Literary Yard

Search for meaning

‘First Night at the Beach Cottage’ and other poems

By: John Grey


How can you expect me to fall asleep
when there’s an island just off the coast here,
and I can see its shadow through the window,
a great hulk of something, be it rock or tree
or a beast hunched down for the night.

I’m used to only drifting off when everything
is known, a reassuring kiss on my wife’s cheek,
the familiar feel of blankets paid for out of
my own pocket, the hammock in the back-yard
swaying in the wind, the car in the garage.

But I’m as restless as the waves I hear
below the bluff, and the salty breeze that shakes the
windows. There’s more land to the east that I could
swim to, walk to even if the tide was right.
Why dream in my head when I can dream for real?

Sure my body is weary from a day of driving.
But my imagination’s on alert, and the island is calling to it.
Can I go there now, in my pajamas, bare feet? Or can
it come to me, dark shapes, mysterious? I’m tired but my head
knows better. Sleep is not a state, it’s a location.


Old men on the night porch
talk all they know
of women. They figure
what the dark hears
it won’t tell but then
they light pipes,
cigarettes, glow a little,
give themselves away.
Feel wind like fingers
probing for secrets
these men barely
know themselves.
In the heart of the forest
they said these things.
By the fishing hole.
In the football huddle.
In the hush of the
movie theater. In
the creaking owl-dung
splattered barn loft.
But never once
comfortably out
of hearing range.
And now old, they
still can’t feel
they’re in danger. A woman
could be here. Maybe
Mother Earth is
listening in.


My mother was the second person in our family
to set eyes on Michelle.
She was at the parlor window,
watching as my car pulled up
and I stepped out, opened the passenger door
for this young woman I was dating.
And, after a quick assessment,
as Michelle and I walked hand in hand
up the front path,
my mother reported to the door,
almost bursting as I opened it with my key.
Soon enough she into her welcoming third-degree routine.
Family background, job history, politics, religion –
nothing was sacred, nothing was safe from her smile
and her probing.
But Michelle was suitably armored by my warnings.
She took no offence, disarmed every loaded question.
Mother finally surrendered, produced something she’d baked
which Michelle nibbled on between compliments.
Soon enough there was a third person in the family
who set eyes on Michelle, and then a fourth.
These were my sisters.
Their later summation amounted to “She’s cute.”
My father was number five.
He merely grunted warmly and retreated to his basement workshop.
That was everyone and the order in which they set eyes on Michelle,
the one I broke up with six months later,
after many such inspections but none as nervous, none as worrying,
as that first.
Since then, there’s been other women, other sightings.
That’s how it is with family.
You catch my eye. But there are other eyes than mine.


It is a heap at the far end of the field. A living hill.
It’s where the people I come in contact with during my busy day
spend their off-hours. I spend my off-hours watching them.
There’s a lot of rush about and in all directions.
It looks chaotic but they’re just obeying orders.
Like where I work, only here, the CEO is female.

Those five are stalled. No doubt there’s a water cooler
hereabouts, invisible to my eyes. And those three
are flailing together on the spot. Good gossip, I’m sure.
A long line is hauling what appear to be crumbs
from the outskirts of the mound to the center.
Well, somebody has to do the work.

They don’t appear to manufacture anything here.
Everything they do is in aid of their own survival.
In the human world, this is known as a service industry.
The art is not to be busy but to look busy.
Meanwhile, the gossips have broken up.
The water cooler crowd have dispersed.
They must have heard me.


Love combines
the sport of exploration
with the science of human emotions.

No one should love
who trembles at the idea
of shared nakedness
in the dark
or repeating the words
“I love you”
at various intervals.

But, for those who overcome
fear of sex, openness,
commitment, trust, truth,
the rewards can be manifold.

Imagine having access
to a land of strange shapes,
tiny concealed rooms,
strange passages, convoluted mazes,
where no one has ever set foot before

Ah, to lose yourself wandering…

better that,
than to lose it wondering.


Everywhere, islands,
lily-pad lands
floating on the water,
palm-tree forested,
as fragrant as candles
burning in tropical sun.

Show me the one
with the highest hills,
spectacular inland waterfall,
coconut-husk trails,
and the rockpools
fed by rain and sea,
the moat of white sand,
that welcomes then turns back
the white surf in turn.

I will stand on its shoulders.
command the view
in all directions,
make myself felt
like a nucleus
does its electrons,
raise my arms,
flatten against the sky.


A stable without a horse
is blindness.

Any sound that is
not that of pounding hoofs,
clanging iron shoes,
causes deafness in both ears.

A man cannot smell
if there’s no waft of hay,
no trail of brown poop
to divert his nostrils.

And what is touch
if there’s no mane to run fingers through,
no shiny leather saddle
as smooth as a mare’s coat.

If there’s no horse in the barn,
then I’m running out of senses.

But I approach the barn door
and there’s something in the air.
A horse is close by.
I can taste it.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Stand, Washington Square Review and Floyd County Moonshine. Latest books, “Covert” “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in the McNeese Review, Santa Fe Literary Review and Open Ceilings.

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