John Grey

Photo Credit: byronv2/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

In summer and fall,
he hounds the festivals,
guitar strapped to his back,
as ancient as the Appalachians
and the streets of London
at the time of the plague.

He’s not invited exactly,
but he’s been doing this for years,
his features leathered
by many days outdoors,
his long gray hair tethered in a ponytail.

Folks know his face
even if they don’t know his name,
and his cracked voice warbling
“Silver Dagger” or “All My Trials”
is as familiar as a blanket on the grass.
The organizers don’t pay him.
He scrapes together
the coins, the notes,
passersby toss in his battered hat.

Sometimes, come winter
he hocks his guitar
for a few bucks
to pay his sister
while he sleeps in a heap
on her parlor floor.

She hasn’t the heart
to toss him out in the cold.
Besides, come Christmas,
with all the family gathered,
he sings, a cappella,
“The First Noel.”
He sings all six verses
when one is more than enough.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Evening Street Review and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly. Email: jgrey5790[at]gmail.com

Two Poems

John Grey

Photo Credit: Stéphanie Crombé/Flickr (CC-by)

The Hustlers

He’s out there on the sidewalk.
determined to save all souls.
I drop a quarter in his cup
but I refuse his pamphlet.
I never took Jesus for a beggar.
Or someone who grabs my arm,
regales me to repent.
I’m in a hurry, I tell him.
He replies that there’s no hurry
in eternity.
Yes, and my boss
only thinks he’s God.

A block further
and some guy’s handing out pamphlets
to a strip club.
It’s easier to take one
than be badgered.
It finds its way
into the nearest trash bin.

And let’s not forget
the restaurant owner
who’s on the sidewalk
poking a menu in my face.
Or the guy selling knockoff handbags.
Or watches. Or art books.
Or his sister for all I know.

This city figures it needs to
be in my face.
Then I pass a woman I’d like to know better.
She’s the first one all day
who shrinks from the sight of me.

I got little money
and everybody wants it.
I got a lot of love
but there’s no walking those streets.


The Female Poet in the Book Store

She read what seemed to be
an enormous number of her poems,
but there were none that showed
any insightful observation of society.
If her work was any guide,
she was indifferent to the outside world.
There were enough words in her own condition
to fuel a lifetime of poetry.

She shared with us her addictions,
her broken love affairs,
her deadly relationship with her family,
even the travails of her monthly period.
Defeated most times, angry often,
unrelentingly pessimistic
and with body parts to match,
she was like a patient
in an operating theater
who does the cutting open herself.
Blood and bile,
spit and choler,
we got everything bar her stomach contents.

Of course, I applauded
when she was done.
It helps set a guy apart
from whoever he’s applauding.
Then I bought one her books.
her intestines were not included.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Stillwater Review and Big Muddy Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Columbia College Literary Review and Spoon River Poetry Review. Email: jgrey10233[at]aol.com

In Settling Up Property

John Grey

zipping up the cracks of life - IMG_3812_web

Photo Credit: Kevin Dean/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Half a Dylan box set—
I take the early years,
you get the breakup stuff
and the religion.

Two televisions so that split is easy.
The 40-inch, stuck for life
on American Idol, is yours.
Its smaller brethren,
lover of all things Shark Week,
comes to me.

You don’t want the microwave,
so that’s mine.
In return, I concede you
your grandmother’s prize dishes.

Strange how everything
divides so easily,
as if there always was
my stuff and your stuff
and we just didn’t know it.

And the little that we did share
like the bed, the couch,
the kitchen table,
I can take to with a chainsaw,
wield that implement
like someone from a drive-in horror flick,
hack them equitably down the middle.

All that togetherness we pledged
ten years ago
was begging for a cutting implement
to sever the join,
to save us all this trouble.
But back in those times, my love,
I could never get my hands free.

pencilJohn Grey is an Australian-born poet. Recently published in Oyez Review, Rockhurst Review and Spindrift with work upcoming in New Plains Review, Big Muddy Review, Willow Review and Louisiana Literature. Email: jgrey10233[at]aol.com

A Photograph of Emma

Broker’s Pick
John Grey

Mother and Daughter 1950s
Photo Credit: Sam Salt

She finally settled on hat and dogs.
The canines were retrievers,
eager to be elsewhere I am sure,
pulling wounded ducks out of the water
or, wet with blood, from the long grasses.
And she parades the hat so confidently
atop her long dark hair
like she can’t imagine there would
ever come a time when women
no longer wear the blessed things.
It’s 1939, war breaks out in Europe,
Hitler’s army’s on the march,
but you wouldn’t know it
from the serenity of her face.
Her eyes widen.
Head tilts up.
A nondescript smile
creases her lips.
Fact is, I know more about her circumstance
than she does.
Four years on from that moment,
she loses a husband in France,
and only one of her three children
survives into the fifties.
It takes a resilient heart
to sit for a photograph like this.
But then again, I’m not posing


John Grey has been published recently in Echolocation, Santa Fe Poetry Review and Caveat Lector with work upcoming in Clark Street Review, Poem and The Evansville Review. Email: jgrey10233[at]aol.com