Ten poems by Mary K. Herbert


The poet in February felt exceedingly merry
watching the river hasten to the sea.
Its winter burden it carried lightly,
great slabs of New York ice, skating south,
skimming along the decisive current
to Chesapeake Bay. Life's patterns, she said brightly,
are quickly revealed in late winter's routes.
The river shows its stuff, and has no need of unsightly
tourists wrapped in chic cliches,
making pronouncements about the weather or fate.
Dirty chunks of old ice, like props from Titanic-
a movie-like slide to the bay, while digital eyes
attempt to record it all, longing to make meaning
so the imagery won't melt into photocopied lies


Honest. So many ways to waste my life.
I too could lie in a hammock and suddenly
realize that horses are the meaning of life.
Hours lost, many ideas down the drain.
Why bother, except that I love seeing chickadees
at the feeder, or hummingbirds at the hosta.
I can't write poems any more, what I say has
already been said many times,
in many rhymes. At this point, I oughta
have wisdom and kindness to share. Nope,
no such luck. I worry about ticks, thunderstorms.
On a positive note, coneflowers are terrific bouquets,
corn on the cob is a sublime summer treat.
Yet I have no counsel for those who manage wars,
no comfort for those who are weak for lack of love.
Try the next poet, some other poem full of stars


In February we drove through the honeymooner hills,
on the Interstate cutting a swathe through winter chill-
a straight line to the Finger Lakes, in the kingdom
of winter. Mile after mile of downed trees lined our route,
bark and branches split open, limbs akimbo, roots up-
ended, the end, the end, of so many sylvan stories.
A horrific ice storm did all this damage, raping nature,
slashing and leveling birch after birch. Frost of course
knew. He could describe it. I could only gasp, and then
toy with images, as at 80 mph, we approached the Endless
Mountains (their real name), a calmer vista to welcome
cars carrying poets to the embrace of a safer geography



"Where is the library?"
A visitor to the campus asked me
directions to wisdom and wit,
so I replied "Straight ahead,
and then a dog leg left."
I spoke without a thought,
my slothful academic mind
meandering around a water hazard
as I desultorily contemplated
grading papers, a glass of wine.
"You play golf?" he asked,
suddenly smiling, maybe thinking
of the pleasures of some long-ago
links, a little white ball cleaving
the universe to erase research tasks.
"No," I said, grasping an invisible
nine iron like Bill Murray or Tiger,
"I used to, but now I focus on
other sports, like watching the Mets."
"Were you any good?" he lobbied.
"Not really," I confessed, bowing
to St. Augustinian pressure, telling
the truth, hard for a golfer to do.
"Well, it's a great game," grinned
the stranger, taking a left, knowing.


"Mary, you could learn. You need to get out on a real course."
My old friend with that South Carolinian drawl was a natural golfer,
his lanky frame and lean arms attesting to long drives straight and true.
He took me on my first visit to a golf course. Patiently he guided
my practice swings, polishing their rough geometry. The ball
deceived me like a Southern accent, scenes of magnolia ease.


O the sporting demands of romance!
In the city's bowels, twice a week I practiced
drives and putts into a net near Penn Station.
Commuters hurried home, while I fiercely
got a grip on my grip again and again to win
approval from my love, a gifted golfer. He
of course had a natural swing, no need
for these indoor rehearsals. It's all make-believe,
deceit, no? Then it was the two of us on a course-
he patiently smoked while I revealed my newly
honed indoor slice of life. That embarrassed ball
loopily danced across the fairway, on its journey
toward an unreachable goal. Two guys
behind us (Dante? Virgil?) ran out of patience.
"Mind if we play through?" They were courteous,
but we (and you) know I would never master
the wood, whether we played in Paradise
or the alternative courses. I stood aside.
Yet the greens still beckon, in a life
arched over by those old longings.


