Wednesday, December 1, 2021





The Jacket


I‘ve known soldiers who kept their old uniforms

hanging pride-of-place in their closets.

Same with my old leather jacket.

I’ll never wear it again but somehow

it manages to dodge that yearly old-clothes clear-out,

when stuff that no longer fits,

or is two generations out of date,

goes into the local donation hamper.


It is a uniform in a way

though nothing like what the bike gangs wear,

the ones I see on the highway,

a skull on every back,

long gray hair on every head.


It’s from when it was cool

to think you were cool,

and what you draped tight around your shoulders,

how you strutted down the sidewalk

or on the floor of the club,

meant more than any books you’d read lately

or what woods you’d walked through,

what wildflowers you’d sniffed.


It was a way to impress the women

via the way I impressed myself,

posing before the mirror,

then learning to pose even when on the move,

a means of getting loud

even when my true nature was on mute,

an introduction so much more brave

than whatever would spill from my tongue.


That jacket was the finest attitude

any cowhide could come up with.

It had people believing

that it was really me.

Now it’s faded and a size too small.

Like the past.

It too, faded.

It too, a size too small.


My Hand


In its palette,

its creative force,

is a willingness to display itself,

body and soul,

the hand,

fresh from a rinse under the tap

and yet still with smidgens of dirt

under the nails.


The palm is crisscrossed,

one finger is ringed,

and, as it grasps,

it can intensify with stillness.


At other times,

it smears, it digs,

it tap-dances on a table,

is front and center

in many a magic act

and has more gestures

than an Italian soprano

(or just as many).


But now it merely

offers itself

to something similar

of yours.


It’s a vow

made of flesh and bone.

What I could tell you,

it will let you know.




I read these stories

where the hero is so heroic

there’s nothing left

for the rest of us.


He’s Superman.

He’s Hercules.

And what am I?


I thought that

the idea was to be human,

more average than not,

winning some,

losing some,

coming out equal enough

to die when the time is right.


But there’s super-villains

that you or I could never handle,

there are monsters that would devour

us in a trice.


I reckoned on things

like relationships, jobs,

family, education.


But I read these stories

where some guy

wants to control

the entire universe.


Of course, he’s defeated.

But not by anything in my tool kit.

Your Promises To Yourself


Chief among them,

with the agony

of a wrist operation

still brutalizing your memory,

the promise never to go

rock-climbing again.

Or water-skiing for that matter.

And certainly not

jumping off that cliff

strapped to a glider.


And then there were

those societal vows

like no more family barbecues

or, if forced to attend,

a one hamburger, one hotdog,

three sentence limit.

And none of that heart-losing stuff,

no matter how attractive the woman.

You would pay for the dinner

with stoicism.

You would invite her back to your place

but only if apathy

made up a threesome.


No more thrill-seeking, no more love-making.

Never be hurt again, was your motto. And it hurt.


No Need To Remind Me


Main Street is a high tide

of swirling brown water.

It’s already up to the waist

and deep and relentless

enough to drown in.


The river overwhelms dry land,

as earth swells,

trees slam into cars,

light-poles bend like old men,

and a mud-slide on Cemetery Hill

exposes coffins.


All it would take

is for one cocooned corpse

to break free,

float by the flooded houses,

abandoned Fords and Buicks,

the shuttered diner,

the church where townsfolk

gather to live as much as pray.


One guy dead

going on thirty years

is all the faces pressed to windows

need to see.

Same as the cop in his motorboat.

And rescue guiding down folks from rooftops.


Everybody’s doing their best to survive,

to ensure the survival of others.

So why drag up old cancers,

withered heart attacks.

Do your damage, floodwaters.

Just don’t emphasize.




JOHN GREY is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. Latest books, “Leaves On Pages” and “Memory Outside The Head” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Lana Turner and International Poetry Review.


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