Two Poems by John Grey


Dan’s lived half his life in jail,
in darkness, even when sunlight shines
through the bars or the overhead bulb
cranks out its miserly imitation of a streetlamp.
He has a watch for company.
It not only tells time, it is time.

Dan’s father comes to see him,
feeble though he is these days.
Fifty years of working down the mine
stares in at twenty more of
no way is that kind of life for me.
A guard watches over the bodies
but no one looks on when contradictions face off.

Dan remembers cheap Christmases,
scrawny birthdays, evening meals
with too little food, too many hands.
Mixed in are solitary house-breaks,
jimmying open windows,
standing in a stranger’s parlor,
overwhelmed by all the gifts.
And gas station heists,
the gun in the face of that liquor store clerk,
two hundred grubby bucks spilling from his hands
like it was a shiny million.

His father shrugs his shoulders,
wonders where did he go wrong.
Dan can never figure why he keeps on getting caught.
The world wants him down the mine,
is that it.
It’d rather he have a large family
that he can barely provide for.
It wants him to have the next Dan,
the one who finally uses that weapon
on some trembling store clerk.
It wants the life inside
passed down through the generations.
It wants his light to shine down on sons
and sons of sons.
And for everyone to have a watch,
to tell time, to do time.


Out of the corner
of my eye, that border
between my body
and what threatens it

I saw something
through the border
of dark and light,

a man
maybe his bad
bordering his worse,
who was shuffling toward me
across the border of
walk into intent.

“You want something?”
I said, my tongue tip-toeing
the border of bravado and fear.

In English broken by
being on the border of Spanish,
he handed me my wallet,
explained, “You dropped this.”

I leaped across that
border of relief into gratitude.
We shook hands,
a friendly greeting
of two border policemen.
With unforced smiles,
we let each other cross.

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