Her son and daughter, old enough to vote, sprawl
on couches in the cabin. Country flies buzz by.
Progeny sleep in the appropriately soporific heat
of August. It's hazy. Sophomoric behavior stirs, peaks.
They are far from a favored beach. Trees close in.
Her spouse prefers the woods, not coves, not sand.
On arrival he pulls weeds with startling pleasure.
Clumps of dirt cling to naked roots. Not hers, whose?
"Fill the bird feeder," he commands. His moccasins
are planted in fresh raked earth. Plans mushroom.
"What's with the kids?" he asks. "Soon as they get here,
they nap." Sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care—
a coy, Shakespearean defense. Summer wanes.
Next on the list: goldenrod, asters, maples announce
their fall. Day lilies, day lilies! Autumn is not far away.
Sleep, children. Afternoons of argument, what you wish
to flee melts into late summer's shadows. Cicadas
thrum an eternal tune. Somnolent planet. It's all just fine.


His audit necessitates their working every weekend,
white button-down shirts with the sleeves rolled up,
encamped around the conference table on a Sunday
with account books and adding machines and tapes
spilling coiled numbers onto the elegant carpet, all
conveying good and bad news to management on
Monday. At each elbow was an ashtray well filled
with butts, and each ruddy face greeted me with a
knightly smile on my arrival, I the progeny of the head
auditor, I with visiting rights. The young CPAs worked
on Sunday, homesick for the home office, marooned
here in the fancy-schmancy quarters of a money-losing
subsidiary. Adding machine tape everywhere! This
is how it was. No laptops, no mainframes, no names.
Just give us the checks, my father laughed, and we
will construct the story. The checkbooks will reveal
the Truth, they bragged, and justify working on the
Lord's Day. Somebody has to do it. Later they
will break for steak and Scotch. For now, my father
says, keep at it, guys. I want to show the boss's office
to my daughter. The boss at this particular outpost
was a woman, so he thought I would be pleased to
see the inner sanctum, which combined power
with a feminine touch. Her Queen Anne desk stood
by big window overlooking Fifth Avenue. The room
was as I thought it should be: Oriental vases, flowers
(a bit wilted over the weekend), small crystal doodads
on the window sill, a Parker pen on her desk for signing
admission slips to a prosperous future, or so I thought,
as I stood where she might have stood, enjoying the
wind-whipped view up the avenue, women in mink
hurrying home from church, do you think? Or on
their way to assignations? The cop on the corner
probably knew, the accountants working next door
in the conference room- they must have known.
That's enough, says Dad, tour is over, back to work.
I can hear him now, with his cheery pronouncements.
He rejoined his team, I headed home cold and alone,
entranced with corner offices and symbols of power.

Tales of an Ex-Jersey Girl:


Carriage house: that first apartment, a romantic shed
behind an old house that had seen many carriages
and cars in constant streams heading toward Route 4,
destiny every morning, in the 9 to 5 scrambling for
success, new faces and places to be well fed.
Here one began life as an adult playing house,
pretending to enjoy marriage and arranging pillows
and books. She hung pots outside the door, growing
vinca which thrived, vines hanging down all around,
blowing in the wind, like chimes
announcing this play, this sacrament, starring
Hansel and Gretel in a gingerbread house, slamming
windows shut against the rain. Imagining, always,
that horses will come back, the smell of harness
will again mark the spot, our dead time.


It is called a garden apartment.
No garden, but a strip of lawn links
a row of garage-mouths for essential cars
and the street where raccoons wait
to poach rows of well-stuffed garbage cans.
Are you impressed with these suburban
nooks for the newly married? No one
would hibernate here very long, all move
on to home ownership in a year or so,
or slowly die, listening to crows and radios.
Pregnant, the new wife does laundry every day,
listens to robins outside the second storey,
waits for the sun to move across each room.
Sunlight escapes every day, and sounds
of tires on the gravel drive mark the hours.
Every evening people come home, park,
turn on air conditioning and TV, drown
out the sounds of birds at dusk, or even
the rumble of summer storms shaking
casement windows, a touch of humor.


They bought it. A cookie-cutter cottage in the suburb
of Colonial-style boxes lined up like, well, cookies on a tray.
Each family got a square of lawn to cut. Eden.
This is what vets fought for, yes, we know, they
envisioned addresses perched by streets with elegant
English names. G.I.s tasted blood, and watched their own
lives ooze into the sand far from supermarkets and diners
in dreams. Tiny house, basic model with asbestos shingles,
shutters on front windows, and a real fireplace. Heaven.
Actually, they would need to remodel paradise,
add a bath, a bigger kitchen where one could brood
about school taxes, ungrateful kids, and the sullen
spouse who pines for something else.


