Saturday, April 28, 2007


They worship at the monolith of mediocrity,
The bland tower that the river of invention below
Cannot dampen, let alone flood.
And it shelters many.
Atop skeletons of common sense
And the blood of angry prophets,
It stands undaunted.
Even mosses and mold cannot surround its windows,
For it permits nothing new to grow
Except paunches on the servile,
Those who dwell safely inside,
Shielded from cleansing elements.
The sheltered gorge on platters of spiceless chicken,
Toss bones and gristle
Down to malcontents outside
And belch up homilies for each other.
Revolutions come and go below,
Markets boom and bust.
Genocides and pesticides
Befoul the waters outside,
But the monolith stands,
Sheltering many,
Oblivious and undaunted.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Published in The American Dissident, Fall 2001/Winter 2002.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


The rapture of light
And shadow and muted color
On the human face
Has given our lives
A fourth dimension,
While tearing our soft bellies
From the umbilicus
Of the other three.
It seduces and destroys
While bringing beloved myths
Into luminous view.
It makes stars
Of beautiful illiterates,
And computer clerks
Of would-be bards.
It frees the imaginations
Of good peasant stock,
Yet as surely ensnares
In a flabby, living room prison.

Copyright 2007 by Jon Gregory. Written in 1991.


They're sending up a press release
On the Minister of Pleasure --
Recently deceased.
The boxing days of Nebraska
Are over on this island.
We are adrift with no compass,
The world in sweet reverse gear,
And logic a luxury we can ill afford.
I would sing of the death of reason
As if it ever really lived,
But I can't make sense of the melody.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Written in 1994.


Have you ever stayed out all night
On a beach where it sometimes rains
Parisian toupees,
Or seen the headless, handless girl
Pass out leaflets by the pier,
Or conversed with the mangoes
Who have steady jobs at the marina?
Come morning, there are no miracles
On the ship's breakfast menu.
And years from now,
When floating elephants drink
The last of my smuggled whiskey,
I'll be buried in the dunes,
Plotting escape from my shell.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Written in 2004.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Short Story

By Jon Gregory

These were especially depressing times to be a sinner. In the Oklahoma hamlets, and even in Oklahoma City, the one thing everybody had plenty of was dust. Red dirt was swept into towns by wind that lifted poorly tilled topsoil, leaving the land behind parched and stripped. Wind made a desert out of land that stretched like a billiard table all the way to Saskatchewan. Dry, red dust rose as high as squinting eyes could see, blocking sunlight but mixing torturingly with the heat.
It turned once-fertile farm country into a wasteland.
Hardworking, virtuous folk were hurting enough. But it was really hard for a sinner to find good diversion. Most of what there was to do didn't have much kick to it. There was the local picture show, where shoot-'em-ups and sometimes more sophisticated Hollywood fare were featured. In the fall there was high school football. Most houses had a radio by now. Newspapers occasionally carried accounts of bloody shootouts between lawmen and bandits, between details about the Legislature's latest follies and advice for the lovelorn. On Saturday night there was bootleg whiskey. For those who could afford children, or the condoms the druggists discreetly sold -- and for some who could afford neither -- there was sex. Married or illicit, it was somehow always furtive.
This was summer in 1936, when the faith healer came to town for a tent revival.
It was late afternoon on a Saturday, at the nicest motor court in town. The faith healer was walking back to his cabin, coming from a diner with a couple of hamburgers and some french-fried potatoes in a sack. He was passing by the gas pumps, beside the motor court, where a thin, sunburned man in khakis and a t-shirt would fill your tank. Travelers from the Ozarks were there, on the way to Pike's Peak.
The man of the family, a short, snappy Rotarian in a white summer suit, looked around at a dim afternoon sky almost crimson with dust.
"What is this, the end of the world or something?" the Rotarian asked the attendant, who silently filled their tank. He was daydreaming of somewhere else.
"I think we may stay at this motor court," the Rotarian said. "Don't think I want to drive through this after dark. Anything for folks to do in this town at night?"
"Not much," the sunburned man slowly replied. "There's the picture show. Oh, yeah, there's the tent revival. Feller says he can heal sick folks. Lotta bullcrap if you ask me."
The faith healer was still within earshot. "Oh, ye of little faith," he said as he walked on to his cabin.

