The Living and the Dead
It is a river that bears
as well as the souls
of Algonquin ancestors,
and its current
is endless liquid faces,
open-mouthed silent screams,
or the benign acceptance
of ancient warriors,
grateful to be
part of that connection
from spring to bay,
from this time to the past,
from now into the future.
I sit on the bank,
cast line and lure.
The waters are
full of trout and bass.
As well as death.
As well as dominion.
A Fear of Coming up Empty
I always drive
with one eye
on the fuel-gauge.
Even when I’ve
just filled ‘er up,
I have to double check
to make sure
those ten gallons
into thin air.
And when the needle
hovers about the quarter mark,
panic sets in.
What if every gas station
within fifty miles
is closed because
of a death in the family?
I’ve this fear
of stalling-out on the highway
or coming up empty
on a lonely strip of desert road.
there’s more likelihood
of me winning the lottery
than of that happening.
I’m also afraid
of winning the lottery.
Now and Then
Every now and then
a email from Laura pops into my in-box.
It always begins with an apology
for not writing sooner.
And it inevitably ends with “keep in touch.”
Often, she’ll condemn her own procrastination,
while trying to decide between what is news to me
and the stuff I already know from the last time.
Her younger brother’s not well. That I didn’t know.
And she’s volunteering at the local free clinic.
I’m not surprised at that.
The monologue gets around to guys eventually.
There’s a doctor. But he’s married.
And an intern. But he’s way too young.
She says she did meet a potential Mr. Right
but he had third stage colon cancer.
But such a smile. And a telling grip.
My responses are less colorful.
I’m still comfortably married.
My work is far less visceral than hers.
It’s hard to get close, personal,
with numbers on a spread sheet.
I fill my missive with details of our Norway trip.
So it’s her abnormal cell growth versus my fiords.
It’s been a long time since Laura and I were close,
so nothing deeply emotional makes its way
back and forth across the internet.
That’s all for the memory and, even there,
it feels much safer, more historically confined,
than in those days when we were dating.
So we are on an every now and then basis.
The regrets are more formal than meaningful.
No doubt, we’ll keep this up,
with wider and wider gaps between,
for as long as have e-mail.
It’s easy. It keeps the past safe
while acknowledging the present.
It’s how we hang onto people
long after we’ve let them go.
That Diner in Texas
She scrubs the tabletops,
sweeps up the crumbs.
It’s nothing compared to being pregnant,
an assembly line of different weights and sizes
from a cranky, ill-equipped womb.
No afterbirth to mop up.
That crud around the neck of the ketchup bottle
is nothing compared to that.
No monsters at her breast.
She’ll refill sugar bowls, empty ashtrays, any day.
The luncheon crowd has done their worst
but she handled every bit of it.
Soon the factory crew will be off shift.
She plugs a quarter into the jukebox,
sings along to cheats and liars,
honky-tonk angels and big-hatted cowboys.
She’s the world’s only country singer
with a Slovakian accent.
First sign of a customer though
and the show’s over.
She’s happy in this place,
as far from old world Europe as she can get.
She’s close to no one,
though the old men flirt
and the young can sometimes
use a little mothering.
She closes late,
crawls into the bed of the restaurant backroom,
watches the Late Show
on a tiny television screen
before dropping off to sleep.
And she never did change the name
of the place when she bought it.
It’s not Antonie’s.
It’s still Maisie’s Diner.
But there’s a woman in Texas
who answers to both.
Yes, I watch you sleeping.
I want to see you grow
even when you’re not aware.
Take from me if you have to.
But haven’t you already.
Okay, so the chin is your mother’s.
But you’re a grand thief,
even at your age.
So soft but I can hear you breathe.
Nothing else here does.
Not the crib. Not the plush toy.
Not the blanket.
It’s just you and me.
And I’m not listening to me.
To read more poems by John Grey, click here
About the Author
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in New World Writing, California Quarterly and Lost Pilots. Latest books, ”Between Two Fires”, “Covert” and “Memory Outside The Head” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Isotrope Literary Journal, Seventh Quarry, La Presa and Doubly Mad.