poems by John Grey



In this dimly-lit attic,

you open a trunk,

unleash the Korean War.


With just a few

well-preserved objects,

you can step out of

your claustrophobic widowhood,

reclaim the glorious life

with the handsome man

smiling at you

from a Tokyo street.


There are letters.

Some postcards.

Two medals.

Even a rusty bayonet.


But the battle rages all around

these things.

Shots are fired

He’s hit.

And hit again.


Too late,

you close that lid down hard.

Memory is a sure way

of getting someone killed.




The victory of the only way out


Corpse dragged from the river,

a young woman who worked checkout

at the grocery store,

who was knocked up and abandoned

by some guy.


Maybe, at her age,

victories were just too hard to come by

but a jump from a bridge

would prove a triumph

even those who looked down on her

couldn’t deny.


In fact, most ignored her

but the current did not.

In her moment of greatest glory,

she got tangled around a rock,

backslapped by the waters.


Her mother stood outside the yellow tape,

disbelieving like some God-fearing confirmed atheist.

Her daughter would be back by sundown.

She had no doubt.


You have to admire the mother’s faith.

She was wrong on all accounts.

No daughter of hers could do such a thing.

But she did her best to identify the body




To the woman three stools down at Ricky’s tavern


Sorry Socrates

I’ve examined this life

to the point

where I wish I was someone else.

For the novelty’s sake.


What can I say?

I’m weary of being

this spelunker

scouring the dark caves

of myself,

shining light on rage here,

affection there,

dragging my good nature

to the surface,

trying to bury selfishness

where even I can’t find it.


“Who am I?”

seems no more relevant than

“Where did I last leave my car-keys.”

“Who are you?”

is of more interest.

So let’s swap psyches, stranger.

Or, better yet,

body fluids.



That’s not what I meant.


Did anyone ever tell you

you have beautiful eyes?

If you heard it from yourself,

that doesn’t count.




How to initiate new members


As an existing member,

recommend someone.

Make sure they understand

that they must vow

complete obedience

to our rules and regulations.

If comfortable

with their desire and

willingness to comply,

a trial period will ensue.

Should this prove successful,

full initiation will follow.

With commonality a goal,

as well as adherence to the cause,

they should not be surprised

if this means going

to war against some unnamed country

or driving off for an outing together

in the woods.

I, myself, started with

an ice-cream social

followed up by an assassination.

Truly joining is what matters.

The rest will follow.




An emergency somewhere


Sirens wailing,

an ambulance rips a hole in afternoon silence.


The ceramic horse on the mantel had a stroke.

The decanter on the kitchen table was assaulted.


You’re clutching your stomach.

I press my hands to my head.


But the ambulance passes by,

the sound fades in the distance.


There’s no emergency

in what we have.

Just contentment,

as always.




More living than there are dead


In St. Anne’s Cemetery, leaves whisper.

Willow wind nudges in on their conversation,

Frog are supposed to speak, of course,

but here, their croaks are mellow adjuncts

to the low-key chatter around them,

as are the songs of sparrows and finches,

and the red squirrel and chipmunk chirp.

I bring flowers to the grave of a loved one.

Hard to believe that this is

a difficult time for me.

poems by John Grey

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