ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by John Grey


I stake out a bench
in the park,
on the hillside,
overlooking the pond.
My sketch book on my lap,
I raise my pencil
as a signal to my art.

It's all a ruse.
I'm not really here
to capture still green water
on paper,
or gliding ducks,
or couples walking terriers,
or women in sweat-suits jogging.

And it's not where I depart
the ordinary world
for its interior truth
as the eyes of the artist sees it.

I'm merely here
to impress these others
also on their benches
with their sketch books on their laps,
their pencils raised,
what never comes to pass
all about to begin.

We're all geniuses in our minds.
So why bother our hands and tools?



His hat was on the table,
a salute to mating and breeding,
its rim baptized in liquor and cigars.

It was sixty years ago,
when a man in the kitchen
led to blood rising in your cheeks.

Birds twittered in the background,
the only unembarrassed sounds.
You wore blue you remember

and you wanted so much to have your say in it
but he spoke only to your father.
He worked in grubby overalls

but he donned a gray suit that day.
The two men shared your father's cheapest wine,
talked in concerned whispers

while you held onto your breath.
Eventually, they shook hands.
The man kissed your cheek.

Your father smiled,
then retreated to the bedroom,
to leave the two of you alone,

to bring the news to your dead mother.
You stood mutely.
He said, "How does sometime in April sound?"

You nodded.
He gave you a brief hug and left.
It was near sunset.

You stood at the front window,
waved his clunky black car goodbye.
On the front lawn,

a bird in clownish colors
berated the cruel last seed of the day.



It's late.
Time to go.
We've been here for hours.
While we were here -
a woman could have given birth to triplets,
a family driven from New York to Washington,
a super bowl might have been won and lost
with double the length of the halftime show.
Imagine if we'd stayed home
and I'd begun reading "War And Peace."
Napoleon would be at Moscow's door by this.
Or if you'd practiced piano
in lieu of small talk.
We'd have the "Moonlight Sonata"
to go with this moonlight.
Instead, we spent all this time
talking to people we hardly know
about nothing of interest
while nibbling on boring food
and sipping cheap wine.
And it's forty five minutes
here and back besides.
It's not just late.
It's too late.
It's not merely time to go.
It's time lost for all time.
The hosts say,
"I hope you enjoyed yourselves."
That's a hope dead on arrival.
That's a hope they'll never get back.



It was our first weekend away together, a cabin on a New Hampshire Lake.          
It was my idea. But she said "Yes." Whatever did she mean by that?          
"Yes" to cabins? "Yes" to lakes? "Yes" to New Hampshire? To me?          
She said she hadn't been to the White Mountain State since vacationing     
there with her grandma when she was twelve years old or so.         
So she was expecting grandma to tuck her in? And there I'd be instead.

There I'd be, au naturel, and slipping in beside her, tuck in not my intention.         
It's so beautiful in the White Mountains, she said.    
I then listened to her awe at snow-covered peaks, deep blue waters,
deer nibbling at the side of the road, loons in full flight,      
and was that a bear or was that not a bear, glimpsed briefly through spruce trees.  
She didn't mention naked men at quarter of eleven at night.

But quarter of eleven it would be by the clock on the cabin dresser.
And she wouldn't be giddy with excitement at a visit to Santa Land tomorrow       
or a ride on the gondola, or the cog train up Mount Washington.    
The kid tourist was to reality what snow melt is to cliff face.          
There's always a hard truth left behind and this had arms to hold her,         
lips to march in pursed formation down her body half the night.     

And yet, I saw what she meant, the beauty, out the window, the calm         
of the waters, sun through sycamore, gilding the surface.    
It was the first time in my life I'd thought of God before breakfast. 
We sat in bathrobes on the patio despite the chilly air.         
The surrounds were an extension of her and she let that be known. 
I looked down at my own self and saw knuckles, fingernails, wristwatch.  

And yet she smiled warmly at me, the kind of smile no knuckle ever knew,           
nor fingernail, nor wristwatch, despite what I paid for it in Macys. 
We sipped coffee but that wasn't what we drunk.     
If I was having her tresses on shoulders then she must have been    
working on every strand of my hair from where it left the scalp      
to the way it finally curled up around the ears.         

And then surely we both started on the distant mountain range,      
the water sparkle, and mixed it with each other, all the way down. 
It was the first of many weekends away together, but this was the archetype.         
Always a beautiful spot, always naked at a quarter of eleven,          
always coffee in the morning, outside, where the landscape didn't bother to stop   
when it reached our dangling toes, our fingers round the handle of the cup.

It was my idea. But she said "Yes." Whatever did she mean by that?          
"Yes" to the first time because there always has to be a first time?  
"Yes" to every subsequent time, knowing that there would be many?         
"Yes" to beauty?. "Yes" to this particular role we play in it?
Or maybe just "Yes" to the word "Yes." As if, once spoken,
no other word would ever describe exactly what it is we do.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. Latest books, “Leaves On Pages” “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Ellipsis, Blueline and International Poetry Review.

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