I’m crushed metal.
My stomach is a twisted steering wheel,
head, a sidewalk
sluiced by gutters of blood.
But then a shiver in my gut,
a claw at my throat.
One eye opens painfully,
glints stars, glass and flesh.
My nerves whisper to my heartbeat…
I’ve seen his face. It’s me.
A vibrating howl of pain.
A voice. Not God’s. Must be mine.
And my brow, a billion bee stings.
Now I remember.
My whole life didn’t flash before me.
Not unless it was those years driving the van,
the past swerving, crossing the yellow line.
No, I never left the present
and it didn’t leave me.
Arms ache. Legs pounds. Chest burns.
This moment’s all that I can handle.
THE JANUARY PEOPLE
nothing survives the frost,
not even the dream-rose,
the imagined child
the January chill,
is that great teacher of patience,
that provocateur of despair
and my surroundings
are cut to the bone,
air thin as life’s pleasures
and then there’s you,
on the couch,
quietly crawling up
into your body
pressed against the window
draining the room’s substantiation
She dreams the strange old house
that backs onto railway tracks
and the man with the hat down over his eyes
leaving by the back door.
“Hey you!” she cries but the man does not seem to hear,
She’s trying desperately to warn him
that the 12.05 will be along any minute,
that he’ll step into its path if he’s not careful,
The dream disintegrates with the words “12.05” on her lips.
The stranger’s out of earshot.
She says it to the ceiling, the ringing of the phone.
Brian’s on his way. He’s dropping off the children.
Great… from struggling to save a man’s life
to protecting her own sanity from assault.
Ben and Brenda… double B’s… no wonder she had none of her own.
So it’s out come the colored blocks.
Eager shrieks must have their outlets.
Tears need toys.
And Brian says he’ll be back by four,
So houses it is, cube stacked atop cube,
like nothing anyone ever lived in.
And buildings demolished with an angly slap,
not the way they usually come down.
So this is the price for being who she is.
Not barking dogs, not hugs, not drives into the country,
not kisses, not meals in restaurants,
but construction and deconstruction
in the middle of her parlor floor.
“Look out!” she cries from time to time.
“You’ll break something.”
Four o’clock, Brian returns, picks up his brood.
A peck on the cheek is the price he pays for his assumptions…
she will always be glad to do these favors
because once she could have been their mother.
“Yes, they behaved,” she says.
“Behave” after all is the verb form of “behavior.”
And doesn’t that describe what people do no matter what.
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” she asks,
but no, he must get going.
So what’s left to do but pick up the blocks,
put them back in the box,
thinking all the time, “Houses. Everything is houses,”
And strange houses.
Who can stand to live
in what families can make and break so easily.
And what must people think
as Brian leaves by the front door,
children laughing in his wake,
handsome face smiling at the passersby.
Like someone else’s dream, she imagines.
Nothing to do ‘til bedtime.
She steps onto the train tracks,
looks at her watch,.. 12.05
“Look out!” she cries.
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, Cape Rock and Spoon River Poetry Review.