the wall.
Those left behind felt most comfortable
in nothing ever moving on.
It all was where I left it.
That made the love so much easier.

All the hopes, the promise, the beginnings, were intact.
Even ones that ended badly.
Fingermarks, books in shelves,
old letters in drawers, ceramics on mantles,
even the clock that hadn’t worked in years –
those were the bearings of a life.

Back to such normalcy,
I sat at the table with familiar faces
discussing how life ought to be.

Mother said, we can clean now, varnish,
even move furniture around.
I tried but was of no help
because I could imagine no other house but this.