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John Grey

JohnGrey 8
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Muse, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Thin Air, Dalhousie Review and the Dunes Review.

The Women

My father slapped me on the back.
muttered something about “women”,
and then placed a fishing pole
gently into my hands
as if he was putting
a wedding ring on my finger.

Down by the lake, late afternoon,
we were the real couple,
backs firm against tree trunk,
lines taut, silent but for
those times when he mumbled some
more about not being able to
figure out “your mother” followed
by more silence and then
an “or your sisters.”

With him as teacher,
I so easily accepted
that fish would bite,
that women were the font
of all I couldn’t comprehend,
all I would never know.

At sundown,
we’d gather up our catch
and go home.
If we were lucky,
it’d be fish dinner that night.
The women would prepare it.
I still don’t know how.

Rita Teaches in Prison

She had no idea what those guys were in for
though he was assured that nothing could go wrong.
The first thing she did was assess the faces of her ten pupils.
She wondered what crimes those eyes were capable of.

It would be a poetry class, the first one ever offered
in that drab, cold, facility. Her thoughts shuffled like paperwork.
Did any of the inmates really have an interest in the written word?
Did they only volunteer to escape their dull routine?

Or was it the opportunity to be in the presence of a woman?
She outfitted herself as if there were no such thing as sex.
The dress flattened her top, ignored her waist,
and didn’t stop until it half-covered her plain brown shoes.

Her cheeks were powderless. No color stained her lips.
Dowdy glasses piled on with more plainness.
And she tied her hair up until it looked more
like a hat than the usual flowing tresses.

An armed guard stood outside the door.
She could feel his presence and his weapon,
once seen, was hard to get out of the head.
And, in the background, she could hear the clang of steel doors.

She began by reading something by Rilke.
When she was done, the room broke into a low murmur.
Once more, her thoughts slipped into high gear.
Had they been moved by the beauty of the language?

Did they suddenly realize they were in the wrong class?
She then transferred the words to a blackboard.
It was the first time she had turned away from them.
The chalk in her hand stumbled but somehow

she was able to replicate ever line from the page onto the board.
She faced them once more. Their attention was still with her.
She parsed each line, stopping to ask their opinion
before going onto the next. Their comments were brief.

They had reactions no doubt but were either uncomfortable
or unable to explain them properly in such a setting.
These men could have killed or robbed or raped
without once thinking of the consequence.

Now, she was trying to pin them down on an interpretation.
They appeared nervous, like they didn’t want to convict themselves.
Then one of them said, timidly, “The poem made more sense
when you read it to us from beginning to end.

When I look at it like this, it’s not the same poem.”
An observation, she figured, from a guy, no doubt,
with a rap sheet as long as Ginsberg’s “Howl.”
But when he said it, he was not that man.
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