Tuesday 8 November 2022

Five Poems by John Grey




Down from the north,

winds descend on the village,

question the need for light,

or calm or warmth.


And their wilful probing

addles the responses

behind red eyes, blue lips,

cheeks penetrated

by a thousand syringes of chill,

and bodies bent toward

the freezing dusk,

as they struggle to negotiate

iced-over remnants of puddles

sidewalks of bilious snow.


Sure, it’s just weather,

but imagine if it was some kind of monster.

It’s the worst of winter,

but what if it truly was a malignant force.


A woman falls down in the streets,

is immediately set upon

by the brumal beast,

by the frigid evil.


So, it is these things.

I apologize for mentioning them.





You are not responsible.


Your fists were too small.

And your kick wouldn’t budge

a soccer ball,

let alone hurt a man

five times your size.


And the knife could barely cut bread

let alone a human heart.

Same as the stuff you threw:

stuffed animals, plastic cups,

spoonfuls of mashed potato.

They were harmless,

no matter how much

your brain weaponized them.


He dropped dead from

myocardial infarction.

It could have been diet.

Or even hereditary.

Your worst thoughts

had nothing to do with it.


Yes, you can still say sorry.

But regret is not confession of a crime.




Moments before sleep, I hear men -
I'm wedged between listening and dreams -

it's the waterfront – the tide not merely about moons and ocean

but strident voices empowered by fog -
winch engines, the loud drop offish -
church bells in white vestments -
the last boat honking into dock -
everything scattered, then enlarged,
by the thickening curtain of men's light
and God's dark/


and there's always a truck, in and out of the warehouses,
packed to the brim for a night on a distant interstate -

and this is before the drunkenness,
the drops of salty rain,
my window braced for weather
and my head for where I live these days -

but I'll sleep well enough -
even at its worst, the bay's a pillow,
the gloomy harbour,
soft, straightened sheets -
even at their rowdiest,
I pull the people up over me -

somewhere, out there in emptiness,
low clouds spill into wind and chasten -
all reasons for waking are whisked away.



Here’s the place where

the Chinese miners were murdered.

It’s the Snake River.

Don’t worry.

You can go near.

It won’t bite.


It’s the spot

where the usual drunken hotheads

descended on the camp

guns blazing,

firing at anything brown-skinned

that moved.

It’s safe now.

Even if you’re a tourist from Korea.


More American history shame

as if it didn’t have enough already,

what with slavery

and the slaughter of the native tribes.

But these were just a few Chinese miners.

Not an entire race.

You could even say

this was just a blink

in the way we see ourselves.


The bodies are buried.

The blood’s been scraped clean

from the rocks.

So open your eyes.

It’s okay to look now.





I can’t let go

the first girl

I ever held tight to me.


I can feel her in my arms,

still just fourteen years of age,

down by the quarry,

with its white cliffs

and deep cobalt blue waters.


The back of her waist

is in my palms,

her brand-new body

is full against mine

and the quiet dusk

is in just about everything.


No love there of course.

Maybe a spark.

But first times

intensify with the years.

The veins won’t release them.

Nor the bones.


I won’t let go

till I let everything go.



John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Stand, Poetry Salzburg Review and Red Weather. Latest books, “Covert” “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Washington Square Review and Open Ceilings.



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