ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by John Grey


A street musician is all that he brings
to the party, plus or minus
the untidy fit of his clothes.
Today, it’s Bert and his wine glasses filled
to varying heights with water.
Two blocks away, it could be bongos
or a shabby guitar with only five strings.
But Bert beats out the competition easily
on novelty value alone.
Who else runs his palms over goblets
and coaxes passages of Schubert's Symphony No 1
from their humming liquid.
The bongo player only thumps in one key...
The guitarist ruins the day of those
who hoped to never hear another folk song.
But Bert seduces the ear
of not just the tourists out for local color
but the passing businessmen whose intrigue
suddenly gets the better of their inner conceit.
One guy in a gray suit even recognizes Schubert.
Eventually, the piece ends.
Coins rattle in Bert's grateful sidewalk cap.
One woman even buys a CD that she'll never play.
"It was going to be called Water Music,"
he explains, "until I realized that Handel
got there before me."
So "Music Water" it is. 12 songs.
All played with hands and glasses.
It's almost five. He packs his instruments.
Doesn't bother straightening his clothes.
He's off to his basement apartment on Geary
where he lives with Jean who does
portraiture in chalk in one city park or another.
Her dust. His damp fingers.
But loving for all that.
I know the couple well.
They look like her.
They sound like him.



We live quite close, a mile and a half by my reckoning.
Not close enough for sparks of course.
Not even close enough to pass in the street.
For you occupy a house with your husband,
a daughter who looks so much like you,
and a small son who covets his sister’s dolls,
takes one to bed with him when she’s not looking.
And I am in this other house with films of the
French new wave, Toni Morrison, Oscar Wilde
and a coffee table book of Monet’s paintings.
And my guitar of course.
If I can’t make music with others,
then I will damn well make some of my own.
And cooking for one though my culinary skills
tend toward the mundane.
Omelets for supper. Cold soup for breakfast.
But I do have a dishwasher, that sworn enemy
of a bachelor’s typical stack of dirty plates.
If you could only see me remove the eggs
from their brown carton. 
Or open a can of my favorite of Heinz’s 47 varieties.
You could not imagine what I have come to in life.
I wear clean clothes. I stay clear of trouble.
I have no wish to harm anyone
and my conscience is more and more clear.
I am that perfect example of a good man come too late to his goodness.
And currently an improvement on the one you’re married to.
Sadly, you’re in a place that’s at its best with what you’ve got.



Mid October,
happy birthday dead dad,
is something Fred doesn’t say,
consumed as he is
by his inaccurate, incomplete,
Wikipedia entry.

Fred Sr would have been 85
had he survived the crash,
but his son’s mind is elsewhere,
wound up by travesties.

He’s seated at the kitchen table,
traitorous laptop before him,
shouting “It’s all a lie!”
at the screen.

For a start, the bio is brief,
and his legal troubles
are made to look more serious
than they actually are,
and yes, the divorce was ugly,
but it says nowhere on the page
how the breakup was mostly her fault.

His dad was lucky
that he passed away in his fifties,
with the internet in its infancy,
didn’t have to fight the likes
of junior’s constant battle with fact-checkers.

Fred Sr doesn’t even have
his own Wikipedia listing.
No career specifics. No family details.
And, most importantly, no date of birth.
No wonder his son doesn’t know of it.



The deer is not in our headlights
because our eyes are elsewhere,
following conversation back and forth
between driver and passenger,
the road like a third party just listening in,
with nothing to add to the dialog,
while the trees indulge in their own
wind-swept tête-à-tête,
and the moon, the clouds,  keep their own counsel –
            but the deer,
            the deer,
the deer’s just enduring, surviving,
having nibbled the grass on one side of the pavement
wandering over to the other,
maybe heading in for the night,
or chewing on a late lush after-rain supper.

The deer has no need, no desire,
to interact with humans in any way,
minds its own deer business
until stunned by the shine,
suddenly frozen out of its world,
and directly in the path of ours.

“Look out!” you suddenly cry.
I jerk the wheel to the right,
lose traction, half my heart,
the word on my tongue,
before thumping against a ditch wall,
swinging around and,
through no skill of my own,
pointing back in the direction we were headed –
            and the deer,
            the deer,
the deer gallops away into the darkness,
its quickened breaths consumed by forest.

Your head’s darkened sorrow came to rest on my shoulder.
Relief’s potent pleasure began to creep through my veins.


Author John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in New World Writing, California Quarterly and Lost Pilots. Latest books, ”Between Two Fires”, “Covert” and  “Memory Outside The Head” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Isotrope Literary Journal, Seventh Quarry, La Presa and Doubly Mad.

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