John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly.
My mother pointed at the mushroom,
said one word loudly, plainly –
But that fungus
was so plump, inviting,
its blacks and whites
like art deco on a stalk.
I could feel my mouth water.
But I believed that she knew
better than I did.
Yes, I felt betrayed by beauty.
But if it could kill me
then I had no compunctions in avoiding it.
something no more
than a shriveled lead-colored dot,
but she said, “that’s the one”
so I plucked it from the earth
and dropped it in a bag.
By the end of the day,
we’d collected enough
of these inferior lookers
for soup, for salads.
But not for death.
For life, gray, ordinary.
THE MAN WHO STARTED THE FIRE
You didn’t quite squelch that camp fire.
Little seeds of flame blew deep into the forest,
scrambled up hill as easily as oak trunk,
pounced on dry grass
that hadn’t tasted rain in weeks.
Look behind you. That smoke
is the exhaust from your unthinking.
You’ve always been a careless man.
Now you have a conflagration to prove it.
You see the fire on TV.
You read about it in the newspaper.
The news does not include you.
That isn’t news to you.
And your neighbors won’t know the cause of the threat.
It’s the fire that is coming in their direction.
THE OTHER HALF
Your daughter rattles off
the names of her school friends
who don't have fathers.
It's as if they never did
whereas she remembers hers clearly.
After all, she last saw him
the previous weekend.
You tell her the usual pap
about how sometimes
couple discover that
they no longer love each other.
She wonders how that works
when there was no other person
to begin with.
You don't tell her how
there that has to be a father
somewhere, at some time.
You just let her believe
that some mothers
never fell in love
in the first place.
It's only a lie
if the truth hurts.
The heart keeps a diary. Nature adds a note when appropriate.
The frost is a continuing thread. The death of meadow sweet and swamp candles.
Some flowers gently emboss. Others open then fold the pages.
I forgive the snail's sluggish trail. But love the starlit windowpane streaks.
Pale sun, cobwebs fluttering between two branches, a stillness to the lake,
the air, generate enough incidents to be worth reporting.
It must keep it up, day after day. Otherwise, how do I remember summer.
Or the dutchman's breeches. Or the flight patterns of swallows.
Set it down, that's what I say. Not just to the heart but every organ
that looks for recompense in the woods, the fields, the walking stick at my hip.
Dead things can have their lives returned to them. The canopy could gain
insight, wisdom even, from the confessionals of the undergrowth.
It doesn't need a hand or man, merely an inference, an intimation.
And, if the author's threatened, then write and write some more.
To the earth and stars, the unpredictable wind. To your congressman if you have to.
Once added to the journal, it's indelible. Can never be removed.
The heart can read itself and learn all it needs to know of the track of the moon.
It can go on for years, look forward, look back, compare, comprehend, commiserate.
What snow and chlorophyll alone can know deepens its pages.
It even offers space to the merest twig. Or drop of rain. Or anything less than these.
And that diary's being written even when only cricket chirp is worth noting.
It makes a time and place for a bird on a windowsill. A plucked blade of grass.
Disasters are spelled out in bold letters. But so are small things.
Like healed scars. And a light that finds its way through a pine tree grove.
The heart was always part of the plan. I never could walk these woods
with my feet alone. A trail map is well and good. But if I see something,
if I feel something, the senses cannot quell the urge to make these permanent.
Yes, even you, lichen. And that leaf about to fall, the branch to snap,
the squirrel to stow away another acorn. Even the dead bird is part of it.
The heart keeps a diary, endlessly adding to it, even if it's the same things over and over.
There's no lock. No need even for a cover. Its pages are accessible to any part of me.
It's writing something now. But not an explanation. That's my job. I'm done. It's not.
I will bulldoze wooden houses, raze garages,
tear lawns limb from limb.
My machinery brooks no argument.
So trees better not try anything.
Memories are too ambitious for their own good.
Do they really expect to go on
once the windows have been smashed
and the linoleum’s off to the dumpster.
I am comfortable with the name “development.”
I don’t have to be called “progress.”
That’s for politicians. I’m apolitical.
But I am a stickler for food courts.
I make it possible for a person to spend
half a day looking in shoe shops,
fashion chains, beauty salons etc.
But, sorry, I no longer do bookstores.
I am here to knock down one thing,
replace it with something else,
That’s how it works with the people at large.
Why should commerce be any different?
You’re all one fatal sickness away
from being covered over by six feet of dirt
and feasted on by worms and weevils.
See, even God is a stickler for food courts.