John Grey - "Changing Neighborhood," "Her Ancient Orchestra," and "The Other Cabin Fever"


The last thing to go

are the empty milk bottles

stacked on the stoop

for pickup and replacement.

For years, that familiar rattle

didn’t wake her,

merely comforted her sleep.

This silence is more disturbing.

And now she’ll have to walk

to the store, watch that odious

fishwife Mrs. Brown

drop the quarters in the till,

so unwillingly give pennies change.

The neighborhood is not the same

though she never could

give evidence until now.

Neighbors younger, less friendly?

More traffic on the roads?

The park swings stiff and rusty?

No way to prove it.

But glass no longer glints

that sweet foretaste of sun.

There’s nothing to reach for

when she first opens her door.

The milkman’s retired

and no one works his route.

The milk in her coffee

has no clue how it got there.




Hugged by knees, her cello,

far removed from forty one

and sugar rationing,

her only light, her only lightness,

despite its somber undercurrent

to those flirty violin strings.

The room is without

the navy man she married,

even the child she bore,

just so there’d be funerals

that would have her,

and tears to sprinkle listless

on such homely graves.

But the music avoids sickness,

steers clear of heavy traffic.

And the song can be about anything…

fall leaves, a dying candle, tall wind-swept grass,

her first time on a train,

her last time with a man.

One slide of bow

and the tune is honey dreadful,

horrifying but resolute.

She’s in her eighties

and she’s seen it all,

heard even more out of her instrument.

God bless, God forgive, she whispers.

God don’t let me live to be an old woman

far removed from love and family.

And if not God, then Beethoven,

or Mozart. Or Carter Elliott’s cello sonata

that does her withered hand no favors.

Day after day after day,

she wields her bow,

digs into the sad, sweet humming.

awaiting mastery, awaiting death

They call it “practice”.

But they never call the hours she’s lived “practice."



The landscape’s smothered in drifts

and yet, more snow falls.

White gravitates to white.

A foot, eighteen inches,

like a rich man and his money,

enough is always too little.

My shovel rests against the door.

It knows when it’s beaten.

Car wheels are caked in ice.

The driveway’s buried.

Journeys are off the menu.

Weather presses from all sides.

It defies us to define our boundaries.

So we must have each other,

that’s the reality of it.

So much togetherness here all ready

and yet more of it is drifting down from clouds.

A room, two rooms, the entire house,

like a rich man and his money,

we’ve all we’ll ever need,

but it keeps on earning interest.

So thank you, useless shovel.

God bless you, stock-still car.

The richer it snows,

the poorer I am.



John Grey is an Australian born poet, works as financial systems analyst. Recently published in Poem, Spindrift, Prism International and the horror anthology, “What Fears Become”with work upcoming in Potomac Review, Hurricane Review and Pinyon.

Posted on December 17, 2013 .