We face the Atlantic, at our personal Dunkirk:
here we perch on private pillars for a week.
While you build a ship model, I sink in bleak

thoughts about how life should be a beach,
more than just seven days here until we reach
once more for paychecks. Our love will leach

into the expensive sand until it is not likely
we will ever return here for summer's folly
or even a brooding winter's walk on the jetty.

A house on the beach seemed to advertise
Heaven for a week, time to rest ears and eyes.
But I heard gulls mewing, echoes of our lies.

Early in the mornings, beach lovers jogged
along the edge, sometimes with an amiable dog.
Waking to sounds of surf, I saw you in a fog,

hiding under the covers, curled in landlocked
sleep. On watch, I paced that pricey deck,
counting pieces of a puzzle, your ship, our wreck.

--Mary Kennan Herbert

Seven poems by Trina Scordo


a stem reaches out
from a clogged gutter
like the cold thin finger of an anxious child

Jakeema was shot
on a bare sidewalk
his 10 speed bicycle wilted
against the community center fence
a disposed pack of Newports
flutters under a chalky oak

the bronchitis cough of a 5 year old girl
stammers in damp July air
the night pops
like a beer can
the hiss of wet aluminum
rain on tar

a child's saliva stained pillowcase
the stale sticky mouth of fear
waits for the drive-by
the drop off the pick up

a 17 year old boy
bent and fatigued
sits on a loose-limbed porch
he is the under-aged
minimum waged

the bottomless blades of broken glass
the frail strands of alleyway weeds
burn and smolder like the salty ashes of Darfur


Nonna dusts flour
kneads homemade dough
on the formica, aluminum altar
in the center of the pink basement

the kitchen table rocks
with her movement
she shows me
how to arrange black olives
in the squared pizza dough
I follow her thick and swollen fingers
along the edges of the pan
my 6 year old fingers
fill in the white spaces

She pours olive oil
spreads September's homemade sauce
from a heated mason jar
grates mozzarella
I break the first commandment of the kitchen
and steal a taste
of each raw ingredient

Nonna removes my hand from the dough
places a piece of bread in my mouth
her hands smell of fresh parsley and basil

She gives me orders in Italian
I respond in English

Foreign and native are the same to me

After lunch, Nonna and I walk down
Main Street to Schweitzer's Clothing Store
Rose the clerk understands
improvised sign language

I am a first grade translator
I ask the bus driver for directions
does he go to the Social Security building
form a line, form A, form B, sign here
a fill in for intimate discussion

We arrive home
to the sanctity of the kitchen
all the rituals are in place
vino e pane
a tavola


the sun sets behind a patchwork of Route 46 used car dealers
a reed filled lot on the south banks of the hackensack river
used to be a drive-in theatre
firestone wheels hum on steel grates of a drawbridge
dad tells me the moon is following us
down and then up the two blocks of catherine street hill
back to our first floor hampshire house apartment

the scent of turpentine and nicotine
at 5 years old, i am aware
of intoxicating flammables
dad measures distance
with one eye closed
thumb sized against a blank canvass
a Winston cigarette dangles
from the left corner of his mouth
i place the end of a paintbrush
in a pencil sharpener, he smiles
mixes oil paint on a wood palette
at 7 years old i can name Dali, Picasso, Escher

dad wears his keys on the loop of his janitor work pants
when he comes home i clip his keyring to my levis
he lets me steer along anderson ave
the Sunday morning drive to pedoto's bakery shop
1971 hunter green oldsmobile cutlass
white racing stripes on the front and back hood
green vinyl bucket seats are rough and textured
my fingers fit in the smooth grooves of the steering wheel
DMV inspection sticker
a centered black number 10
the year 1977 split
into yellow corners

saturday in hudson terrace park
the grass is dotted with daiseys and dandelions
he buys me a red and yellow plastic helicopter
the kind with the pull-string which propels it into the sky
blue, unmoving
like one of dad's easel paintings

