John Grey Australian born poet, playwright, musician. U.S. resident since late seventies. Married to Gale, no children. Collects music, movies, books and the very early copies of Mad Magazine.
It’s an old run-down hotel
in the Mission district.
You’ve been here a year,
mostly sitting in your room,
sometimes down at the desk
signing over checks.
It’s strictly flophouse accommodation,
with a bed and a rusty basin
and a bathroom down the hall.
The window is a bitch to open
and the view’s a warehouse,
empty but for the second floor clinic
where first year doctors volunteer.
The bulb above you doesn’t work
but the lamp on the bedside table does.
The main attraction is lying atop the sheet
and watching flakes of paint
slowly uncoil from the ceiling,
work their way to the floor.
You’re going on fifty,
a mere child in this hotel’s years.
It’s seen at least two world wars, Korea,
Vietnam, and every desert skirmish since.
You even served in one of those
though, for the life of you,
you can’t remember which one.
Nothing of that time remains,
not a medal, not a bullet casing,
not a letter from an old comrade
who marched into hell beside you.
All you know is
you survived to live another day.
Just not this one.
Louisa’s Last Walk in the Park
She saw a man high up on a ladder
and thought how dangerous that looked
and followed the journey of a bird
and understood how easy it was for flying
things to soar over mazes and solve them.
A warm, almost hot April and she remarked
to a stone wall wrapped in thick thorny vines
that the seasons were losing their mind
and she watched red winged beetles descend
on a patch of new river bank, green
like a plague, and there were horses on trails
where she had never before seen horses.
Was the world coming to an end or was
it merely clearing out one way of doing things
as she had done in the old house with the
gabled roof and the broad high windows
that almost seemed to sit atop the twilight
and drink from it like an antelope at a water hole.
She had never been content then, moving
furniture, wondering if that dress was too sexy
for her log jam of a body, or if the ones
she should be wearing smelt too much of the dead.
And there were so many men, hardly a woman
at all in the park, not walking straight and steady
but spilled like beer cans, some lolling
on the grass, one lifting a child high above
his head as an offering to the circling hawks.
Someone read a book, tearing each completed page
from its binding, squeezing it in his hand.
Another tossed a colored ball toward the distant
skyscrapers, surrendered it to a buffet of floating
things, of spinning airborne flirtations.
It began to rain and she hid her head but strangers
danced in it as if it didn’t matter that their flesh would rot,
as if some prison door beyond the row of oaks had been flung open
and they gloried in this desolate freedom.
Something rattled in her stomach, a hidden hand
clutched a mound of inner flesh, whispered it’s time to go in now.
She turned towards the bandstand where a musician
picked up his drenched sheet music,
slowly slipped his violin into its case.
The tail grew overnight,
whipped the back of my legs
as I stumbled out of bed.
I rubbed my eyes and
thick brown hair sprouted
from my knuckles, my palms,
my limbs, my torso, everywhere.
Talons tunneled their way out of my flesh,
protruded from my feet.
I looked warily in the mirror.
I was all whiskers, long teeth,
sharp as daggers.
Thankfully, I knew you
would always love me
despite what I’d become.
Hence the piece of cheese
waiting for me in the kitchen.
Not on the table but floor level
where I could scurry more easily.
And sprinkled with your special seasoning
from the bottle with the X’s on the side.
I was a rat but you forgave me.