Two Poems by John Grey

In a Kenyan Village

So much mud, the women wear it in their hair,
it cakes the men’s bodies.
There’s not a wheel that turns
that doesn’t run on it.
A horse-drawn cart bears fish from
the muddy water up the muddy trail
to the mud hut kraal.
Mud grabs hooves like hands from graves.
Lucky if it makes it up the hill,
if it tastes goods muddy hay by noonday sun.
Goats continually unpin themselves.
The beggar’s muddy hand knocks on
the muddy windshield.
Spare anything that isn’t mud, he asks.
Along the roadside, men are boiling peanut oil.
Smells like mud. Dip your bread in it
and it tastes like mud too.
Children play in mud.
Teenagers toss it at old men
too muddy to bother to dodge.
In summer, they tell me,
it all turns to concrete
but for now, with spring rain briefly paused,
refueling, the world doesn’t turn,
it shambles, shakes off, shuffles.
A man is carving wood.
Why not mud?
It’s in the shape of an elephant,
huge tusks,
wide African ears.
It lumbers into shape
like a beast in a muddy bog.

Real Tears, The Sale Price

At funerals, I’m suitably solemn
but I cry at malls.,
Kneel me before the body,
send me down the gauntlet
of closest relatives,
sit me with the sobbing friends,
and I have logic and restraint enough
to keep my eyes from gushing.
But if a shoe store stands where a lake once did
or a food court rises from an orchard’s bones,
then just watch these irises redden
like gaping wounds,
and their taps drip down onto size tens,
the French fries.
Look at the expressionless dummies in the windows.
Real flesh and blood girls used to come here.
And who wants to buy a television
when I, my friends, the woods, the water,
were the program that transmitted
from this very spot.
The dead go to heaven and good luck to them.
But last year’s fashions go to the ‘marked-down’ table.
Can the past be far behind?

Profile: John Grey

Three Poems by John Grey


I am watching a convicted murderer on television,
I am looking for signs in his haggard face
as to why one man kills another.

I stare at my own face in the mirror and believe
I can find the departure points where a man goes off to love.
The milky eye is a giveaway, and surely the trembling lip.

In the interview, his voice is flat and bland,
as he goes over the bloody details like a shopping list.
Interview me lover, you’ll hear my giddy, bouncy truth.

He was in the way so I shot him, the guy finally confesses.
It makes me shudder. What if you were in the way so I loved you?
They gave him forty years. What if they’d given him our forty years?


A scribbled line just overwhelmed all rifle fire.
An artist in a sunless loft keeps deflating war.
Three notes from a cello and an arms supplier
rumbles, crumbles, tumbles.

Even the barest threads of a short story
are coming for the knife fight in the vacant lot,
the march where cops lay into protesters.

A good read feeds the starving.
Theater opens prison doors.
Movies disarm soldiers.
Free verse strangles the last dictator.
Politicians live in fear of sonatas, portraits,
sonnets, guitar solos and ballerinas.

That’s the latest bulletin from the art world.
The rest of the news would follow
if there was any.


Life flares in spurts
along the length of the highway –
stray peasants beating bony dogs,
lone adobe houses
guarding poor farms,
missions and their solitary bells.
But the faces are cut for survival,
are pasted together with
earth and spit and hot wind
and tequila.

The land is about time,
long time.
Even centuries are spurious
to the sparse rock field
that stretches like a ballerina’s leg
between the Pacific Ocean
and the Gulf of California.

And now it’s something else.
My assault on its primitive beauty
as I scorch the Jeep
through the longest stretches
of straight, flat asphalt.
The engine hisses like
a startled snake.
Burning fuel is sucked up
by the searing sun.
I speed on through arid landscape,
faster, even faster.
The stillness will catch me yet.

Profile: John Grey