a rainy april dawn
i question the existence
of the easter bunny
dad turns his thumbprints into rabbit prints
along my bedroom windowsill

in nonno's backyard
dad builds a wooden swing set
my name painted in black thick letters
on a piece of plywood at the tip of the a-frame
when i was 11, mom and dad divorced
the swing set taken apart
i looked out of the basement window
white pieces of wood stacked
in a debris pile along the metal garden fence
my name plate hung from a twisted rusty nail

dad never talks about his parents
his father, a disinherited doctor who died at 98
or his calabrisella mother
he told me one story about his childhood
the american gi that gave him a hershey bar
as soldiers marched through ferrazzano
past the dusty spine of a cathedral

he left home at 17 to join the italian army
when i was 17
dad gave me his father's binoculars
he handed me the brown leather carrying case
we stared out of his hi-rise window
into the twilight of rush hour headlamps
flashing red lights
of the george washington bridge
we said nothing

he and I hugged once
when he got remarried
his hand squeezed the midsection of my back
i tugged his right shoulder
then we pulled away as if our breath had stopped

dad and i are incomplete
obscured by red and blue hues
misplaced angles, endless stairwells
like the winding white lights
of the parkway on a hazy August night


the first time I thought I'd choke
on my tongue at the dinner table
a broken plate on a linoleum floor

I saw every fight
on the road in a vinyl seat Buick
on a red living room carpet
in a dark wood bedroom
shouts about a steady job
and tubes of oil paint that sit in a closet
I never said anything
to anyone about losing control

I heard everything through plaster walls
the fight that made Dad sleep
in granpa's garage
on a Saturday night
I was at a bus stop with him
in front of Shop Rite
without change
we called mom collect
to get a taxi home
and I was afraid of an unfamiliar cab
on a strange road without guardrails

I don't want it to be me
in the back seat
of a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass
shaking and alone
drymouthed like my mother's scared ghost
my father's insecure hand and pallet

I dream about Dad's paintings
the one with burnt mannequins
on Escher stairs
and a closed down factory
I live in that house with a guillotine in the front yard
and a baby caught in an attic spider web
a one arm Viet Nam vet for company

it has taken 30 years
for the fear to rise from my stomach
drip from my tongue
Dad lives like disappointment
a discontinued spare part
empty as an unpatched ceiling hole
the broken glass I cannot wash from my hands

July 2002


it makes me shake
how she wears defeat
in shades of seaside green
tired as a skeleton
fatigued with cancer

I visit her alone
a child
in a haunted mansion
behind gray garage doors
skin and thoughts collapse
on a battered linoleum floor

I have been inside
her pale laughter
peeled back layers of plywood
like scar tissue
only to see her raped walls
stripped stomach
bloated with beer bottles
cheap plastic streamers
and popped off bic lighters

I come here to pick copper locks
find snapshots in a keyhole
listen to 30 years of strung out
rock and roll through broken windows
I know her dark shutdown rooms
like nights when I would hide
behind a bedroom door
cover my eyes and ears

this is where childhood rusts
in the back of a faded yellow arcade
like a dismantled fairytale
a boarded carousel house
red and cracked
waits for a hurricane that never comes

August 2002


in this town
metal street signs are poems
buried in Jersey sunsets

I drive on her roads
where rebuilt engines die
on empty highways
comfortable in these gloves
worn for a life of fist fights and ashes

I have seen her stripped
roof blown off cold
boardwalk limbs scarred
alone like a frozen serpent

her streets are shelters
for homeless geniuses
who walk with history in a knapsack
and music in the grooves of their skin

there are no secret skeletons
crushed between rusted basketball courts
stucco seaside bars and wild flower lots
her empty buildings are my obsession

when I'm scared she lets me know
it's okay to hide
in seaweed stained alleys
follow songs to 1975
or some other year
that wasn't meant for me

I walk miles on her penniless beaches
no special destination
a pure product of words and guitars
searching for a melody in her twisted arms