That summer was the worst in anybody's memory, so the town was ripe for Christian revival. A couple of lonely freethinkers blamed their ills on bankers and politicians, but the devout knew their famine was of the spirit.
And so, the contrite crowded into a big tent on the edge of town, forsaking the latest Hollywood horse opera to toss their loose change into the collection plate. Salvation, it seemed, was no more costly than a theater ticket, and it might be good for eternity.
Matthew John Solomon was not the only faith healer, but he was the best. He worked miracles as far south as Brownsville, Texas, as far north as the Dakotas, as far west as Los Angeles and as far east as Tennessee. He left an Oklahoma farm at 17 to follow the call. At 35, he was king of the traveling prairie evangelists. Some Presbyterians called him a charlatan, no better than a peddler of snake oil. But when he came around, town drunks swore off liquor for as long as a week, and cruel husbands thought twice before raising a fist against their wives.

At an hour when card games, and what few brothels were around, were starting to liven up, Solomon was alone in his cabin, contemplating his future.
He had finished the next-to-last sermon of his revival in Pallequah, Oklahoma, curing the fake mute who was his plant in the congregation that evening.
Solomon was tired of the road. He was thinking of using the money he'd stashed in assorted banks to set up a permanent, respectable church in the Southern Rockies.
It had been a good 18 years, getting through to people who otherwise dozed through the monotones of conventional preachers. But he was tired, and bored. And he had long lived in fear of exposure.
What he could see ahead on the current road, if his luck held out, was more time spent in motor courts. Surely a temple was the next step: donations mailed to a central office, and perhaps even broadcasts.
And no more faith healing. I've outgrown it, he told himself.
Solomon went to the mirror. He was beginning to go gray at the temples. Why spend more years going from town to town, waiting for the day that some disgruntled "gimp" would threaten blackmail, or just go to the local Gazette and tell all?
Resolving that tomorrow night's "healing" would be his last, Solomon decided to break the news to Tiny, his manager. Tiny was supposed to be there soon with something to drink.
One thing the road hadn't taken from Solomon was his health. He was still built much like the boxing champs he had idolized in his youth. He'd spent a lot of time working out during the long afternoons. He hadn't been seriously ill since childhood. All the more reason to get out of this now, live a more settled life, perhaps get married. There were plenty of women on the road, but he was also tired of sneaking around.
There was a knock at the door. Solomon knew it was Tiny with the whiskey.
Solomon was a moderate drinker, but Tiny drank very hard -- so hard at one time, he drank himself out of a newspaper career in Kansas City. He'd become more discreet since getting into the revival business, but he was still apt to go on serious weekend benders.
After Solomon opened the door, he could see it was one of those nights.
"Greetings!" Tiny, an immense man with an ironic nickname, weaved into the room and parked his disheveled, obese frame into the chair next to the bed. Solomon sat on the bed.
"Well, another night, another few hundred suckers," Tiny said. He cradled two sacks, one with the fifth bottle he was drinking from, the other an unopened pint for Solomon. He held out the smaller package.
"Nectar of the pagan gods," he said. Solomon, unlike many other preachers, could appreciate irreverence. He smiled as he took the bag and opened his bottle. The first sip went down fiery and sweet.
Tiny took a big swig from his bottle, then searched his trouser pocket for a King Edward. For an educated man, Tiny had a curiously plebian habit -- he ate cigars. He didn't just chew them. He literally ingested several a day. Solomon wondered what his insides would look like if they opened him up after he was dead.
Tiny found his cigar, but set it on the bedside table before starting it. He pulled a wrinkled handkerchief from a back pocket and blew his nose. He had caught a summer cold.
"Nothing like a snort to make you forget about a cold," he said.
"As much as you put away, you can forget about a lot," Solomon remarked.
Tiny, with bloated red face, smirked. "Save the preaching for the sharecroppers. It may have some effect on them."
Solomon could see that this wasn't the night to tell Tiny about his plans. Tomorrow he would propose a new direction.

