A January Snowfall
Blue forehead to match her eyes,
a young girl trembling
in the dark doorway
silently freezing in her orange parka
while a man in shirt sleeves
is drunk and unaware,
greets the cold with a large handshake,
barely able to contain
his alcoholic joy –
all this, while the road and sidewalk
vanish under snow,
the city’s calluses are smoothed over white,
the river below is a vague shadow -
a woman and son hold tight to one another
as they slip and slide
on their way to the steamed windows
of the coffee house,
a car alarm bleats,
a cop car inches forward
at the same pace as flakes fall,
the chill is on the lookout for
the homeless guy with the same lank hair
as the night before,
or the hatless, the gloveless,
even the jackets that are not quite thick enough,
and the smart dresses
that leave legs below the knees
to their own devices –
it’s January 2005, eight at night,
wind swirls, lights blink,
mouths barely move,
each step requires care and patience,
eyes cast down,
and the constant wipe
of damp smudge from the cheeks,
as I head west,
pass occasional pilgrims
on their way east,
as I head toward the apartment of a friend,
where I can sip wine, stare out the window
laud the purity, the loveliness,
at their worst.
Puny and irrelevant,
that’s how I feel -
my act is centuries old,
but now nobody notices -
the kind of audience
I get these days
is corrupted by the gadgets
they hold in their hand,
the constant blitz of fingers
on a screen –
I’m useless and pathetic
to those in their seats texting –
their attention has shifted
from what I could teach them
to the twitters of their friends -
I’ve got to give it to them though,
their eyes sure know
how to look elsewhere.
Who but the promiscuously insane ignore the landscape?
And if you had no more than a meager understanding
of language, mathematics and astronomy
but a worthwhile pick and shovel.
And the ground was beneath you.
And you had seed in one pocket.
And a raincloud in the other.
Your sanity would be assured.
In spring when stalks pierce the shallow soil.
In summer, as crops bloom in one great golden blush.
In fall, when the harvesting decapitates field after field
of willing victims.
Slough off those lowdown mortgage blues.
Click the heels in an old country dance.
The earth is a great teacher.
And there’s nothing like learning
what you know already.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Sin Fronteras, Dalhousie Review and Qwerty with work upcoming in Blueline, Willard and Maple and Red Coyote.