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.
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
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
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,
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?