January 2002


my father's name falls
like swept sand
on this gray beach
the boardwalk is smaller
than he promised
and the arcade is dull
like his distant image

electric swings
and an iron rollercoaster clatter empty
the consequence of a misspent
Jersey summer
5 blue haired boys in Jenkinsons
4 grip the smooth sided sanctuary
of pinball machines
1 plays skee ball alone
on a gritty paisley carpet
I stood where he stands
waiting for the excitement
of my father's footsteps
on wooden beach stairs

it is just like Dad
to show me the July side of a beach
never the truth of ripped awnings
that flap in March rain
or dirty orange amusement lights
that fade in coastal fog

he never told me
about the unkind crest of a wave
the stinging dark sand beneath the blue
he never called me
as the steel mill burned and collapsed
I learned to navigate in a city of dark circles
on trampled shore roads
the endless clank of video games and coins
comfortable and useless as his voice

--Trina Scordo

Poetry by John Grey


Rain falls steady on the sidewalk.
No matter how heavy the downpour,
it's always lighter than the concrete.
And when the storm clears,
and the sun pours through the broken clouds,
the rays are even lighter still.
The dark, even at the closeness,
the peak of its heat, is never so
thick, so dripping with density.
as what I put my foot down on
to get me places.

Then more rain comes.
But I don't mind being saturated.
And more brightness
to smile in my eyes.
Some scorching heat, some
impenetrable dark,
but nothing steamy, gloomy,
as the words I speak,
the ones my tongue must glide from under, stumble through, to make even the most mute of sense.

Rain that won't quit.
And then endless light.
Temperatures to tame
defiance, treachery.
Night to vanquish all people.
And none to approach
the landscape, the weather,
the meat of the body.
For what I will say to you when I get there,
no climate can speak of,
no weather can arrive.


I have loved the dead when
they were living and now the
dead when they are dead. I
have loved them in the houses

and in the ground, in the sunlit
kitchens and on the sunlit hills.
I have grieved for them too,
both living and dead. I have welcomed their peace, in the bed,
or in the ground. And have suffered
alongside their pain, when it
was happening, and now, as it lingers, long after there's a
rasping, screaming human being to
contain it. I am loving, loving,
loving, as the flesh turns to spirit,

and the bodies to bodies of water
and air. I keep watch over
the places where they lived or
the places where we buried them.

I am hurrying down an unpaved road,
with my hair flying and my shirt flapping.
I'm the link between home and grave.
It's a dirty job but someone has to love it.


Once more.
the night's corpse
is dragged away
on a stretcher of light,
right under my nose,
to be buried at sea,
or thrown from a mountain top
or ashes scattered on wind
and swallowed by shadows. And I should be mournful
but the thrush won't have it.
Sorrow should modulate my speech
but the warm has got my tongue.
And for every pallbearer,
there's ten dozen stalks of ripe grain.
And when the lid is lifted off the world,
who can see one sealing tight a coffin?

It was a grand night
that outlived its usefulness.
There was love and freedom
and wild times
but, at nine o'clock in the morning,
breakfast has them beat.
And there's even a certain relief
that, when the undertaker came,
he didn't measure us
for the same drab graveyard
that the early hours are headed for.
We even kiss
though not like when the night was living.
A perfunctory brush of lips, momentary hug,
and on to coffee transfusion.
There's a passion to survive
even if survival is no passion.


You are asked, why not mother,
as if child in hand
absolves you of...
what did you say
you purposely dismantled,
wantonly wrecked?
It's the baby season
and your stomach's bare.
In their eyes,
you could kill your first
as long as you had a second.

Look, your sister's pregnant.
She's swallowed a small planet
but her shape is now sacrosanct.
She's becoming a monument
to a fertility God.
And you... you turn your back
on all potential sculptors.

It's been hinted at.
Are you barren?
Can no man
want your life story, as a chapter in his own?
Look at your sister.
She's having a child.
You're bearing up under an inquisition.
Another's life,
a life your own...
it's a race to the birth.


The dead don't haunt
for spite.
They're like those people
who return because
they forgot something.
But they have no way of knowing
what that something is.

And they don't whisper
in my ear to annoy me.
They've got no one else
to talk to.
For some reason,
the dead can't speak to the dead.
Without me, apparently,
the art of conversation dies.

