Poetry by John Grey
ON MY WAY TO YOUR HOUSE
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
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
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.
ALL ABOUT THOSE LIVES
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.
ANY MORE TOAST, DEAR?
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,
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.
a life your own...
it's a race to the birth.
The dead don't haunt
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
but the dead are just dementia
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.
THE WOLF MAN WILL BE WITH YOU IN A MOMENT
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,
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,
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
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.
THE BIRD IN THE MIRROR
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.
GREEN LAKE, WHERE SHE DROWNED
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.
THE SCAR ON YOUR RIGHT CHEEK
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
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
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.
OUR FIRST APARTMENT
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
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.
someone in the sheets beside 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.
THERE'S A GATEWAY TO YOU