Two Poems by John Grey
It's a war zone but still you meet people.
Like a pretty nurse. You offer to buy her a drink.
There's a shack near they camp where they
make a so-so bloody Mary.
That's fine. Bloody Mary. Are you sure that's
tomato juice? You like her even though
you're more wary than you should be
considering not five miles from the barracks,
a village is being shelled.
She patches wounds. She bathes debilitated men.
She's seen it all. And she can sip a drink
that looks just like the mess she cleans up.
It's a war zone but people aren't so much
different from back home.
With death unspoken but underlying every
conversation, you figure feelings would
speed up, but they don't.
She's as cautious as Anna from high school,
Rachel at the diner.
You may die before anything comes of this.
She may contract one of the many diseases
that are ravaging the camp.
But there's protocols as rigid as those
between grunt and officer.
She gets light-headed but not light enough
to lose it.
Next morning, you're with your buddies,
recounting last night's tales.
You do much better in the telling.
She was hot. She hungered for your body.
You speak long and loud on the hominess of nurses.
See so many with their balls shot off
they can wait to grab a man with his intact.
It's a war zone but that doesn't change your nature.
The bragging's better than what it is you brag about.
And maybe she's the same. You're a tall dark handsome
soldier for all her fellow nurses know. A lieutenant.
You embellish. She embellishes. Now if only
your lies could get together what a pair they'd make.
Besides, it's a war zone. A makeshift hospital
was bombed some fifty miles away. A red
cross means nothing to some people.
One of the dead could have been her.
And ten men from your troop were slaughtered
in an ambush. One of them could easily have been you.
It's a war zone but you're sitting on the edge of
your bunk, reading letters. It's all about people.
They look at you from out of the page and you
look back. There's something about them.
They're all themselves inside these bodies.
And sometimes you get near. Nearer than those
bodies even. A sweet girl that nurse was.
Makes you wish you hadn't exaggerated your
sexual prowess, her willingness. Maybe you'll
meet again and then what... will your lies look
her in the eye or will you. But what about
the way she hyped you up. It still gets back
to people. It's a war zone and anything can happen
anytime. But it can also not happen just like when
there is no enemy out there.
It's a war zone and you stay in this night because
you can. Maybe you'll read the letters again.
Or lie on your bunk and look at the ceiling.
Wouldn't want to meet another woman, buy her a
drink, and have it leave off as nothing but a
story to tell your buddies. You start thinking
about how the souls get into the flesh and bone,
what holds them there, where do they go if
cancer or shell takes out the body. And how is
it when souls meet. Do they talk and drink and
lie about it after. It's a war zone and you make
your peace with God in case your last day's
already making plans for you. And you make
your peace with nurses... their bodies and their souls.
HER PLACE ON HIGH
Midnight, my wife snores from her place on high,
motor-cycles, overwound clocks, startled terriers,
but no doctrines, nothing didactic, just that old
bark of the throat that hard hacks out the nose.
The past sinks its head into the pillow,
the future smolders under sheets,
but the present rattles wind-pipes,
croaks a toast to the decay of night-time air.
Mornings, she denies she ever made a sound.
No washing-machine, no green frog, no cop siren.
She wakes to her doctrines, didactic in her denials.
Such is the power to be had from sleeping on high.
That was merely silence I heard, badly misinterpreted.
John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in International Poetry Review, Sanskrit and the science fiction anthology, “The Kennedy Curse” with work upcoming in Freshwater, Pennsylvania English and Nerve Cowboy.