John Grey

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in the Tau, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Naugatuck River Review, Examined Life Journal and Midwest Quarterly.


Cry in the Night

It’s neither the sound

of pain nor sadness

but the gentle declaration,

“I am here.”


And you do not rise

from the bed,

rock him back to sleep,

to soothe a wound,

salve a hurt,

but to whisper with

the angle of your elbow,

the support of

your slowly swaying arm,

“Yes you are here now.

And coming for me.”

On Another Graveyard Visit

You’d think I’d know better by this.

But here I am again,

at the door of the great underground mansion,

discovering, as always,

that the knob is impervious to my grip.

No point knocking – with fists or tears.

The more I listen

the more it’s obvious

that no one is coming to answer.


Why do I ramble through

this patch of serene nothingness

as if those with knuckles clutched to breastbone

are even aware of my presence.

The fact is

that everybody’s home

but no one’s in.
So once again, I leave flowers

at the grave.

Just what death needs –

another dead thing.

Elizabeth’s Prayer

Once sleeping with angels,

now I set my dream’s sight lower,

on the yellowing underside of their wings,

in the rancid shadows

of their beaming temples,

where good grows lazy,

gravitates to horns.
This night-waif hunger

disturbs the landscapes of the saints,

upsets their choirs

into barren, tuneless wolf -like shrieks.
The darkness is an ocean.

I welcome morbid men on skiffs of bat-capes

and appetites enough

to wrench me from the pretty past,

the ghosts of other’s expectation.

Brush aside the sterile crosses

to bite the sameness out of me;

celebrate my grisly rite of passage

in the way my wild-lily eyes shoot back

what mirrors cannot,

in the relentless feasting of flaming, blistering lips,

in a grisly rite of passage

celebrated in a crayon smudge of red,

in the grainy marble of my perfumed neck.
Come through my big windows,

find a space to inflict your will

beyond the stale fang-marks

of these vampires of conformity,

the undead of the living.

In your canonizing thirst,

lies my infinite religion.

A Maturing Viewpoint

I find life is an accumulation of abandoned houses

whose doors break from hinges when opening

and floorboards that snap under the merest weight,

a moth-eaten bear-head on the wall of

what used to be the parlor

and a web-threaded piano

with clunky keys and broken rusty strings.


It is also an old man in an alley with pus-oozing sores,

a smell like raped skunk, and a penchant for muttering in Latin.


Sometimes it’s a hearse rolling by,

a long black car following,

no one at the wheel,

hooded people in the back seat with no faces.


Or it’s a young woman’s corpse dragged out of the river.

Or the neighborhood cannibal chewing on a leg.

Or something as simple as a rat scouring the dumpsters

in the rear of restaurant row.

Or as complex as that same rodent

uncovering the remains of a diner.

Life is merely a series of bleak settings,

of people and creatures going about their business,

the darker that business the better.

It can never fit the needs of a workable philosophy.

The Night Beat

These dreams,

impossible, absurd,

but still gasping with the truth –

they bear down on me

like two ogres, five dwarves

and one unruly wizard –

so rip out my tongue,

steal my coins,

turn me into a red eft

crawling across the sheets –

nights vary now

only in the degree of their deviltry –

what have I done

to give the demon bloody reign –

who have I offended

as I press a bloody, broken

unicorn’s horn to my chest,

and the dismembered

wailing creature weeps in my face –

these streets burn with witch-fire,

air creaks like footsteps

on a rotting stair, houses swing open their doors

and wail,

moon drops like the sudden skull

of a hanged man –

they freeze me when I move,

unclasp my praying hands,

accuse me in all innocence,

threaten with a thousand more

nights of this and worse –

all so I can waken,

vindictive, angry,

tattooed and scarred,

gray-fleshed and metal-eyed,

a nascent predator

ready to prey

on someone’s real life.

Late Night Venice

Venice is crippled facades,

a windswept piazza,

a blotchy ballet of pigeons

digging into rotten scraps,

a salty corpse dragged

from a brown bay.


I’m on a masochist’s journey,

my nerve ends giving constant alarm,

hearing footsteps where there are none

and none where there are footsteps.


I peer into a bar where

only shadows drink.

A gondolier knocks against

a river bank like knees.

A rat skitters across my path.

A least I think it is a rat.

How perverse can it be

when a rodent is my best option?


I’m anxious to be back at my hotel,

to crawl into bed,

sleep myself sane.

So why do I stop and peer into

an undertaker’s window?

Why apply, like makeup,

this look of death upon me?