Poetry: John Grey


I walk across the endless dry oceans
of this planet,
gathering rocks in sacks,
thinking how if this were earth
and I were wandering over its sea beds
I would have drowned by this.

They say just once
I should look up,
select my stones from that sky’s
shameless worship of color,
the foamy exuberance of a
million liberated wildflowers
cracking through its
floating reefs of coral clouds,

but, deep inside this shale
I invent that sky,
those clouds,
even the invisible moons,
the stark amphetamine suns
of its past,
and the creatures that once roamed here
the foliage that filled its landscape,
the swirly blue water of its oceans
that would have drowned me ten times over
were I gathering its history then.


After a war, they send you off into space, so you
can lull the explosions and blood to sleep in
light-years of cease-fire space, just you and the
capsule in a cleansing waltz of five thousand miles
an hour that’s disguised as standing still;
look out through the window at pin-head earth,
its jungles, its guerillas, erased by perspective,
the loud noises in your ear quickly overtaken
by the hush of this perfect disclaimer, the
source of your nightmares spinning away, even
North America a winsome birthmark on a baby’s face;
turn your head the other way, the cleansing void you
aim for with the silver cone salute, bracken of
stars twinkling their boyish light in rejoicing
the end of every war, already the celebrants
teeming in those streets of space, and you will
join them, cackling like a maniac, blowing a
party whistle, ignoring the grim-eyed meteors that
zip by, barely missing your capsule, or the dark
planet to the right, its unfriendly landscape
shrouded in a familiar mist.


There are freak storms.

Its welcome mat is one massive fluid
            inorganic cloud.

Below that, it’s like exhumed bone,
with maybe a little cartilage here and there.
If there ever was skin,
it’s been burned down to a cosmic sheen
or hacked away by the wind.

Its rock props it up,
its sky pushes down on it,
and out of the grinding mélange,
slips the endgame between gravity
            and light.

Now, like all death, it’s a history
            vulture’s delight.

I peck at its sedimentary sequences.
I greedily gather up its past’s leftovers.
It’s the Natural History Museum of itself.
In fact, it’s so well organized
in its firestorms, clockwork earthquakes,
            it’s more like the living
            than its scholars are.

As its moons dissolve in the
            magenta twilight,
I’ve even seen faces emerge
            from the aurora-dust
to inform me that creation
most distinguishes itself from chaos
in the flies it attracts to its cadavers.


What is it about this planet?
 Is it the cinnamon sands at sunset,
the silence as dark enfolds,
the velvet pods whipped up by the wind?

Could it be the polar caps,
like giant blanched
reflector shields gleaming beneath
our orbiting armada?

Or the magnificent jungle
of its equator, a fluttering
tree-scape, greener
than a redhead’s eyes?

We’ve not yet landed
and I’ve already fallen in love with it.
Not only that, the air is breathable.
An Eden awaits.

As for the populace,
we’ll deal with them when we get there.
For now, we admire the scenery.
The bloodshed can wait.

MINING PLANET                                                   

Some planet this.
All that remains are dusty flowers,
sere lakes, decapitated mountains,
derricks, windlasses,
the many holes of giant moles,
some overeager machinery
already burning holes in next year’s ice.
And the giant gray prison of course,
guards in grizzled gray,
cells full of rag-tag petty criminals,
well beyond their withered rap sheets,
some political lightweights
futilely scratching manifestos on steel walls,
and a few counting down to their execution.
Lastly, the warden in his glass-domed aerie,
a fiberglass desk of malevolent faces. . .who lives? who dies?

And in tiny town,
a basket of withered fences and prefab houses,
some poplars cased in translucent metals,
street lamps bearing away the coffin day,
night cracking open the number three hundred in neon
above a face in the window, making no sound,
a hundred lives in the head calling it home.
Another house, in clay askew,
a woman in a tin suit
has cried for seventeen years.
Her husband’s dead, son in jail,
and the prison death-squad hot seat
buzzes in anticipation.
Like death itself, on a constellation stallion,
in rides the yellow-gray moon.
Then fitful sleep, another dream
of throwing herself at the executioner’s feet.

On to the Galaxy Bar
where pensioned off empire builders
battle scruffy young turks
for the right to be the most beast in man,
tattooed arms, roaring tongues,
and battered heads
where somewhere gets lost in nowhere.
Midnight moves in for its piece of the bloody action.
A black pall covers all.

The holy man of all faiths
almost choked on his last prayer,
has grown fond of mocking God,
besides, he figures, he’s light years
beyond His fiefdom anyhow.
Backwater religious life’s all tinkling censer,
busted Bible pads, croaked Koran,
sagging pews, tattered Torahs,
and a Hindu deity with more heads than followers.
Father, cry the voices from the houses:
There’s a woman, and she has sinned
There’s a man, and he’s alone.
A harsh wind is all that answers the call.
He’s the silent standard-bearer
for a stone-deaf religion.

Bad news from the mines:
the ore is almost tapped out.
How long before mines close,
executions are fast forwarded,
executives go home with their platinum packages,
miners take their cancers elsewhere,
the drunks, the hopeless, scratch their heads,
wonder where everybody’s gone?
Even the rats are counting down the days.

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