John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Front Range Review, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Naugatuck River Review, Abyss and Apex and Midwest Quarterly.
I WILL NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO ME
When she opens the door,
my first impression is how much
I tower over her.
Cool and niceties, strategies and smiles -
those are the ingredients
I am trying to pass off as myself.
And that difference in height
is the perfect proxy
for who's in charge.
But then there's emotions, try to hide them
from the woman holding me,
from soft couch, warm fire, rain on rooftop,
and fuchsia - God, if I knew there
was going to he fuchsia. I never would have come.
And what about all this candlelight.
Their flame takes four walls
and turns them into dance floors.
As well they buff up eyes and lips,
turn ordinary faces into portraits.
As for the music -
I truly believe that a stereo
is as conniving as a wolf –
and wasn’t “wolf”
a role I cast myself as.
But that soft jazz-
how it imitates my undercurrents -
by the third song.
I can't tell my nerves from Wynton Marsalis.
By the time the evening draws to a close,
I can feel myself starting to get serious.
I am still 5 foot 11 and a half
but I am no longer the only tall one.
A cute and cocky face,
a renowned low-ball specialist -
in fact highly proficient
in a number of areas
like being sneaky and tough
but with finesse of course,
even beyond the foul-lines -
curt when needed.
classic by arrangement,
some say empty and cruel
but I prefer the word, accurate -
no wonder I'm falling like this,
a tumble of words gives me away,
I yearn for the warm,
we can discuss the blunt edge later -
I never planned this.
I could never have imagined
we would be together -
I tried my immune tactics,
but she had my core in her clutch,
letting in light and air
only when necessary -
tracing a map of my hand.
smoothing over the restrictions
in my delivery,
defining my position.
warning me against
sitting and thinking like this,
my breath on the ropes,
her ass on the throne,
dwelling in the gray,
of her beauty's free enterprise
that can pick my pockets at will -
you say I'm soft to be in love,
that her kisses are strikes.
her hugs, a sword plunged
in my back.
that she'll peck my seams apart.
keep what she wants,
toss the rest,
but I can't be ice,
so if relinquishing power is required,
I'm willing to be with her
all the way to my vanishing point.
Stella was a good cook.
And an excellent lover.
But a dog?
A cute little bounding
bundle of fluff
that leapt into bed,
warmed and licked
on a frosty winter's morning?
Frost was killing the outside.
At times, it took its toll
within the rooms.
Almost to the point of us calling it quits.
But then the flapping red tongue came into it.
And that merciless unconditional love.
Wind was blowing outside
skewing the snow sideways.
And yet this creature
still wanted to be a part of all this.
Even when divorce was mentioned,
it didn't faze him.
He wasn't even a purebred.
But, by then,
we were kind of mutts
and mongrels ourselves.
But a dog?
A dog to the rescue
like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin.
A dog who could see
the good in meat on the bone.
Not just food scraps
but the people kind.
With the bad weather blowing
and the dog inside,
parting never came up again.
From the time Stella brought him home,
we wore his leash proudly.
HOLLY GIVES ME MY NOTICE
The door closed behind me
with a report louder than a bullet.
I climbed on ten ton legs
into my ear.
Before I started the motor,
I listened to my stuttering heartbeat
like another car
whining up the grade
from somewhere deep below.
A wisp of rain
face-clothed my cheeks
just so tears wouldn't have to.
I finally turned the key.
It’s a good feeling
when the machinery obeys.
But it's not a great one.
GROWING UP WITH THE STARVING
On the news, she saw film from Africa,
saved pennies for the starving babies.
Her father said there was kids starving
in the inner city.
Her mother's response was that
some women just shouldn't be
allowed to have babies.
She stopped saving once she heard that.
At school, there was a boy who had
no lunch money.
Some teachers smuggled spare change to him.
He got by on charity
and the compulsory pint of milk
delivered every morning.
She wondered if he lived in the inner city.
And was his mother one of those people
her mother was talking about.
By high school, she had her own problems to deal with.
Not poverty, just first bra, first period.
first just about everything.
African children with protruding ribs and bloated bellies
were part of the scenery.
The boy with no lunch money
left school in the middle of the sixth grade.
She saved her pennies for eye-liner and lipstick.
And never once did she think that selfish or cruel.
For all she knew, there were already other seven year olds
who were doing what she did when she was that age.
The starving kids were accounted for no matter what.