October 18, 2014


John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in Paterson Literary Review, Southern California Review and Natural Bridge with work upcoming in New Plains Review, Leading Edge and Louisiana Literature.


Her dolls had
it in for me,
They used their cold stone eyes
as artillery.

There were four of them in all,
laid out on her quilt,
one beside the other,
in red, in white,
in green, in yellow.
One peek in the bedroom
and I got the message.
Six is a crowd.

I paid her back
with my guitar.
It sat in my lap,
cradled by my arms.
My plectrum
raked the strings
as my callused fingertips
waltzed up and down
the frets.
My quaking voice
issued a dispatch.
There's only room
in here for one.

On bad nights,
she'd lie in bed
clutching her four
little antique china figurines.
I'd strum and sing
the bitterest tunes I knew.

For our two years together,
balms to the heart
never moved on
from weapons.

It's been eighteen years since
you've been anything other than
a photograph and an occasional email.
I've moved on, as they say.
You've moved around,
which is different.

I don't even bother with the old places.
New owners and not my memories.
New blends of coffee
and different lips pressing
on the cup rim.

I still play some of those
CD's you introduced me to:
Nick Cave though not the Violent Femmes,
occasionally Elliot Smith or Kurt Cobain...
what is it with you and dead guys?

But the books you recommended didn't stick.
My first Kurt Vonnegut was my last.
"Bridges Of Madison County" anyone?

I haven't been back to
the George Washington management area
where we walked around the lake
or even the East Side streets
except to show someone from out of town
the real Providence.
Not that these are sacred places.
But, as I've said, I've moved on.

I still write my head, my heart, off
but I don't need the feedback
from the woods, the quaintness
of the street-lamps and the houses.
My study is enough:
the stereo thick-layered with dust,
the books piled high in need of shelves.
I've moved in as well as moving on.

And you've grown older in my absence.
If I know you at all, it's you at eighteen,
before college, before travel,
before the sickness
that has cruelled you for life,
that has you being shipped here, there,
about the country,
in search of some place where you can live.

Your body hates you, so I hear.
It conspires with mold, appliances,
even movement.
What others take for granted,
grants you no peace.
What hurts is that you never
have become what I knew you'd be.
Eighteen years for poetry to ripen.
That's what your body has on its conscience.

Strange how on a cold December morning,
I am writing this poem.
Stranger still that I refer to myself writing it.
I'm not usually so inside the blessed things.
Really, my poems and I...
it's been so long since we were a couple.

And yet, here I am,
reminiscing more than anything
while somewhere down below
my fingers work like those slaves
in Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
I've moved on, so I say,
but there's still times in my life
that tag along for the ride.

Another email.
You're in Florida this time.
You've found some kind of safe house.
Maybe here, the things that make the rest of us strong
won't kill you.
That's your hope.
I've got you at eighteen to fall back on:
a young woman lovely and smart
and gifted beyond belief.
If I could, I'd send her to you.


Dog barks go over and over
the details in my head.
Car brakes join them,
especially when slammed
and skidding the vehicle sideways,
Let's not forget sirens -
ambulance or cops,
even the fire truck -
they want in on the action.
As does the storm.
I've mind enough for lightning,
thunder, downpour,
even blizzard
if I'm cold enough.

So what do they all leave me with -
echo and puddles,
bludgeoning and icicles hanging
from every second thought.
I try counting sheep.
Then I try discounting them.
There's no "baa" in my brain
Only explosions and text messages
from terrorists.
My wife rolls over,
accidentally hugs me.
My body -
night's next plan of attack.

~John Grey

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