by John Grey
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,
Whenever you began a sentence with,
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
that you were talking about.
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.
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 didnt seem
to belong to anyone.
For no good reason, he took a heavy rock
and smashed that poor creatures 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 Joes 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.
Joes fit of brutality didnt 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 didnt do it.
And theres Little Joe, never without a furry bundle in his arms.
And Addie knows, and Chris knows, its alive.
Or, at least, it better be.
Breakup With Joanna
The dead bird smuggled in
behind my rib-cage
tells me fly away,
dont kiss those willing lips.
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 Id 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,
its wrong to tell
the death inside you
what to do.
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
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.
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 hes given birth to you.
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