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by John Grey




Guide To The Track


Horses on the track run

against time, also against

the betting stub I'm holding between

my thumb and forefinger.


They've got it in their heads

that if they don't burst out

of those blocks as fast as they can,

they'll be whipped until they do.


And they're whipped anyhow.

One swift blow to the rump,

another to the flanks. The sooner

they cross the finish line, the sooner


the pain stops. But me, I pick

another loser. Maybe he wasn't fast

enough. Maybe he wasn't whipped

enough. Or could be the whipping


had the opposite effect: you lash

me buddy and I'm just gonna suck

it up and make sure you lose.

Maybe that poor creature is just


so slow that all the negative incentive

in the world and it's still not going to pick

up a lick of speed. This is what the

form guide doesn't tell you. It's big


on breeding and colors and the jockey's

Latin name but how things really stand

is lost somewhere among the prize money

and the track conditions. It's why I put my


dreams on something called rags to riches.

And then I go to the track and place a bet.




a line, (a short blue one)



For You


transformation bedded down

in tree roots

flatters an acorn


into believing that

from a small intimation of self

a man can appear

in the bed beside

a mature female embodied being


one of whom reaches over the other

to answer a ringing phone


and mumbles

"It's for you" -




a line, (a short blue one)



At The Bend


At the bend of the needy body,

she climbed inside.

she didn't care, naked thirst,

liquid doors pricked opened.

a flood of heroin

quenched into the arm,

which is the subject.

centered here, shivering words,

protesting innermost.

along with these animals,

inhuman human animals,

as she did and did again,

as her skin is seared,

at its constant absorbing

at terrible pace, into the spine,

at this hard bony spine,

bent like a strong-bow,

carbon fumes inhaled,

cavities of fear come to engineer,

death-spiral delivered by its drugs:

pusher, did you feel her tremble.

there on the other side of her face.

a brain effusion fed at the vein?

Her breath from the dark place

has melted through her chest.

heavy water, her blanched throat,

here, in the underbelly,

she didn’t think ever touched,

would be seen again,

if relief should stream

through each crook of the elbow:

in silences and scribbled thoughts,

poison to the body.

its white noise in stilled screams

And. at the fringe of the habit,

red eyes, maybe a purring cat

or something.




a line, (a short blue one)



The Snake At The Bottom Of The Garden


Sure the snake in the Bible

was the fraudster to end all fraudsters.

But what about the one in the bottom of the garden.

It’s coiled against the back fence.

It’s not venomous. Just a foot or so

of ugly reptile minding its own business.


He looks lost and small in the shadow of the roses,

looks up at me with the fear that I should be feeling.

After all, I’m the one who shudders

when I turn the page of a book on wildlife

and a glossy cobra hisses at me from a photograph.

Surely, the tables aren’t turned this easily.

At this rate, I’ll soon be comfortable around loaded pistols.


The snake suddenly makes a slithery escape,

sliding over my shoe as it does so.

I topple backward with shock,

fall to the ground with my palms splayed

to keep the impact away from my head.


I vow to remember this as an attack

by a vicious asp on an unwary man.

My phobias may bend

but no way must they break.





a line, (a short blue one)



Awaiting A Fisherman’s Return


A blind eye is best for looking out to sea.

Or even turning the other away, ignoring the French windows.

Too many shadows creep in at this hour,

envelop the fishing village.

And deafness is another advantage.

There’s much too much dread in those ringing bells,

too much anger in the whipping winds.

And stepping outside is like attending a funeral.

The weathervane spins the words “Ashes to ashes.”

And the church steeple represents one unanswered prayer too many.

Just light a candle, sit in your comfortable chair,

forget about the whirlpool the ocean can sometimes be.

Let night fall around you. Sleep if that helps.

Remember the last farewell.

How warm his arms engulfed you.

Or the boat chugging away from the pier,

the docks cleaned of fish, awaiting the next haul.

Pour yourself a glass of wine.

Hum a favorite song under your breath.

Ignore the pounding of the waves, embrace the heart.

And, whatever you do, don’t climb

the rickety staircase to the roof.

Don’t take a solemn stroll around that widow’s walk.

He may yet come home.

But don’t get ahead of yourself.

There’s never anyone there.





a line, (a blue one)


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