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John Grey

 

 

SELF PORTRAIT
 

Yes, that's me alright
but my left hand is my right,
the mole has switched sides,
and my teeth are thoroughly confused
as to which ones contain filling.

 

I move one arm,
a simple enough motion,
but reflection refuses to do as I do.
No matter how I try to bring image to bear.
it disobeys me
with this infatuation with the very opposite.

 

Then I look at you
and you're no better.
Your sides are switched.
I'm weary of saying,
"My right, your left."
a thousand times a day.

 

I find it better to live alone
in a house without mirrors.

I get a better sense of who I am.
Long life's too short for contradiction.

TANGLED
 

It could have been a beautiful smile
except the face wasn't up to it.
And her hair was straggly,
the lines under her eyes likewise.
She just wanted bus fare, she said.
I gave her a dollar.
She thanked me with a tangled mouth
and a sad line in rotted teeth.

 

But she didn't head for the bus stop.
Wherever my buck was taking her,
it would not be on wheels.
She took a knee outside the pharmacy,
held the money up to the light.
Then one of her compatriots came by
and tried to snatch it from her.
She swore at him
and stuffed the note into the side pocket
of a dirty blue dress.

 

She could have said she needed charity
so she could wave it in the face
of someone worse off than her.
Or there was a hole in her outfit
that needed more stuffing.
But could be her dream
was to not only ride the bus,
but to have some place to go
other than whatever spot
she was standing in.

 

I happened to be walking in her direction
so that, when we passed again,
she either did not recognize me
or pretended not to
for she held out her palm
with the same plea as before.
She needed money for the bus.
I declined this time.
Maybe she saw stasis
as the best possible journey's end.
She knew only too well how to get there.
I had no way of paying for that.

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD


The lilies are born on their death-bed.
Come morning, these pretty blooms
will be all funeral.
I stare out my window at their cool breeze wake.
How they flutter.
How we'd all flutter
if we didn't know the truth.

 

I'm in a coffee shop
taking forever over the latest nectar
from the Kona Coast.
A lovely young woman nibbles on a muffin,
reads "The Great Gatsby."
I swear her lips move
reciting Daisy's lines.
I'm on the west coast for a week.
I'll never see her again.
That's a kind of death.

 

It can join shooting star
or glimpse of scarlet tanager
or grizzled face
in the attic window of the old house -
their brief is brevity.
Here then gone,
my life is this constant killer.

 

But some things stay around.
I have loved ones.
I've got possessions.
And a neighborhood, a town.
I may live for the transitory
but I live in the permanent.
By living, I keep so much alive.
The dead fade in and out,
are not my responsibility.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in
That, Muse, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Hawaii Review and the Dunes Review.