John Grey Johnston, RI


Cigarette droops from mouth,
creased face
like it’s been pressed hard against
rusty barbed wire –

early morning,
ground fog yet to rise,
out to break mustangs
before they’ve had a chance
to wake their will –

his bones creak,
chaps flap,
as he steps around manure,
a scraggly dog
sniffs his footsteps
like a kid might have done
had he had one ~

a history of bar fights,
tumbles from horses,
bad years and good,
but more fences mended
than relationships,
more sharp-horned cattle feted
than the fairer sex,
more sleeping on the frozen ground
than with a woman –

in the lower meadow,
he and wild stallion eye each other –
grizzled and tough, free-spirited and snorting,
the likeness is uncanny –
now it’s the turn of the differences.


They’re schooled, from a young age,
to entertain
So they play the piano
with a light touch
and sing abnormally high-pitched
as if tight corsets
constrict vocal chords
as well as chest.

They know a little Latin
but no Math.
They can read the Great Books
but science is forbidden them.

Unless they’re George Eliot or
Madame Bovary,
their dream, their obligation,
is to make a good marriage
with someone who can provide for them.
Then it’s organize the household,
remonstrate with the cook,
interview the applicants
for downstairs maid.

They must provide heirs,
boys preferably.
And they either die in childbirth
or slowly mutate
into grand dames, family matriarchs,
old rich women imprisoned by sickness,
lying in bed, surrounded by blood-sucking relatives.

They are lives of preordained probity
played by actresses passing through.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Big Muddy and Sanskrit with work upcoming in South Carolina Review, Gargoyle, Owen Wister Review and Louisiana Literature.