photo by Chris Grafton (Unsplash)
Trailer Life Trailer. Eleven at night. Four squeezed into the living room watching a tiny black and white TV. The fifth is outside, cigarette in one hand, beer in the other, leaning against his pickup. while he and a neighbor go at it. "If I see you near her ever again." "You'll do what." "You just think you're tough." "Why don't you try me." One gets up to adjust the antenna. Another says, "Get me a beer while you're up." The third's half asleep. The fourth is snoring. The fifth stumbles in, his tongue still cussing behind him. Door closed. Everyone's accounted for. Outside still hums with anger. The inside sits on blocks. Three Kids in an Old House We found this abandoned house in thick steamy summer woods, its outer-walls unpainted and rotting, the roof overgrown and sunk in parts, every window shattered, and the front door swelled out of its frame, cocked to one side. It was surely haunted, even at high noon, for the dark air inside seemed to have nothing to do with what we had been breathing outside. Tentative steps took us through the threshold into a room containing nothing but an old upright piano. I ran my fingers down its keys. For every ringing note, there were five dull clunks. The noise scattered cockroaches. We summoned enough courage between the three of us to investigate the kitchen: a rusty sink, a square of faded linoleum where a stove had been, and a small, empty refrigerator, surrounded by water stains. The bedroom was a cave of dust and spiders and a shed snakeskin, shaped long and slithery enough for imaginations to shudder at the withering gaze of absent eyes. We'd seen enough. That this was once a family home never entered our minds. We figured no one ever lives in such fearful circumstances. A naive assumption on our part. The Young Arsonist He wanted to set the school aflame but all he could achieve was to set fire to the contents of a paper recycling bin. He felt like a ping-pong ball being battered back and forth by two different civilization. Fire, to his way of thinking, was a citizen of the world. His parents called him a problem child. Their parents reckoned him abnormal. The cops never mentioned rootlessness, just a warning for the future. The flames, the heat, gave little back to him. The brief happiness seemed futile. His father lectured him on being proud of his ancestry, added that they only moved to this country because he couldn’t make a living back home. The boy had been proud of the fire but his father was right. It would never be an ongoing concern. He still wanted to set the school aflame but he continued to attend classes. And learning poured water on everything. Many Webs on the Trail Past the lines of the old stone walls, between two long standing oaks, the flutter of nerves stops just short of the flutter of web, strong in the wind, a spider holds captured prey as much with its eyes as any gossamer. I brush the gnats from my face but that’s not what changes the mood to savagery, why it’s suddenly colder, silent, from the dark core of my brain to my nervous fingers, my stuttering feet on the trail down to the marsh. And what of the pathless thicket? I’m terrified of what might be lurking there. Ticks, more spiders, snakes… I’d be such an easy mark. No, nature’s not something to rush. And these filaments across my path can’t be torn to shreds with the wave of a hand, The air is chilled. The sky is fishing for a way in between the treetops. Everything cast shadows. Not just the pines, the maples. But the maze of death that flutters before me. I somehow sneak my way around this web only to be confronted by more of the same farther along. For all I know, this could just be one giant construction spread throughout the Autumn woods. Half-erased lives cling to its sticky filigree, maneuvering for a position. for a freedom that is no longer possible. It’s their dying that makes the living visible, their struggle spun across the path ahead that pulls me back to where my beating heart is waiting. I crunch on twigs. The sound is like the snap of carapace. Blue-jays screech at my presence. Don’t they know that I’m the good guy here. Regarding the Afterlife Last night, in a close gathering of folks at my apartment, a writer friend of mine claimed to have all the facts regarding the afterlife. "The soul catches the first plane out of New York for Tibet," he said. "But the soul's not traveling to the high country to make nice with the Dalai Lama. Being so bodiless, it's finally able to cash in on that latent love of winter sports. Now it can ski down Everest, skate across the icy plateau." '"Is there a God," someone asks. "No," he replies, "only a slalom course at over twenty eight thousand feet where the thinness of the air doesn't bother man's essence in the slightest." I ask him what such an eventuality does for all this "meaning of life" talk. His response was that "the meaning of life is bobsledding from the top of the world down to its very pits only without a bobsled." "But what about religion?" somebody asked. "Religion is a bobsled," he replied. Death Watch Emma is certain she will die today. The mirror reveals a woman almost dead anyhow. She figures maybe, with the right undertaker, her face will look more lovely, more serene, in the coffin than in reflection, She examines her belly - the perfect target for a knife. Her mouth opens wide - now there's a well for dropping many of the pills in the bottle on the table beside her bed. And look at those white wrists - the optimum hunting ground for a ra/.or and a steam bath. Self-destruction, she figures, is the perfect antidote to what she's seeing in that mirror. Now which are the mushrooms that dabble in death? And where's the most likely place in her garden for a rattlesnake to be coiled and ready to strike? She’s weary of hearing it from people. The falsity of so-called lovers cuts but it doesn't go deep enough. And her family are no use: she doesn't measure up and yet they still refuse to bring her all the way down. Let them find her lying in her own blood. Or contorted like an Indian rubber man with a face a standard shade of blue. But Emma is also certain that her certainties are thin as skin. She'll get through the day, the night, and the next and the next. Her death watch requires a lot of patience. A life is a long, long time. Bio: John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Sheepshead Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. Latest books, “Leaves On Pages” “Memory Outside The Head” and “Guest Of Myself” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Ellipsis, Blueline and International Poetry Review.