The dead are in the closet
trying on my clothes.
They're in the stereo humming
to my favorite songs.
I like to think well maybe
it's my father
or the friend who died of leukemia
last year,
but the dead are just dementia
without bodies.
They don't know who they are
so how am I to know.

Ultimately, the dead haunt
because of job security.
It's the one thing the living
don't do as well.
The last one who tried it on me
had a name
and even knew why she was here with me.
I didn't wish her dead though.
Just replaced by one who was.


I could change into
a werewolf. If I can feel
the hurt of someone dying
on me or falling out
of love with me then
I can imagine great dark
shoots of hair bursting
out of my palms, my throat,
my cheeks. If I can hear
someone say, I have only
another six months or
it's just not working,
then I can be the beast
under orders from that
fat yellow satellite,
roaming and killing.
If I could be hours,
days even, lying flat
on the bed, looking up
at the ceiling like
its peeling paint,
its webs, its spiders,
are a legitimate view
of the world, then
I can be down on all
fours and baying my
heart out. If there's nothing
that can't be taken away
from me, then there's
nothing I can't be.
If I can live with
people asking me how
I'm doing, then I can
be a good answer.


It was a jigsaw puzzle,
instant therapy.
I began at the edges,
even in those early stages,
believing here was a portrait,
a landscape, within reach
of my busy hands, good eye.
While everything fell apart,
I was putting this together.
I may have used more
pieces than was necessary,
tears from the bedroom,
fragments of guilt,
of retribution.
And sometimes, the silence
was so thick I could
break off whole slabs of that,
add it to the mix.
But the picture grew
despite this dissonance
in its ranks,
became something more even
than was on the outside
of the box.
It was a jigsaw puzzle,
five years of it.
No matter where I was,
I was working on it,
twenty four hours a day.
I'm not sure if it
was truly done
or if it was just a case
of nothing more that
I could do,
but one day I just left it
where it was
and thought no more about it.
With so much time
on my hands now,
I began to love you more.
Thus another puzzle began,
almost without my knowledge.


An entire canon of tricks and phoniness
is denied you.
Instead, he's showing the film of himself
as warm, romantic, flickering
silent images of Rudolph Valentine
He talks like champagne bubbles popping.
beneath a fluttering tent,
brings you to bed, his particular desert.
If only it were a field of grass,
he says, guiding his long caravan of sighs.
Still, you've never known a solitude so broad.
He touches you like blown sand does a face.
You ride a camel of insight,
years without water.
Finally, at the oasis,
you look up and he's barely there.
Flakes of his skin rub off,
flitter through the canopy of palms, dates.
He kisses you long and firm
like a hot, bleached skeleton might.
How smug, your loneliness,
the only source of moisture here.


There's a spectre of a man at the window,
on my side surprisingly, not hungry
to come in but struggling to get out,
trying to open it with his eyes,
like they're a beak and this room
is a bottle. He's out of Blake maybe.
Or the ghost of the stranger they fished
from the river when I was six. Funny
how, in life, death is the only thing
that sticks with you.
He's not the moment green flesh
emerged from the water and that shriveled
hand flopped down on the bank like a dead wave.
He's the real waves that followed.
The conclusion they never came to.
The suggestion that where there's
room for nothing, there's always room
for one more.

I almost hear a talk between doctors
in the corridor, heads bent into each other,
winding up each other's theories.
Could be a tumor churning his brain
into compost.
Has to be cancer ripping out the heart.

All of these night sweats and maybe
my phantom is a use this salty liquid
finds for itself, make a new man
while another recedes, moves away
from his outer flesh, soaring somewhere
inside himself on the magic carpet
of a new drug, promised by a genie
in a white coat that we'd land in the place
where the pain stops.

The doctors are arguing now, a couple
of conflicting diagnoses grabbing at
each other's throats.
Each wants his devil to be what
comes for me.

My ghost companion says,
well at least they're
not numbing you with needles,
as if a hole or two in my flesh
would be inspiration
for these holes to breed.
He knows there^s no way to force
the lock, so he settles on the glass,
breaks into watery pieces, each big
enough, content enough, to swallow a star.
There's always the desire, he says,
arrange what's left of you around that.
I'm not an angel, if that's what you're
thinking, he adds as he wobbles eerily
on his cross of light.


