"Neighborhood Fire" and "A Hospital Joke"

Neighborhood Fire

It was over in less than an hour.

At first it was just
a grease fire in the third floor kitchen,
then curtains burning,
followed by
a virulent burst of flame through the roof,
spirals of smoke,
screams and people dashing
from front and back door,
dragging children behind them.

Cop cars descended.
Fire trucks screeched and barreled their way
through traffic.
Ambulances whined in dread harmony.

By then, the panicky
head counts were over.
Relief beat back despair.
Neighbors filled in the gaps
between and around the residents.
Everyone stared at the inferno,
awed at how easily buildings tumble,
take crucial evidence of lifetimes with them.

Flesh was unscathed
but not photographs.
Like burning cinders.
memories flew from the mantle to the head.
The tenement dissolved
into nothing but ash and rubble.

Cops left, fire-trucks ambulances, also,
More scarred than ever,
the people had their neighborhood back.

A woman offered a family a bed for the night.
A young man held a stranger's child.
Everyone knew each other
just that little bit better.
They had fire to thank
when they'd done cursing it.

 


 

A Hospital Joke

Everyone sleeps but him.
A gaunt though alert face
turns this way, that way,
looking for someone
to tell his jokes to.

Now,
in his condition,
he is a servant to
lead-up and punchline.

That's where I come in,
trying to appear relaxed,
with the new love I bring
(the one I've been saving
for the dying)
for I do not want to be shamed any longer.

"Have you heard the one about...?"
he begins.
I shake my head.
Only I know that means 'yes.'

His cracked mouth tells it,
long thin arms embellish
every line.
But then he forgets the finish.
And in a place
that has no doubt how it all ends.

 

 

John Grey

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Evening Street Review and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Harpur Palate, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly

 

Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Sunday, December 17, 2017 - 21:25