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by John Grey


We Pioneers


We were like pioneers,

apartment block for wagon train,

our prairie schooner, two cramped rooms

with mismatched furniture,

half empty refrigerator,

a little milk, some cheese,

the remnants of

what could have passed for buffalo meat.

We were always on the lookout

through the tiny window,

wondering when do

the Indian tribes attack,

what will they use for arrows,

what do we have for long rifles.

Somehow we made it over

the rough terrain of jobs and days,

of arguments and empty pockets,

the long winters, searing summers,

the sicknesses, the deaths.

We held off the war parties.

We came upon our very own

stretch of wilderness,

to lay down roots, build, plant,

grow, harvest.

Whenever you began a sentence with,

"Remember when..."

I could hear rickety wheels

creaking over rocks,

feel the harsh wind

ripping holes in sails,

see the bleeding wounds,

the flooding rivers.

And then I'd hold you, hug you,

arms and waist, head and heart,

made sure it would always be

our history

that you were talking about.



a line, (a short blue one)


Swinging Gate


It's been years since I swung on the old gate

of the dilapidated farmhouse.

It's been that long too

since I lay back among the blue sheets

of my boyhood bed and wept.

Not so many since my first job,

but, in retrospect, I was still that same boy,

weeping with fear, refusing to

give up my grip on the gate.

Not years, it's decades.

The simple life was when?

The first pretty girl showed her face

in which century?

Even venturing into marriage,

I was innocent, I was terrified to let

go the gate, and not just my eyes,

but my entire body was bursting with tears

in that poky bedroom

in the dilapidated apartment

above the seedy tobacco shop.

It's been years since we moved into this house.

It's been years since that Caribbean vacation,

the climb to the top of Mount Washington.

It's not just that so much is in the past

but it's sequestered in the long past.

I'm too self assured these days

for anything to have happened recently.

Yesterday was so much like today.

Tomorrow makes it identical triplets.

I've grown up, the nadir of growing.

I've lived a long time,

and a man can't live like that.

I don't swing on the gate

because it makes more sense to let it go.

And I could almost cry

for what time has done to my weeping.



a line, (a short blue one)


Death of a Cat in These Parts


One day Joe killed the gray cat,.

the one that just hung around the feet

of Addie and Chris and didn’t seem

to belong to anyone.

For no good reason, he took a heavy rock

and smashed that poor creature’s head,

and for what?

Did the insects buzzing in the outdoor lights

tell him to do it?

Or what about the watch chain

Uncle Ben loved to drag out

of his raggedy coat pocket?

His name, for ever after, was Joe,

the killer of strays,

though I believe there was only one victim

of this sudden experiment in soulless cruelty;

I know Addie cried for days,

and Chris wanted nothing more

than to take a rock to Joe’s head

and pummel some Christianity into it,

but Joe grew up all the same

and without slaughtering another living thing

as far as I know,

except for the insects of course

whose message may have been “Kill us!

Kill us!” and not “Kill the stray gray cat!”

Uncle Ben was buried in a fancier coat

than he ever wore in life,

the watch chain slipped inside his pocket

for fear he might have left that

gaudy thing to someone in his will.

Joe’s fit of brutality didn’t stop

other mangy cats from hanging around.

That made Addie nervous, Chris watchful.

Joe married Rae and they had kids and kittens.

Some of the latter got loose

and never were seen again,

though whether they were killed just for the hell of it,

no one can say though, sure as hell, Joe didn’t do it.

And there’s Little Joe, never without a furry bundle in his arms.

And Addie knows, and Chris knows, it’s alive.

Or, at least, it better be.



a line, (a short blue one)


Breakup With Joanna


The dead bird smuggled in

behind my rib-cage

tells me fly away,

don’t kiss those willing lips.

Passion, heat,

the crushed skull crackles,

better never than ever.

A beat of a heart

is enough to open its beak,

shuffle its body around,

evoke the fear of green eyes,

red hair, and the body

floating somewhere between

wanting and indignation.

If I’d stayed on,

that creature would have died in vain.

Later, my own room,

swallowed by whatever shadow will have me,

blood circles the settling corpse.

Listen to me, Joanna,

it’s wrong to tell

the death inside you

what to do.



a line, (a short blue one)




How can you expect me to sleep

with the woman in black lying between us?

She has no breath.

That silence keeps me awake.

And her black hair curls up

on my creaky shoulder like an adder

as her black night-gown

inundates your weary chest.

You believe it's best to be home

in your own bed,

far from the antiseptic smell

of hospital wards.

But this no longer is the house we share.

It's history, disease, despair.

Its floorboards crack like bones.

Shingles rot and fall

as flesh does.

Only the woman in black is immune.

I dated her in college.

I married her the day I married you.

The two of you had my child.

The two of you shared

the anniversaries

but, where your stone was gold,

hers was ebony.

I once imagined she was the kind

who left flowers

at the graves of film stars.

But no, her solemn wreaths

drape around the cross of ordinary lives.



a line, (a short blue one)


Pregnant Rita


Pregnant, you have to learn to sit,

to stand like it's your first time doing these things.

"Careful," says Al. "I don't want you doing that."


He suddenly outranks you in the marriage.

Your awkward body waddles

wherever he so commands.

He's a soft-voiced drill instructor.


You start to wonder who is the child.

He does the housework, the cooking.

He won't let you do a single thing around the house.


He doesn't need this baby.

Not since he’s given birth to you.




a line, (a blue one)


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