John Grey, A Beginning

RED SKY

No, it’s not blood.
The sky hasn’t slashed its wrist
or even pricked a finger.
It’s just the trailing edge of the sun
as it disappears over the horizon.

And there’s also a tint of yellow in there,
some purple rind at the edges,
but it’s the aureate crimson
that keeps its eye on the eye.

It’s all finished with legends.
No wounded crepuscular tiger.
Not the enormous wings of a falling golden eagle.
The earth spins which is miracle enough.
But no animals are harmed by its revolutions.

To judge by the creeping shadows,
it’s a forerunner
to landscape’s inevitable loss of detail.
Now all fire is dependent
on the fuel unexpended within me.

I watch the color slowly drain from the sky.
It was never blood.
I’m obliged to its beauty
but I don’t feel a loss.

WORK DAY

get up at six thirty
leave the house at seven
ride south on route six
to route ten connector

exit at industrial park
by abandoned jewelry factories
and hopeful tech startups

to the great blue metal box
where the day
crawls like a slug
in the least poetic style imaginable

as the gulf between
mind and imagination
widens from fissure
to canyon

and somehow or other
enough work gets done
by these hands

for the boss to almost smile
and the whole routine
to repeat itself the following day —

this is the way the world ends

not with a bang
but with a beginning

SUDDEN STORM AT THE SHORE

We watched from behind rocks,
the only thing the wild wind off the ocean
couldn’t carry off so easily
as, behind us, in the campground,
carports flapped, their poles shook,
and all came crashing down
on makeshift picnic tables.

Some folks grabbed at their flying possessions.
Others cut their losses, piled into cars,
headed for the nearest asphalt,
away from the deep-sea blast.
Children cried.
Adults did their best
to avoid slap-happy tree branches.
The pool couldn’t mix it with the ocean.
Its waters clambered over the cement sides
in abject defeat.
The roof threatened to lift off
the showers and bathrooms.
A plastic dinosaur rose to the pine-tops.
Determined to wait it out,
we watched as spray cascaded down upon our heads.

The fury abated in time.
Debris was scattered everywhere.
What was once campground
was now an eerie battleground
on which the two of us strolled,
hand in hand while, behind us,
the victor rippled calmly,
its gentle waves lapping against the shore
half-apology, half-rubbing it in.

The campers slowly returned,
reclaimed what they could of their vacations.
They shook their fists at the sea
before splashing and laughing in it.
They cursed the wind then embraced it.
They all declared it a beautiful spot.
With a bright, warm sun, clear skies,
they couldn’t praise cruelty enough.

RAMBLE

Forget the open fields.
It’s the skin of my former life
that invites my footsteps.
This is not about hills and ponds,
wildflowers and warblers.
I set off in pursuit of what’s forever gone.

No need to dress for it
in all-weather clothes and hiking boots.
I can lie on the bed, look up at the ceiling.
And off I go like Scrooge with his own ghost.

First stop is a restaurant.
There’s someone seated alone.
A woman I think.
Then a statue of a fisherman.
A hand is rubbing its knee for good luck.
A city is laid out before me
like an illustration in a book.
I can skip from a theater that’s no longer standing
to that brick and glass monstrosity
where I held down my first job.

But I wasn’t expecting greenery,
so there’s no disappointment.
Then again, the faces haven’t changed
so there is disappointment.
My boss is seated in his office
with the door closed.
I can still hear him saying,
“My door is always open.”
It never is.

No risk of stumbling on a pebble,
falling down a ditch.
The stumbling, falling, are on a higher plane.
There’s a glance.
A smile that’s eclipsed by a frown.
Over I go.
It hurts but it’s not a topple down a cliff.
It works so hard on opening my eyes
wide as an owl’s
but it won’t kill me.
And there’s no possibility of an owl.

RAMBLE

The wisdom is blatantly assumed
by those older than me.
But the grayer, more manicured, the hair,
the less likely I am to listen.
And when it comes to the advice of headstones,
I am deafness almighty.

But I don’t sweat.
My muscles don’t ache.
Nor do they count their blessings.
Not when that woman is still waiting at the table
and the light shines through the red of her wine
and it’s like she’s bled down the front of her blouse.
She can’t hear my apology unfortunately.
Maybe my hair’s too gray, too manicured.

I go by old ball-games, fierce storms,
beach trips and church services,
but it’s regret I keep coming back to.
No journey on foot would ever lead me there.
But the mind can’t stay away.

When I say, I’ll be there at eight,
I don’t mean I’ll show up
in a poem written many years later.
Only that’s what I do mean.
So there you are waiting.
And here I am rambling.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dunes Review, Poetry East, and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Qwerty, Thin Air, Dalhousie Review, and failbetter.

Read more of John here.

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