John Grey

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review,Stillwater Review and Big Muddy Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Cape Rock and Spoon River Poetry Review.

A Florida Vacation

Waves awaken me
to the sight of pink, gray and white shells
that line the mantle,
their jaws agape
in yawns to match my own.

A window-slapping
palm tree frond,
the sun in bright dress
and yellow slippers,
coax me out of the sheets.

First cup of coffee
can barely contain itself
as, below me,
a crushed coral trail
leads through sea-grass
to spotless white sand
and foaming blue waves.

My nose is seduced
by a fragrance
of jacaranda and salt.
My skin wants in
on the warmth.

Seldom has indoors
seemed so perfunctory.
Outside is where the world is.
I throw on t-shirt, shorts,
clamber down stairs
like a man rushing into
the arms of his lover.

Is she a shoreline?
Is she an ocean?
Is she a sky?
Come on conventional divisions,
surprise me.

The Trail

I find the trail
the same as it has ever been,
highbush blueberry and rock,
ringed by hills,
the monsters of my boyhood nights.
Rediscovery is brought to grief
by the absence of so many.

Viburnum mist cloaks the way ahead
but the crunch of my footsteps on
last year’s leaves is all
the navigation I need.
On each side, firs compete with oaks
to see who can block the most sun.
For a time at least, the deciduous triumph
over the tall green lords of winter.

My reasons for coming here
are my reasons for being anywhere.
The present is like the head of a long line.
I’m drawn to turning it back on itself.

I find the pond where I had scooped up tadpoles,
run my fingers down the deep furrowed bark of white ash,
listen to the caw of unwelcoming crows
and the piping curiosity of chickadees.
All is as before. A forest is memory outside the head.

Navigator

Nothing else to do, they take a drive
to nowhere in particular, but away
from the suburbs. The car, at first,
protests from its deep chill within, but
slowly, assuredly, finds comfort
in its own manufactured heat.

He takes the wheel, she navigates,
but, mile after mile of snowed-in farms
and woods, the sameness tires her,
she falls asleep, taking the map with her.
He just keeps going and going,
taking each road like a child’s game
of which hand has the candy.
Details drifted over,
the world is contours,
a hill here, gully there,
a far white undulation.

He thought his neighborhood
was under winter’s brumal thumb
but there, at least, the people
with their shovels, foggy breath, fight back.
Here, the farmers leave their fields in idle,
and trees subsume to crystal shapes.
Without human intervention, the season is the land.

It will be night soon.
More worry for his broken compass.
He nudges her arm to wake her.
The car brakes from time to time
but it’s the emptiness that must have a stop.

He wonders should he turn back.
The clouds are gray and low.
Flakes adorn the road with promise of more to come.
He’s lost.
It’s up to her, not these surrounds, to find him.
How lovely she looks,
like something newly fallen,
fresh and unconscious as the snow.

Graffiti Guy

When I had no paper, I took to the walls.
As pens were denied me, I came upon
an old spray can with paint still in it.

No, that wasn’t it. When no movie star
would give me a second glance, I launched
my face into ordinary people.

I couldn’t afford the Ritz. I lived
at home with my mother. When my
mother died, I had only myself for assurance.

Spray can in hand, I splattered my name
across walls. I couldn’t sing
like Ray Charles. I talked tough.

I couldn’t write my own name on a check.
I pointed to it on the side wall of the Laundromat,
on the front door of the cheap chicken place.

When I had no comeback, I took a bullet
in my left thigh. Not a drop of blue blood
but an ocean of red. Same as my spray paint.

Red on the bridge. Red on the church steps
Yeah, that’s me on the stop sign. Funny
choice, seeing as how I never could stop.

Guerrilla

AK47s lie awake under pillows.
It’s more than a dream can stand.
Enemy soldiers bursting through the door.
Even your own man turned traitor,
his rifle pointed in the direction
from which he came.
It all could turn to bullets flying any moment.
There is no real sleep,
just these scattered bits of unconsciousness,
shrapnel taking its lead
from hate and fear,
those favorite tropical diseases.
The bigger the gun,
the larger the rationale,
says the local wise man,
the one now hanging from a tree.
Life is where the rest of us
are abandoned, left to die,
adds another.
He’s selling out his tribe, even now.
It’s a wretched night, as always.
Jungle heat sucks up the kindness.
Bird screech absolves all guilt.
Lions feast on the sick, the lame.
Hyenas howl where this is heading.
And a head feels the barrel pressing,
the trigger shaped and ready to be pressed.
Next morning, gun and man unite at the hip.
The world is overweight with tension.
But it’s death that gets the exercise.

photo by: tommy japan