Tuesday 26 July 2022

Five Poems by John Tustin




I grieve for those

Who are not dead

But have been taken from me.


I grieve for those

Who, when they were taken,

Began to die inside


And are still dying

And dying,

Never to be quite dead.


My grief is not greater

Than yours

But I know your grief well –


I have felt the same kind of grief

For those who have died

Or gone to dementia.


My grief is a grief

Of burying the dead

While they still live elsewhere.


At night

Their dirt-covered ghosts

Enter the trapdoor in my dreams.


I try to hold them,

Kiss them,

Tell them things


But their mouths are sown shut,

Their faces turned away,

They stand just beyond reach.


Everyone grieves

But I sit Shiva

For the living dead.


In a house of covered mirrors,

I sit in my one chair and

I grieve for me.




You make the old men hot

when you shake your phatass like that.

most of them

don’t even think about touching you

while you are grinding it out,

don’t even think about anything, just drift off

into a half-a hard-on dream.

I like that your hair is all messed up

and while the rest of them are staring at your ass

I take a glance yes

but it’s your face I keep looking at

and the sweat trickles on your neck

that show how hard you’re working

to give those old men their half hard-ons

and that fugue state vacant smile

that they will wear all the way home

back to their primitive and unuttered sadness.




There was a man who looked like me

And he did many bad things.

He also didn’t do things he swore he would do.

He wore my clothes and stole my name

And he even had my smile.


There was a man who looked like me

And you would have been wise not to trust him

Or, at the very least,

To not believe what he promised even if he believed it.

It was hard to look in his eyes and really know anything.


There was a man who looked like me

And I don’t know where he is now.

I wonder if he’s aged like me,

Has on the clothes that I wear now;

If we still wear the same crooked smile.


There was a man who looked like me

And there is no telling where he is now

So if you see a man who looks like me

I wouldn’t put any faith in him:

Not even if he answers to my name.




In the old folk and country songs

They refer to it as ramblin’ –

Calling it rambling just won’t do.

It evokes the image of a lone man –

A lone and inextricably American man –

Whose itch to move can only be scratched

By going town to town, job to job and heart to heart,

Having all sorts of exciting or sad adventures.

He’d leave women, wives, swollen bellies,

Babies crying for or cursing papa

In his bindle-stiffed wake.

Alternately praising, forgiving and gently chastising,

The songs about the ramblin’ man evoked yearning

Or a misting over of the eyes –

Not for the women and children he’d abandoned

But for the loneliness of his choices

That the songs opined were not choices at all

But inevitable destinies.

Men trapped in homes of dull work and boredom

Dreamed of being brave enough to walk the lonely highways,

Hop the cold rusty rails.

It seemed magical and unreal.


I’ve longed to be a staying man –

Coming home to my wife and kids,

A cat waiting for my lap or a dog waiting to curl at my feet;

Feeding my meagre earnings into piano lessons for the kids

Or a new set of tires for the weary old jalopy

Yet somehow I have moved, alone, from place to place:

Pushed by need or the big broom of fate

That tends to tuck the least of us deeper and deeper

Into the corners, out of sympathetic eyesight,

Out of the earshot of love as the years get shorter.

Here I am, rearranging my bindle before hoisting it on the stick


The Lord loves a ramblin’ man

But has a funny way of showing it –

Giving him nothing but a small conscience

And many thousand songs to sing as he walks away again.




For some reason I just recalled this homely girl

Who was around my age and used to come into the store

Where I worked and talk to me sometimes.

I was in my late teens. I don’t remember what we talked about.

I only vaguely recollect her but I remember one moment.

There was an Italian social club across the street and one day

She came in with a cappuccino she bought for me

And I told her that I didn’t drink cappuccino.

I don’t remember her name now. She stood there and talked a minute,

Then left with my cappuccino. I don’t remember if she also bought one for herself.


I wasn’t interested in her and after a few months she stopped showing up.

Girls are a lot better, on average, at picking up signals.

All I remember now is turning down the cappuccino. This isn’t the first time that

I’ve thought about it in the last thirty years –

From time to time it pops up and I feel the same feeling I felt the moment after I said it -


Regret that I’m not a more thoughtful human being.


When someone offers you a cappuccino, just take it and thank them.

Have a nice conversation and move on with your life if you want to move on.

You’ll spend your life fretting and wondering and tortured over and about so many things –

I’m trying to help you own a few less of those things.

Just take the cup and say thank you, then have a sip.

John Tustin’s poetry has appeared in many disparate literary journals since 2009. fritzware.com/johntustinpoetry contains links to his published poetry online.


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