Two Poems by John Grey


Angel was Lionel’s child bride.
Her skin was brown on brown,
draped in clothes that were handmade,
with brown beads and wooden cross
around her throat.

If she had stayed on her island,
she’d have been carrying jugs
of water on her head,
from the lagoon to the house.
Instead, she sat at the window,
stared through the glass
at the surrounding neighborhood,
with its oaks, its pines,
and not a palm tree in sight.

I last saw her on Island Day.
She had it marked on the calendar.
She and Lionel would have celebrated
except Lionel was dead.
She lived off his insurance
and blessed his name at vespers.
He would have been sixty-two that year.

I am John, a good Anglo-Saxon name.
I drank with Lionel from time to time,
in his house, while Angel flitted about,
filling glasses, trays of peanuts,
showing pictures of her beach back home
and the shack that she was raised in.
Then she’d lie about how much she loved Providence
while washing dishes,
and singing a song in a language unknown to me.

She didn’t go back home after he died.
Instead she took up art.
Lots of horses and vines and feet in sandals.
Lionel figured he had rescued her from poverty.
She never contradicted that.
But there was so much sunshine in her canvases,
I had to turn from the glare at times.

She didn’t sell anything.
Nor could she find work
when the money ran out.
And she was older herself,
middle-aged, and still struggling
with the language.
She did know the word “Beautiful”
but no one stroked her cheek
and whispered it to her anymore.

She was the third suicide that summer
of people that I knew
at least a little.
She wrote a note on the back of a napkin.
It was a plea to her friend Jo
to look after her pet conure,
the one she had bought for company.

Her last work was a brilliantly-hued bougainvillea.
She would have loved to be buried
in their shade
but was interred in the ground instead.

At forty-three, she was still a child bride,
with death as her much older suitor.


If your Uncle George calls in early January,
you will not hear from him again until next late summer.
That’s when he’ll be vociferously advertising
the last cookout of the season
Don’t be surprised if you do not attend.

Count on a visit from some church missionaries in May
when it is warm enough for the little family group
to walk the streets in comfort.
Be assured that the snows of December will,
as always, render you totally godless.

As for the joke someone tells you in February,
that still gets a laugh when you repeat it to yourself,
you will end up, come March, in the company
of someone who has not heard it before.
Make the most of the moment.
As April showers prime the trees and grasses,
the joke will be far less humorous than it’s ever been.

Winter dreams do not come true.
The Spring versions are mostly rehashes
of the brumal variety.
In Summer, who has time to dream anyhow?
Fall dreams can be explained in terms
of the grasp that can’t quite reach.
There’s a reason it’s called Fall.

If, in September, your mother
reminds you how tough she had it
when she was a little girl,
trudging through miles of snow
to attend a one-room barely heated schoolhouse,
keep in mind that that story is not going anywhere.
It’s like a giant octopus with 365 tentacles
(366 in a leap year) and the calendar can’t escape.

No season is more conducive to death than any other.
Except, in Summer, folks have to cancel their vacation plans.
Or not as the case may be.
In addition, it is wise to take into consideration
that an aphorism may not be a truth
but no one ever repeats one like they’re lying.



JOHN GREY is an Australian poet, US resident. He has recently published in Midwest Quarterly, Poetry East, and North Dakota Quarterly, with work upcoming in South Florida Poetry Journal, Hawaii Review, and the Dunes Review.


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