If it weren’t for alleyways,
these creatures would not exist.
If trash didn’t overflow the bins
and bleary faces stare down
through cracked window panes,
there’d be no predator
with hat shielding his eyes
or knife-wielding tattooed hooligan
stabbing his blade in crumbling brick.
A cardboard hovel
sheltering a white-haired jabbering homeless man,
breeds a fleeting taloned stranger
barely deeper than the wind
or a shadow on the wall of something horned.
Rats bear some of the guilt.
Random gunfire also.
And likewise the cop who patrols
but leaves the dismal dark dead ends
to their deadly discrete marauders,
Every so often,
in the best light day can manage,
Rescue drags a body out
of one of those smelly pits.
For an hour or two,
it’s Lumley Lane
not spawning ground.
AT HOME BELOW STREET LEVEL
occasional glance through the window bars
of the room I’m in…
closed in judgment and in fact –
promise to bathe more often,
or give the tanned young man in my head
a chance to breathe –
or stop lapping up tap-leak with my tongue,
and ignore the landlady
screaming about the rent –
sky can never clear,
air can’t warm up not even a little –
spend my last years
surprised to meet a man
of my shrunken dimension –
take money where I find it,
converse with my dead mom but not my dead dad –
ask a cop – sip the flask –
rot in my cellar, unequal even to the buzzing flies
sucking on the crystal sugar of my energy –
imprisoned by the roof, the windows, everything…
sad fate of a dead man in a cellar apartment
clutching the tattered family Bible,
my sins staring up at the street
in the jungle,
red ants, lounge lizards,
jaguars, both feline
and valet parked,
done out in the latest
spiders as big as tabletops,
piranhas and vultures,
snakes of all varieties,
vines and other stranglers,
and prey upon each other –
a paradigm of Gaia’s
or Saturday night
once the clubs heat up
DEATH OF A WARRIOR
The cracks in the face are painted over.
The eyes are closed,
two bulges in the forehead,
where red veins used to be.
That’s normal under the circumstances.
As is the closed mouth,
that raspy voice no longer required.
And there is nothing of barrooms
those bookends to his daily routine.
The man in the box
could have attended church daily
for all the lies
the undertaker’s handiwork tells.
But what choice was there?
A man who began his day
eating greasy slop
to disregard his heart.
A drunkard at night
with an entire family to defy.
Wakes are general exhibition
not parental guidance.
So the man is concealed.
Someone smooth, innocuous,
takes his place.
Maybe the mourners won’t notice.
Or memory will make good times
out of bruises.
Thankfully, the eyes are closed.
Now death is only sad.
It could have gotten ugly.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS
Yes, we were the ones
who scooped tadpoles from ponds,
gave turtles new unwanted homes,
boys in our early teens
with the belief that nature
didn’t belong in nature,
was more suited as periphery,
atop dressers, on bedroom floors.
With nets on sticks,
we chased butterflies,
pearl crescents with black and orange wings,
red admirals, eastern commas,
killing them with one squeeze of the abdomen,
pinning them to project books
where their wings crumbled,
and bodies turned to dust.
Our parents said,
at least they don’t get into trouble
like other kids –
no breaking into abandoned houses.
But we stole from the leaf-mold and the wildflower.
We busted into the fragile cycle of life.
A glass jar half full of brown water,
holes punctured in its lid,
and a creature stalled, stiffened,
halfway through metamorphosis –
a crime scene.
I was there.
John Grey is an Australian poet and US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Stillwater Review and Big Muddy Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Columbia College Literary Review, and Spoon River Poetry Review.
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