On a hot February Saturday,

the families of workers

from the tobacco factory

spread blankets on the grassy field,

haul coolers packed with beer and ice and

steaks and hotdogs as someone in a chef's garb

starts up the portable grill.

Plastic table cloths adorn tables.

Bowls of salad miraculously appear.

Young boys kick a soccer ball around.

Girls mark up a cement walkway for hopscotch.

A few kids poke around in the nearby pond,

collect tadpoles or yabbies in glass jars.

"Watch out for snakes," a mother warns.

In the small playground, a father swings

his daughter out, assured, no doubt,

that for the foreseeable future,

gravity will bring her back to him.

A mother nudges a shy boy to

go play with the others.

Management make their fleeting appearance,

dressed in golf shirts and plain slacks

that give off an aura of three piece suits.

They share a couple of corny jokes,

pat the heads of various kids, then leave.

This is a picnic for the hoi polloi after all.

"But," as one VIP remarked to another,

as they headed off for the golf course,

"they need to know who's paying for all this."

That father is still swinging his daughter.

The mother refuses to give up

on a boy who's almost in tears.

It's typical of all the grizzled,

worn down, bleary eyed laborers

with their scarred hands,

bent backs and lungs of black tar.

Their kids need to know

who's paying for all of this.






Sea ends here.

Land does also.

Wind brags how it can cross

any line I draw in the sand.

The year is barely holding on,

It's time for it to be over.


Night creeps into the frame.

Day is hunted to the death,

along with its fragile sky.

But even darkness is a ghost,

as flimsy as childhood memory.


Moon in the tree

is ripe for hanging.

Stars belt out a tune

but not a one of them know the words.

I'm growing older.

Time has a hard time reaching

anywhere of importance to me.


It's December,

that cold Sunday of a month,

bone white

and rhyming like the carols

that everyone's stopped singing.

It's a relic.

An idea left over

from some ancient calendar.

It's like the victim of a holdup

that tries to act brave

and is shot dead for its troubles.


So another year it is.

Another year to take the stage

so it can be jerked off in rough fashion.

Beer and cheers and Auld Lang Syne

and already an anachronism.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

a curse or two will remember.






"It's time!" I focus on something absurd,

a line I would use.

After dark, amid the residue of a carnival,

in the dark town park. Why not the bandstand?

I feel the insistence of summer,

the rise in temperature, a measurement of some kind, of

me asking, asking, "How much longer can this go on?"


By the cemetery where the mourners

perform some kind of ritual, faces down,

eyes vaporing. I lean my elbows on a tombstone,

fear for the shy girl asking, "How much will it hurt?"


Bulldozers and wrecking balls take down neighborhoods

gunshots are the nearest thing here to nostalgia.

In an empty lot, a shy girl, a crown of curls,

tickles my nostrils as I imagine night revealing

some evening sacrifice despite the threat of rain -

it tumbles down.


Then there's the river,

adorned in city-light jewelry,

its banks as soft as pillows,

the scat of animals, puddles,

while I make an intimate with the pure and generous,

setting her house-trained dignity

against an odd pleasant pride in her womanhood,

as my mouth strokes her neck, tastes the veins

of her sudden dry cough. Better this than motel rooms,

greasy garage storage closet.


Later, in the coffee shop, sipping joe,

pecking blueberries from a muffin like a bird,

she comes by with a couple of her friends.

We don't celebrate our new status

merely gobble at each other's eyes like pigeons.

I have a hard time forgetting my clumsiness.

She recalls something other than the sweaty

grind of it all. A nearby couple argue

over something trivial. He slams his cup down.

She crashes her chair back against the wall,

grabs her pocket book and leaves.

What we witness is not sex.

But, as with love-making, it appears to be a function.


John Grey


Bio:  John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Front Range Review, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Naugatuck River Review, Abyss and Apex and Midwest Quarterly.