Three Poems

John Grey

JENNA

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.

IMMIGRATION TALE

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.

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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.

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Three Poems

John Grey

THE SICKNESS OF OTHERS

I am writing this
as white as the pith of an orange.

Is she okay?
Her face is as red and sweaty
as a boiled beet.

Everything’s fine.
She’s durable.
She wasn’t born with a high temperature.

And her sweetness isn’t compromised.
Nor is the softness of her voice.

She’s vulnerable, as we all are.
A baby bawling for its comforter.
But tough like a hard-backed chair.

Her sickness is merely filtered through
the skin that she wore the last time 1 saw her.

Call it tropical orchards in bloom if you must.
Or any plant that’s nasty and meaty and beautiful
as all hell.

 

THE ARGUMENT FADES WITH THE MILES

For the longest time
I thought it was going to be
one of those futile drives

when nothing I said
could salve your mood exactly right
and I plead endlessly
until frustration overwhelms

but then the road
had the good sense
to change from paved to gravel
and the suburbs gave way

to farms and hay meadows
then rolling blue hills
followed by deep lush woods –

I stopped talking,
you still said nothing

but I had a sense
that there is more than
one kind of silence –

there’s that which sets itself up
as a counterpoint to sound –

there’s that which
chooses to hold its tongue

often and without warning.

 

REPENT AT YOUR LEISURE

No more tear
of conception, beds, relatives, bodies.
And virginal loneliness.
Sex happened
and it didn’t kill you both.
It was more like humanity
than you imagined
and less like a playground
for youth.
It reminded you of
the time you had orchestra seats
for a play,
front row in fact.
You could reach out
and almost touch the actors.
Only now.
it was more than almost.
You might never see him again
but you could always have husbands later.
For now,
you could believe that
was as close as life had ever got
to being all about you.
It may not have been heaven
but it was better
than nothing ever was.

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John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly.

Two Poems

John Grey

MIRROR

A mirror serves a purpose,
strives to remain constant
despite the changing faces –
sometimes someone new,
sometimes the same one
but a day older.

It’s not just
the one gray hair,
the blemish on the chin.
It reflects everything.
It’s up to us to pick and choose.

A mirror is okay with lake water
doing the job for it,
rippling a face
like a snake casting off slough.

Or even a window,
both in the glass family
even if the unwitting pane
can only accommodate parts of people
and, even then, its accuracy is disputed.

A mirror is not devious.
merely holds to the two dimensional doctrine:
return all that it is given
perfectly intact.
It has no interest
in where we go, what we do,
after we’re done looking.

For a mirror has no inner life,
is content to stare at a wall
until we return

A mirror can’t tell ugliness from beauty
though it assumes, on some level,
that, if we stare into it long enough,
we’ll make our own judgment.

A broken mirror, they say.
brings seven years’ bad luck.
But only if it’s the seven years’ bad luck
we already had coming.

 

GLAMOR QUEEN

The lady is idolized.
Forget the accomplishments.
Her perfect figure
warrants preserving after death.

Love the fantasy.
Skin stops at the edge of our inquiry.
Her eyes say
you’ve come far enough…
wallow in the color.

She had a child,
She wed a man.
She even has a delicate scar
beneath her skin
from a minor car accident.

But her breasts don’t believe
in life stories.
And her hips have nothing to gain
from how she pays her bills on time.

The lady is in our heads
posing for our thoughts.
She can’t be in her head.
Her face won’t allow it.

LEOPARD SKIN

Blame the lack of stimulants in the air.
Call me an effigy made of stone.
But my blood refuses to be wooed
despite your come-hither gesture.

The moonlight lies like a sheet
on your spotted body.
Your language is a brighter shade of pink.
Lamp tries to warm

but the background music is frozen.
It’s your leopard-skin that’s at fault.
It prods my sensibilities like a pistol barrel.
What’s next? An ocelot coat?

You’re pushing a rock up a hill
if you imagine I can love you in that.
No, make that fighting a big cat bare-handed.
My ideals are clear on the subject.

I‘m so like the leopard,
searching for that justice we seek
but will never find.
And, despite your sexy winds blowing my way,

I will not waver.
For necrophilia, bestiality –
that is the love and sex you offer.
So here we are in the living room –

a man and a corpse
that’s embalmed by pretty green eyes
and a flash of shoulder-length black hair.
But the shadows under those eyes are pits.

Those tresses are a form of tallow.
Really, your insinuations arc beginning to sicken me
Sure, you insist your leopard-skin is really a fake.
But a fake’s the real thing in this light.

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John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly.

Three Poems

John Grey

SEX LIFE AND OTHER INJUSTICES

yes
the word is out
that when you slip
into your lover’s arms

it makes him feel as if
somebody sexier has just left –

that is you in a nutshell –

as is the way you talk on and on
about how much you hate
that sweat all over your body

when you really should be
sighing and moaning –

thanks to his loud mouth,
cruel jokes abound –

some reward for all those fake orgasms –

 

FOR JOSIE

She flared
at the slightest provocation

and scorched from
skin to sand
to rooftop

watched as the real air melted
and the flames took over –

she seared the newspapers
peeled the walls
buckled the floors
baked the earth –

she was hell on earth
for the right sort of devil

 

POUNCE POEM

An eel peers out
from underwater rock crevice –
a leopard looks down
from its leafy green tree blind –
a hawk soars high above
hilly, rocky terrain –
all are waiting to pounce
on an unsuspecting creature –
here comes fish, antelope, field mouse
gentlemen,
start your engines.

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John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and Silkworm work upcoming in Big Muddy Review, Main Street Rag and Spoon River Poetry Review.