3 poems by John Grey


I haven’t changed my mind about rivers
even as another body is pulled from the one that flows through town.
I see no need to restate my position – fishing, swimming,
or just strolling along the banks.
Forget a debate, not with so many noisy, whirring
cop cars and rescue trucks cluttering the greenery.
Sure, I’m a little subdued as I watch from a distance.
But I don’t listen to you comparing that lazy old current
of water as a rattlesnake, hissing against the rocks.
I appreciate it for what it is, know that it is capable of many emotions.
You point out the crowd gathering, a charged situation.
Maybe somewhere in there is a mother, worried that it’s her child.
What cares she for catfish? Young boys swinging from a rope?
Or smoking cigarettes in the shadow of the willows?
Or the claim to fame of the kid who swam across and back three times?
But these are the moments that will return once the dead are buried.
Maybe it’s not the best time to bring up these things.
Not when there’s so much law about,
and a sheet’s been drawn up over the body.
And even the dogs are silent, the birds have retreated to their roosts.
Maybe I even know the one that was dragged out,
sloppy and muddy and blue-faced.
The rumors are already starting. It’s a young girl. She jumped from the bridge.
Maybe she was bullied. Maybe she was pregnant. Maybe she broke up with a guy.
Someone heard the splash. Was startled. Called 911.
That guy’s surrounded like he’s some kind of hero
when he just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
I came down here because it’s my river, someone has to defend it,
even if it’s only with a whisper in your ear, a hard grip of your hand.
This is my childhood. It’s my romantic teenage years.
It’s even nostalgia from the perspective of middle age. It’s not a death trap.
It isn’t suicide’s best friend. It’s just water. Joyful, splashy water.
It flows from s spring somewhere in the distant mountains.
It travels miles to a bigger river and then a bigger river still
before flowing into the ocean. It could avoid this town altogether
but it chooses to run parallel to our Main Street,
like nature come to us rather than having to hike out into the wilderness to find it.
It can’t be sullied by a corpse, by sorrow, by even the worst kind of despair.
The dead girl will have a story to tell and it will be a sad one.
But it won’t be the river’s story. Come to me if you really need to be told.


saluted me,
bowed even,
without even being prompted

I was amazed.
I was shocked.

I’d been pushing
loyalty and obedience
at them
in an extremely
controlled setting

but here,
in the open air,
nothing was different,
nothing had changed.

They looked up to me.
I was their leader.

It was as much
as it was gratifying.

I began to think
they’d be willing to do
anything I asked of them.

Maybe they’d bring me my coffee
in the morning.
Maybe I could lead them
into war.


Here comes the needle.
I open wide.
He tells me about his latest vacations,
makes jokes
that aren’t funny, thank God,
because my laughter’s
out of commission.
Then he starts on politics.
The jab into my gums is very political indeed.
So is the following numbness.

Under Novocain,
I feel like the populace,
unable to respond to what we’re told,
afraid he might somehow hit a nerve.
There’s a waiting period
in which he slams the Red Sox,
before the drill arrives,
digging into me
with a sound like burrowing
into hell
and I can hear the cries of the condemned
while he goes right on
mining my teeth.

It takes all of fifteen minutes
though it feels like a lifetime,
my impotence
versus the monologues of so many –
I could name a thousand instances.

He tells me
to avoid eating on the left side
for the rest of the day.
Was there ever a man
who’s spent as much time
chewing on his right side as me?

JohnGrey 8.jpg

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Evening Street Review and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Harpur Palate, Poetry East and Visions International.



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