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by John Grey



Ahead Of Themselves


These boys stare into early manhood,

but the pool reflects mere children.

There’s no stubble on the chin.

No red drunken eyes.

From this rippling mirror,

they want something older than themselves,

not what they look like

but what they think like.

But how unscarred the cheeks,

the brow, the throat.

Looking for self-respect,

they find nothing but the self.


Better look inward if they’re ever

to get ahead of themselves.

In the head, they can borrow

from fathers, older brothers,

of better yet, from the movies –

fast cars, loose women,

oodles of money to spend.

The heart may keep them

as young as they are

but who goes looking there?


But then the boys start pushing

each other, sharing crass jokes,

cussing out classmates,

splashing in the water.

They revert to their own age.

It’s happy to have them.




a line, (a short blue one)



Visiting The Abandoned Country Graveyard


The stones are old,

the bodies below older still.

But not as old as the surrounding trees

or the earth that binds the bones.

An ancient couple stumble

through the rusty gate,

slowly make their way

along a weed-ridden path,

struggle to read

the faded names of the dead.

The wind whispers,

“You’re new here,

aren’t you?”




a line, (a short blue one)



In A Strange Town


I stood there

on a Main Street sidewalk,

amidst an outbreak of life,

people walking briskly by me,

or darting in and out of stores,

or catching up with friends.


I glimpsed a face,

perfect in its delineation.

I heard a voice

soft and clipped.


They touched,

with unexpected light,

an instinct comatose in me

for far too many years.


This led to

once grounded feet

now in mid-air,

acceptance of my circumstances



Senses, I should have warned you.

I was young once.




a line, (a short blue one)



Near Midnight, Maine Fishing Village


Near midnight, I stroll down by the waterfront.

Cold and warm claim the same territory.

Mist ensues.  No moon. No stars.

I can’t see the pier but can hear the

water rocking its foundations.

And the steel thump of a trawler against wood.


I find myself at the foot of the fisherman’s memorial.

Here there is the dead calm that those memorialized

on its plaque must have prayed for in their last hours.

I hear footsteps. Two drunken men, arm in arm,

stagger in and out of view. A solitary clip-clop follows.


Dense fog becomes a wraith at first,

then part woman, then the whole. She

does not speak. Her world is part-air part-water.

And the red rose in her hand is the

only color for miles. She kneels, places that flower

at the statue’s base, then rises, retreats

into her ghost form and then her nothingness.


Time for home now, I follow the lantern-like

house-lights up the hill. Something flies overhead.

Someone else passes me, unseen, unknown.

Once inside my cottage, all the sight and sounds

are personal. Floorboard creak. That blue wallpaper.

The scrape of a chair. The fireplace. The clatter of cups.

My life is not at odds with the fog rolling in.

No one I love was taken by the sea.




a line, (a short blue one)



The Archaeologist


What kind of man does it take
to look out at nothing but a stretch
of bleak, heat-scorched desert
and see a city?
You could dig here for years
and find only more sand, more rock
or maybe some half-buried trash
from a recent camel caravan.
Even on your best day,
your moments of sweat,
your hours of grinding, sapping, labor,
might yield no more than
a pottery fragment,
a splinter of glass.

What kind of man does it take
to imagine a city
and find it's all desert anyhow?
No temple.
No tomb.
No bronze god.
No cat in onyx.
No pharaoh in gold.
Your dreams may provide
courtyards and markets,
coffins and jars,
bearded kings and veiled concubines
perfumes and spices,
muslin and palms...
but your sleep has never been arid,
doesn't have start with nothing
and burrow and excavate from there.

You pose with some locals,
face red, shovel in your hand,
barrenness on all sides,
make copies for family and friends
all over the world,
so they'll know the kind of man.


a line, (a blue one)


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