I was barely born when I was suddenly the man of the house.

My father died. I wept of course but only because I was hungry.


I should have grown up fast but I didn’t.

My mother and my three older sisters saw to that.


Without another male presence to guide me,

my masculine bias fell behind my peers.


But the dominance of all that femininity didn’t draw me 

to its side. I struggled to find some third way.


So I read and I wrote and I sketched on notepads.

I embraced solitude. It was sexless after all.


Then my imagination stood up for me when my uselessness 

in the physical world became more and more apparent. 


I would never fish. I would never hunt. I would never change a tire.

But nor would I sew. Or iron a shirt. Or cook anything worth eating.


But somehow I could fend for myself. I survived.

I was a wistful soul and I went where that wistfulness took me.


So I know what I’m doing here. Others can only guess. 

Yes a life story is an incredible thing though credible to the one living it.





I have seen them.

They exist.

One woman even approaches my table,

picks up one of my books,

says, “This is poetry”

as if she was telling me something I didn’t know.


And then a guy saunters up

with an armful of his own chapbooks,

wants to swap one of his for one of mine.

I reluctantly agree.

The cover is greasy.

I set the book aside,

promise myself to read it when business is slow.

Business is slow all day.

I never do read the book.


At last, a sale.

A middle-aged woman makes the purchase,

tells me, “I’m buying this for a friend.

She just loves poetry.”

The insinuation is that my customer, 

on the other hand,

figures verse to be a waste of time.


It’s a typical book fair Autumn day.

The lady in the straw hat

three tables away

does brisk business in her 

volume on gardening tips.

The ex-major leaguer 

is happy to sign autographs

for the price of his ghost-written tome.


I am not here to make my fortune.

In fact, it’s likely my profit

will be ideas for more poems,

not cash. 

But it’s a gorgeous afternoon

and I could be indoors writing this stuff.

There is still beauty in the world.

And folks appreciate it.

They just aren’t buying it. 




The cobra rises from its basket

like a kite

but there is no wind

and it spreads no sails. 


Then you get the impression

of a puppet

but there’s no hands above that 

flattened head,

no strings tuned to the air.


It’s all in the charmer’s melody,

a flurry of notes

that give sinuous orders

to the swaying, rising, snake.


You’re hypnotized,


You’re in the far east.

Your basket is back home

in the West.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Sin Fronteras, Dalhousie Review and Qwerty with work upcoming in Plainsongs, Willard and Maple and Connecticut River Review.

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