I gave my bird a mirror.
It thought it saw another canary,
stared, turned away, stared again
but, eventually, being wary
gave way to all-out aggression
at this intruder's unmitigated gall
at slipping into another's cage,
bright yellow feathers and all.
Eventually, though, the bird saw
the folly in glass-beak scrimmage,
began to develop a fondness
for this swaggering bird image.
Now he and I are on a wavelength
when it comes to reflection,
fear, anger, consternation
are now compromise, even affection.
Yes, much time is spent thinking
reflection is really good for me.
So he sings to the mirror like a man.
I chirp at mine like a canary.


A face spills from my handful of water.
A face ripples, unseeing,
across the soft current of my eyes.
If I were here for the drowning,
I would leap into the lake in my heavy clothes,
swim out to her flailing body,
haul her to shore on my shoulder,
kiss the life back into her and expect nothing for it.
If she did thank me, I would swim twenty
giddy, splashing laps like a crazed fish,
hand-stand my way around its circumference.
Instead, months later,
I bend down like a deer, a bear,
like something drinking at this pool.
That's why I lift her memory in my hands.
That's why the tiny drops spill through my fingers.
That's why I struggle with
the one place at the surface
that can conceal such depths.


It recalls an incident
but is spoken in another language now.
It knows it can't be eloquent
so it strives to be profound.
Survivor, it says
when it speaks at all.
Mostly, it reminds you of rail tracks,
hooked rugs, an addled uncle's
toothless smile.
Thankfully, they are all analogies
that need go no further
than the skin.

If the left cheek sat with the right
in a coffee house
sipping Java,
they would talk around it,
how the kisses felt
as they gingerly maneuvered
its rough borders,
how the mirror looked to the eyes
to be the pureness of the skin.
If thunder rumbled somewhere
in the background,
the flesh could say
that was it,
but the sky is always clear
and translucency tells
such great heart-warming lies.


There's nothing like a buckled floor
to hone those walking skills.
I have to be mindful
of where I tread
in these cramped rooms.
Oh yes and a shaking table
is the perfect device
for evening out the tremors
of a wobbly chair.
And imagination finds much fodder
in a bathroom
where rust can buff the skin
to gleaming
and a hose can be a shower.
And a view of a factory,
a brown river and an improvised dump,
brings out the egalitarian
in eyes spoiled by the superficiality
of farms and hills and greens
and smokeless sky.
And so does the pigeon shit
on the window-sill
and the skinny glow
of a flashlight
when the bulbs fail.
A lumpy mattress
is like a lecture
on the finer points
of sleep appreciation.
A rock-hard pillow makes
more points on the subject
here and there.
And always,
someone in the sheets beside me
reminds me
that I didn't have her
warm and close and cozy
when I was living fancy,
comfortable at home.
She kisses me then
and it feels like
when I tap the t.v. just right
and we get the picture back.


Late afternoon,
the sun dim
as a theater's dying applause,
I stand outside your house,
my feet still on the sidewalk,
but my hand upon the gate.

Every place is warm in me
but for the flesh
that touches metal.
Everything is known
but for the consequence
of that gate opening.

I see uncertainty
in a Cape Cod house
framed by garden.
I see uncertainty
in a path
from the world of many
to the front door of one.
I hear uncertainty creak
as I undo the latch,
and nervousness
squeaks by its hinges.

Soon, you will be another gate,
capable of such
expectancy and fear.
I will stand before your entry-way
just like this,
a whole body on the outside
but trembling fingers
feeling for the way in.
It will seem a safe and wide
and unfettered world
outside this gate of yours.
But it will be a world
in which no one loves,
no one really enters.


I'm sure the guy arranges
the call beforehand.
He wants us to know
that he's not alone in this world,
that there's somebody out there
who cares enough to speak to him
at five thirty in the afternoon,
halfway between the towns
of Sharon and Attleboro.
Once a trip,
more regular than the train itself,
heads jerk out of books,
conversation stops,
and everybody in the car
looks briefly at him.
But by the time he answers his cell phone,
he's old news and,
people go back to what they were doing.
For a moment, he feels the
acknowledgement, the admiration
of his fellow man.
But when he ends the conversation with,
"I love you too,"
it's only his wife who knows.


