John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and Silkworm work upcoming in Big Muddy Review, Main Street Rag and Spoon River Poetry Review.
On a hot February Saturday,
the families of workers
from the tobacco factory
spread blankets on the grassy field,
haul coolers packed with beer and ice and
steaks and hotdogs as someone in a chef’s garb
starts up the portable grille.
Plastic table cloths adorn tables.
Bowls of salad miraculously appear.
Young boys kick a soccer ball around.
Girl's mark up a cement walkway for hopscotch.
A few kids poke around in the nearby pond,
collect tadpoles or yabbies in glass jars.
"Watch out for snakes," a mother warns.
In the small playground, a father swings
his daughter out, assured, no doubt,
that for the foreseeable future,
gravity will bring her back to him.
A mother nudges a shy boy to
go play with the others.
Management make their fleeting appearance,
dressed in golf shirts and plain slacks
that give off an aura of three piece suits.
They share a couple of corny jokes,
pat the heads of various kids, then leave.
This is a picnic for the hoi polloi after all.
"But," as one VIP remarked to another,
as they headed off for the golf course,
"they need to know who's paying for all this."
That father is still swinging his daughter.
The mother refuses to give up
on a boy who's almost in tears.
It's typical of all the grizzled,
worn down, bleary eyed laborers
with their scarred hands,
bent backs and lungs of black tar.
Their kids need to know
who's paying for all of this.
Sea ends here.
Land does also.
Wind brags how it can cross
any line I draw in the sand.
The year is barely holding on,
It's time for it to be over.
Night creeps into the frame.
Day is hunted to the death,
along with its fragile sky.
But even darkness is a ghost,
as flimsy as childhood memory.
Moon in the tree
is ripe for hanging.
Stars belt out a tune
but not a one of them know the words.
I'm growing older.
Time has a hard time reaching
anywhere of importance to me.
that cold Sunday of a month,
and rhyming like the carols
that everyone's stopped singing.
It's a relic.
An idea left over
from some ancient calendar.
It's like the victim of a holdup
that tries to act brave
and is shot dead for its troubles.
So another year it is.
Another year to take the stage
so it can be jerked off in rough fashion.
Beer and cheers and Auld Lang Syne
and already an anachronism.
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
a curse or two will remember.
IN THIS WORLD OF VIRGINS
"It's time!" I focus on something absurd,
a line I would use.
After dark, amid the residue of a carnival,
in the dark town park. Why not the bandstand?
I feel the insistence of summer,
the rise in temperature, a measurement of some kind, of
me asking, asking, "How much longer can this go on?"
By the cemetery where the mourners
perform some kind of ritual, faces down,
eyes vaporing. I lean my elbows on a tombstone,
fear for the shy girl asking, "How much will it hurt?"
Bulldozers and wrecking balls take down neighborhoods
gunshots are the nearest thing here to nostalgia.
In an empty lot, a shy girl, a crown of curls,
tickles my nostrils as I imagine night revealing
some evening sacrifice despite the threat of rain -
it tumbles down.
Then there's the river,
adorned in city-light jewelry,
its banks as soft as pillows,
the scat of animals, puddles,
while I make an intimate with the pure and generous,
setting her house-trained dignity
against an odd pleasant pride in her womanhood,
as my mouth strokes her neck, tastes the veins
of her sudden dry cough. Better this than motel rooms,
greasy garage storage closet.
Later, in the coffee shop, sipping joe,
pecking blueberries from a muffin like a bird,
she comes by with a couple of her friends.
We don't celebrate our new status
merely gobble at each other's eyes like pigeons.
I have a hard time forgetting my clumsiness.
She recalls something other than the sweaty
grind of it all. A nearby couple argue
over something trivial. He slams his cup down.
She crashes her chair back against the wall,
grabs her pocket book and leaves.
What we witness is not sex.
But, as with love-making, it appears to be a function.