‘When Paying Respects to the Leader’ and other poems by John Grey
By: John Grey
WHEN PAYING RESPECTS TO THE LEADER
So there you are, a great anemic Buddha,
eyes as blue as coral waters, skin like parchment,
hulking rolls of blubber swaddled in gold robe,
rear bearing down on a protesting yellow cushion,
a sight absurd empowered as figure of fear,
center stage in gleaming proscenium,
as eunuch guards stand by, tall as their sharpened spikes
and hand-maidens slide fruit between your bulbous lips,
wipe the juices from your chins.
They warned me – don’t snicker, smirk or grimace,
just pay my homage, then depart.
But reverence to what? Fatness? Immobility?
See-through flesh? Sloppy eating habits?
What about if I don’t bow down?
Will one of your sentries
ram me through the gizzards with his weapon.
Or if I make a joke about your bulbous shape,
rippling cheeks? Same bloody result.
Life’s continuance is often a beneficiary of the ludicrous.
So I make myself ridiculous. I bite my tongue.
You’re not the first leader who could use someone like me.
THE PERENNIAL DILEMMA OF THE KISS GOODBYE
In a moment, we will move beyond the heart.
We will be normal,
according to the most impartial observers.
The inside and outside
will achieve equilibrium.
We will be candidates for work,
for bowel movements,
for walking, for sneezing,
for eating, sleeping, even death.
We will provide information when asked for.
We will step to the right,
avoid oncoming foot traffic.
You will go your way, I mine.
Any consideration that those are the exact same path
will be disproved
by the roof over your head,
the sun warming mine.
In a moment, there will be no parting kiss,
no hug, no anything
that isn’t singular, unique to ourselves,
able to be identified
from close up or a distance.
So Goodbye it is.
Or Good and Bye depending on your point of view.
He swims through the wreck,
dreams of finding gold coins,
oxygen tank strapped to back,
a small black mouthpiece,
he looks more fish-like
than the curious creatures
that swim in and out of his path.
There’s no treasure to be found.
These are not the remains
of a pirate galleon.
nothing but a fishing vessel
that chanced its luck
in one storm too many.
Some rusty tin and a bone.
That will never make him rich.
He pops up to the surface
as if his body’s made
of the rubber that surrounds it.
shakes his head
at the couple on the deck
of the waiting boat.
The ocean has many secrets to be sure.
But some, he concludes,
arc not worth knowing.
The boat putters back to port.
He sucks down a beer
as his body dries.
he’ll uncover the trove
that will make him famous.
But this was written tomorrow.
you’ve never heard of him.
BEHIND THIS SUCCESSFUL MAN
This is how it is, the sun out of reach,
night bearing down on a man like a hungry bear,
so he clutches his wife close for protection –
too much action of the wrong kind,
all this drama, responsibilities taken,
decisions that have to be made.
As always, there’s a welcoming to her presence,
and an undercurrent
beyond the slow intrusion of her hands.
She tremors into him,
to relax his nerves,
soothe him to the point where everything goes blank.
People look on him in awe
without mention of her silent resolve,
her background construction
of his poise, his strategies, even his opinions.
Yes, he’s at the top
but only because she lifts him from below,
her strengths unrelated to her body,
but as unflustered, as determined,
as a weightlifter’s.
Her silence is more instilling
than a speechwriter’s ripest monologue.
No matter how weary he feels,
she will not let his head drop.
And no one sees this aspect of him.
They can’t because it’s her.
ON A VERANDA FACING WEST
See what a moon reveals
other than awareness,
how a lake’s surface
is subsumed by darkness
but its depths are not.
On your veranda in twilight,
you’re convinced that all lives
stem from wine and forest glow,
that the pause in the day
really is the day,
that to rock in a chair
is to pat the baby’s head,
and the baby is night.
In all light, I own up to
a camera technique.
You are working yourself
into my line of sight.
A bug swat is a hand.
A shake of hair, a brow.
Reflected mountain tire
strips eyes of camouflage,
A sip returns a mouth
To where it last
parted just enough.
ELLA AND THE FLOOD
She’s still sticking to her house.
even if she has to ride the flood out from her roof.
Drinking in that river muck,
the town’s gone bonkers.
Water moccasins are knocking on the door.
Neighbor’s car just side-swiped her fence
on its way to whooping it up in the Mississippi.
Cat’s in a tree screaming.
Coffins poke up through graveyard mud.
Ella’s in her bedroom and when she’s not
shooing away the rescuers,
her knees are scuffing the hardwood floor,
and she’s imploring God,
please don’t let this be the big one.
Her cousin in Saint Louis keeps ringing and ringing Ella’s number
but the lines are down.
Her sister in Santa Clara has no idea it’s this bad.
Nothing can hold back the water. Main Street’s almost under.
At Bailey’s, the Pharmaceuticals are drifting
down the candy aisle.
A toilet bowl breaks free of Harvey’s hardware store
and is on its way to New Orleans.
Ella thanks God she’s on a hill at least
even if she’d be better off straddling a mountain.
Bui it’s her home and she’s not leaving.
In the parlor, family photographs float
in the rising brackish brown pool.
At the top of the staircase,
faces of the dead come calling.