The oldest, dearest friend I have

and yet there’s never been a poem about you,

my precious guitar

of steel on spruce

and melancholy sweet tone.


I rest you on my lap so you can play for me,

touch your frets, your strings lightly

like tapping in a combination number

that will open your lacquered box.


The wind tonight is not the usual wind.

Nor the moon, the same poor begging satellite.

They’re like the ones who stop for a street musician,

who are charmed by sounds in the natural state,

as close to their roots as a tree trunk.


Strumming softly,

I think of you in every way:

from an old man knee-deep in the blues,

to some young tyro leaning into the notes of his first song.

Without your input, I have no tune of my own.


And I ask for nothing but that you

think well of me.

I am not music.

I am not the tone, the resonance.

I’m just a bishop stepping into

a silent, empty cathedral.

None of the beauty is mine

and yet I turn on the lights.




He casts a shadow

over everything from sidewalk cracks to gutters.

Even when the sun goes down,

the farthest star still has it in for him.


Morosely, the heavens convene

behind his bulk,

a darkness impervious to brightness.

He sits there with his bottle and his smokes,

in battered shoes

unseen by the city that surrounds him,

I can’t shed this image,

this shadow shaped like man.

It refuses to be recalled by the manufacturer.


Forever, it must be mine –

profile of my profile,

contour of my contour.

Who else watches me come and go?

Who gets to read the words I write

but my own downtrodden eyes.

Letters on a white page.

Something for someone

styled in my most pleading voice,

the good bishop of this cathedral,

dressed in shabby hat, decrepit robes,

shouting from his grubby altar,

pure pain hatched in his own black nest.


You find my words dark.

Darkness is in our souls, do you not think?

Our souls, brutalized out of shape by sins.

And yet, despite our atrocities,

they cling to us the more.

Like I do to the broken down doppelganger.

More and more.




I’m thinking of the soul,

does it really depart the body when the time comes,

while all she wants to talk about

is last night’s “American Idol.”


I’m wondering what happens

if it’s so attached to the body

that it stays behind,

goes down, like a good captain,

with the rotting, crumbling ship.


Instead of suffering through young wannabes

shrieking their lungs out,

I watched a documentary about a serial killer.

He must have a soul. I’m thinking.

How does it live with itself.

She can’t help thinking

how can that judge can live with himself

after the low mark he gave the cute kid

who sang “It’s Not Unusual.”


I really don’t think this relationship will work out.

I can’t live my life without constantly going deeper into it.

And she’ll never make it as a navigator.

Not when she’s content to bubble on the surface.

urge on a mini-Mariah-Carey as she strangles

“Wind Beneath My Wings,”

or criticize the aspirant with the bad hair-do.


On a daily basis,

I get tangled up in great philosophical questions.

Once a week.

she gets to believe that lives arc so superficial,

that after three minutes, they can be scored.


Okay, so it was a blind date.

And, long after it was over,

that date still couldn’t see a thing.




Kids tease cows,

wife lights a cigarette,

two men’s heads disappear

into the fires of Henry Ford,

fingernails work overtime,

skin’s about to burst.


And here I come

in my clunker of a Ford,

rumbling down the same country road.

I’d stop and help them

but the scene’s already taken.

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

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