By John Grey

Familiar Surroundings

We’re back
and everything is how we left it:
our feet walk in old footsteps,
our hands leave fingerprint
where fingerprints already are.

We’ve been away some time,
a month or more,
but the familiar doesn’t change.
One room still leads to another.
The ceiling is where it’s always been,
two feet from my highest reach.

It’s May 
where it once was February
but the house doesn’t know that.
The milk in the refrigerator is new.
But it pours on cereal like the old milk.
And the eggs are fresh.
But they crack as expected.
The pan sizzles as it always has.

I can sit in a chair,
reach for the right book,
even with my eyes closed.
Yes, the television remote
is not where I swear I put it 
the last time.
But its vanishing act 
is its constancy.

I drink coffee from the same cup,
hang my jacket on its favorite peg,
look out the bedroom window to a maple
that figures four disparate seasons
is just the thing to keep the sameness interesting.
We’ve been away
but not so we’d notice.
I’m surprised we’re not here to greet us.


It such a trial for you to move, your fragile body
clutches walker that grinds the polished floor.
You smack things that aren't made for smacking.
Wall bruise, refrigerator dent, all the property
of misbegotten gait, a teary dirge to why
God made legs in the first place.
You tell me your dream is to hold something in your hands
that's not yourself: a vase, a book, anything,
to stand unaided and keep it in your grip.
It takes a year for you to go some place,
be it kitchen, bedroom, bathroom.
I could carry you but you refuse my help.
The word "independence" has been scraped of every letter
but for the "I".
On the couch, at least, we're semi-equals.
We hold hands and the TV does not discriminate.
But even rest is not your strongest point.
Your head flops on your shoulder as much as it does on mine.
Is it time to drag out the photo album?
Photos of the camping couple, the cruising couple,
the eating good food in the restaurant couple,
and, best of all, the wedding couple,
both tall and upright on a tall and upright day.

Ah, Precious Sleep

Muscles flatlining, slowing heartbeat,
breathing in survival mode,
cognizance is on the wane.
passes through bliss, 
on its welcomed passage into nothingness.

Deprived of thought, 
the brain finds other things to do,
like emitting delta waves,
from vertex to parietal and frontal regions,

Then, on the edge of coma territory,
the mind gets religion,
well, instinct at least, 
pulls back from the brink
with a dose of REM sleep,
and dreams with actors and plotlines
right out of studio subconscious.

No one bothering you.
Nothing interfering.
It feels good enough to be
a permanent solution.

Asparagus Poem

The farmer dug a hole two feet square,
filled it with peat and manure,
then pressed slithery roots 
deep into the muck.

The lettuce and radishes looked on in amazement.
Their routine from seed to plant to kitchen table
could squeeze easily into a season.
But, for three long years,
they watched this interloper crop 
produce nothing the least bit edible.

Many generations of melon and tomato,
herb and root vegetable,
filled the stomachs of the family
before the first spear was cut.

The farmer held it the palm of his hand,
admired the green shoot like a gold find,
could barely bring himself 
to pop it into his mouth.

But the asparagus was established now.
As slow to grow as a human child,
it would outlive tortoises.

To me, it tastes like unripe worms
I eat it more for the effort involved.


So what am I?
Primitive man
before the invention of fire, the wheel.
And here you are
in the bed beside me,
soft flesh of unexplained flame,
of roundness
that seems to be
taking me some place.
My arm around you,
I'm in awe
of the next great discovery.
Are those the bones
of a mastodon
stacked neatly on your pillow?
Is that a cudgel
where there once were lips?
I fall asleep
and dream of dragging you
by your long hair
into my cave.
I'm awoken by the alarm.
You murmur.
I curse.
Can a century
get any louder?

At the Cinema

I fell asleep
within the first five minutes.

It was 
the most boring movie
I never saw.

My eyes opened
to the credits roiling.

Actors, director, producer,
camera man, best boy,
grip, costume designer,
caterer - 

I may not know
what you did
but I know who you are.

Animal Night

The night is all animals,
black fur, unseen teeth and claws, 
but moving and howling, 
and with ten thousand glowing eyes.

The night evokes their instincts,
what they must do to survive,
whether prey or predator,
as small as wind or as large as the trees.

In the dark, I am one of them,
curl up in the bed beside you,
relishing the meal to come,
eager to make sounds.

On the Inside

somewhere between
gloved hands
of mid-January
and slewing light
across ice-skinned lakes

where I throw 
one more log on the fire
and each mound of snow
is like a white-cap
stiffened and alone
in a frozen ocean

when doors are fastened
and windows shuttered
and the outside 
takes the full weight 
of the weather 

I learn how to live
in confined spaces

in the loss of detail
everywhere but here

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Stand, Washington Square Review and Floyd County Moonshine. Latest books, “Covert” “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in the McNeese Review, Santa Fe Literary Review and Open Ceilings.


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