Boys of The South Side by John Grey

Not for these boys,
the words that poets toss
about like seed:
eastern hemlock, American chestnut,
winterberry and viburnum.

There are just nameless trees and weeds
where the street ends dead
in the overgrown bank of a stream,
and a path that wobbles
by the fallen fence
of the abandoned mills,
past many a sign warning
“Don’t eat the fish.”

Yet there’s enough green
and birdsong and blue sky
through crumbling chimneys,
and a deep smell to
the grass-covered earth
that separates itself
from the oily stench of industry.

A miracle maybe
but there’s nature here,
squirming tadpoles, croaking frogs,
tiny fish, painted turtles basking on logs.

And there’s the thrill
of an ordered world letting itself go,
revealing, in a small way,
the secrets that no vast, deep forest would ever tell.

There’s a flaw to the city.
and the boys have found it,
with their poking about, rummaging,
growing more and more a part of the wildness,
until the day begins to close.

Twilight returns them to
a sky reduced to patches,
tenements, store fronts,
ugly housing for the poor.

Yet there’s always tomorrow
Not a future particularly.
But tomorrow.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Soundings East, Dalhousie Review and Connecticut River Review with work upcoming in West Trade Review, Willard and Maple and The MacGuffin.