A heart must take care of its needs.
The head will follow in time.
But then there’s Jenna – not an ideal subject for thinking straight
though she is among the most intelligent of all women.
Add her silky black hair, slim figure, soft voice
and what do you have?
Thoughts, thoughts and more thoughts.
Jenna’s family includes: Rosalind, Michael, Sean.
Jenna has a large dog, a Newfoundland I believe.
Jenna could be a noun – a soft sigh expressing joy or accomplishment.
Jenna has traveled to every continent except Antarctica.
Jenna is opportunistic, but not cruelly so
Jenna is the brightest in just about every kind of company.
Many have had to admit their error in her presence.
Jenna has a way of communicating with her eyes
Jenna doesn’t play the field, plans to be with only the one man.
It would be a triumph indeed to be that man.
Since the end of adolescence, with a growth spurt,
and the fading of various species of acne
she has been the proverbial cynosure of all attention.
Even when she only drove that blue Honda Civic.
Lawyers, teachers, construction workers –
all have taken a number at Jenna’s door.
Each in turn has learned there’s someone out there
more than what they are.
I can’t imagine Jenna as an old or ugly woman.
Everything she does, no matter how modest, how minor,
is one more note for a love poem.
Oh she has dated. But nothing serious.
I think it’s best to just be liked by her,
to be witness, but not take responsibility beyond yourself.
Today is Friday. I haven’t seen Jenna in weeks.
She is out there somewhere.
I’m content to let that be enough.
I showed him my passport.
He stared at it intently
like it was a crime scene
and he was looking for clues.
I was guilty of having
my photograph taken
and slipped inside
a small booklet
but nothing more than that.
He rippled the pages.
He held up the picture
against my face
like he was a witness
in a police lineup.
He didn’t say anything
but his silence
was hanging-judge severe.
Finally, he waved me through.
There was nothing he could do
about me, my body,
my feelings, my thoughts,
my associates, my history.
He left it to his country
to find me out.
CLEANING LADY, 1964
She was barely noticed, scrubbing floors on the margin,
always on the brink of what would finally kill her,
death threats in the intestine, cruel jokes played on knees,
the rising monster in her left breast.
Sometimes dreading, sometimes forgetting,
but always a time when, with mop and bucket,
brush and soap, she bent her back
just to make sure a hospital ward was spotless.
So much sweat went into someone else’s benefit,
so much dying into the life around her,
besides the daily dilemma of food and rent and bills to be paid,
on a paycheck that never broke minimum.
And now the question arises:
who’s to make the necessary arrangements?
And one even more pressing according to some:
did she live on the right side of the church?
Oh she had an occasional vision, a dream
of something she couldn’t quite see
but whether they were reflected this life or the next
never made a difference either way.
Their meaning was untidy, like the grubby tiles before her
and her course involved neatness and cleaning.
The rules dawned on her clear at birth.
Do what’s expected and you’ll be paid to be black.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in the Homestead Review, Poetry East and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Harpur Palate, the Hawaii Review and Visions International.