He's up early,
sniffing and scratching against the door.
He doesn't just want to go out,
he has to go out.
Soon, he's off and following the scent.
His busy nose makes me aware
that there's something in the grass.
There's more of it in the tree trunk
he rubs against.
It's even in a rock.

And here's me, his master,
who always imagined there was
never less of anything
than what's in a rock.
And then at night, curled up at my feet,
he even sniffs my legs, my hands,
as if whatever it is that's out there
moves around, is now in here.
He won't doze off until he's inhaled
a day's worth of odors.
Then he closes his eyes
and smells follow him into his sleep.


I'm looking across
at my neighbor's window
and wondering what he's doing.
He's moving about
but to what end?
Sometimes, I see
flesh and blood in the light,
sometimes just a shadow.
I spy a bit of cloth,
maybe a half-eaten sandwich
and is that a banjo?
Really, my neighbor is
in pieces and I'm trying
to put him back together.
And then, for some reason,
he draws the shades.
I vow to finish him
some other time.


She was showing us the rooms
but I was occupied the entire time
with looking out the window.
I could see the curve of the bay,
the marina, the lighthouse.

I left you with her stream
of hard sell while I imagined
myself looking out when she
wasn't around, when there was just
a silence from in here, and

maybe your arm around my waist,
or hands fiddling with my backbone.
She started rattling on about
the previous occupants, and how
long the house has been in her family.

You told me later that she rambled
together tales of her first husband
with the house's prime location on
the water. And she went on about what
it was like to be a little girl here,

and which pieces of furniture dated
from that time. I didn't hear a word
of it. She wasn't showing me a thing.
I was listening to myself. I was
reacquainting my present with the past.

Such a view as this, I thought,
and it could be like that first time,
for wasn't there a bay, blue and
sun-ruffled like this, and wasn't
there a marina, busy with boats,

and a lighthouse just out there
beyond the reach of everything,
a separateness that somehow we broached
with kisses like minnows fluttering
in the glow of its light

and eyes made of looks that could
never be undone and bodies and limbs
that became other than bodies and limbs,
that were all the things floating or
rippling or flashing, that were their

own view, and beholden to the sparkle
of the one inside it. You listened to her
while I looked out like I was looking in.
She said to you, "It will be good" and I
whispered "It will be good again."


Sure you can stay with us,
in our fifty-five year old colonial house.
fronted by apple blossoms,
backed by hardy oak and pine
where wrens and squirrels nest.
We're easy to live with.
We won't complain
if you cough all night.
You'll just wake us early
so we can see the sunrise.
And you can hog the couch,
watch the TV shows we hate.
Thankfully, that will
force us to be otherwise occupied.
You can be unhappy, angry,
save us the trouble.
You can scream
so we'll be silent.
You can distance yourself
from people,
force us even closer together.
You can say that,
based on all the evidence,
love is not for you.
We will gratefully accept
your share.

--John Grey

to top: prize poems by Mary K Herbert and Trina Scordo

Three Bios

John Grey is an Australian-born poet (now a U.S. resident) whose work has appeared recently in South Carolina Review, Bellevue Literary Journal and Abbey, among others.

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Mary Kennan Herbert
lived and worked in New Jersey for 16 years, and now is
based in Brooklyn, NY. She teaches literature and writing
at colleges and universities in New York City, and has also
taught in New Jersey, and for many years worked in book
publishing in New Jersey. Three of her collections of poems
and a memoir with poetry have been published by
Ginninderra Press in Australia, and one book titled "Coasts" was published last year by Meadow Geese Press in Massachusetts. Ms. Herbert previously won first prize in
the 1999 poetry competition sponsored by the Midwest Conference on Christianity and Literature. Her poems have been published in literary journals in 14 different countries.

Trina Scordo lives in Asbury Park, NJ. She has been published in Long Shot, Beginnings, and her chapbook, Growing Up Like Jersey was published by Shorepoets 2002.                                                 

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