That night Solomon slept fitfully. The searching eyes of the blind and the twisted limbs of the crippled came to him in the dark, begging for help he could not give. He had seen them after countless sermons.
Waking in a sweat, he saw a pillar of light at the foot of the bed.
The light spoke gently. It called itself Jehovah, and told Solomon that it forgave him for his dishonesty and knew the guilt he had suffered.
You sincerely want to heal the sick, it said. So, I give you the power to cure with the touch of your hand. You will have this power for one day only. It will be gone at midnight, so use it generously. The light disappeared.
Solomon slept no more that night. He had seen the face of God.

He had forgotten the speech he had planned to make to Tiny. As they ate lunch at the diner, Solomon watched the community's few prosperous families, who came after church for Sunday chicken.
Tiny, normally a gargantuan eater, was working slowly on pork chops and mashed potatoes. He was a little queasy after a night of whiskey. He paused to talk business.
"The guy will be wearing blue denim overalls," he said. "An Okie type." He sniffled, nursing a low-grade hangover on top of his cold. "He's gonna have a red bandana around his neck, and he'll walk on two canes."
Tiny noticed that Solomon wasn't really listening. "Hey, wake up," he said. "What's wrong with you?"
Solomon touched the first person he had touched since last night, fearing that his revelation had indeed been only a dream.
Tiny pulled away. "What the hell's wrong with you?" he said. "Are you turning queer on me or something?"
"How's your cold?" Solomon asked.
Tiny sniffed through clear nostils and swallowed with a clear throat.
"Well, I do feel a lot better, since you mention it," he replied. He noticed that his hangover was gone, too. "May just have been hay fever after all. All this dust, you know."
Solomon knew what he needed to know.

During his sermon, Solomon saw more maimed and disfigured bodies than he had ever seen under a tent. It was as if all the arthritics and blind men who had followed him all these years finally caught up with him that night.
Among them he spotted his "plant," the two-caned cripple in overalls. He was there for money, as all the others had been. Tonight, for one night only, Solomon would touch only those who had come for help.
"And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will, be thou clean," Solomon thundered. "And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
"When the even was come, they brought unto him any that were possessed with devils; and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick; That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses."
Solomon gazed out at the congregation of a few hundred. "And now I ask you all to come forth," he shouted. "All the maimed, twisted bodies racked with pain, all the blind, the mute, the incurably ill. Tonight the Holy Spirit shall know no limits. Come forth, and be healed!"
In front, Tiny sprang to his overburdened feet. He saw impending doom. Waddling toward the pulpit ahead of the surging crowd of crutches, canes and dark eyeglasses, he grabbed Solomon's arm.
"What the hell are you doing? This will ruin us! You've been overcome by the Spirit, boy -- overcome, see? Collapse! Fall down, now!"
"I have the power now," Solomon replied calmly. "I cured your cold today. Please stand aside. Don't interfere."
Tiny was soon engulfed in a writhing mass of the sick. He pushed his way out of the scene. This is the end, he thought.
One by one the ailing climbed onto the pulpit with the help of the abled-bodied. The first was a bald man wearing sunglasses. He tapped a cane before him as he walked.
"I'm blind, Brother Matthew. Can you heal me?"
"Have faith, brother, and do not despair," Solomon said. "Our Lord can restore the gift of sight." He removed the man's dark glasses and enclosed his hands over moist, unseeing eyes. Then he pulled his hands away.
The bald man looked around in wonderment of all he could suddenly see. Whimpering, he tossed his cane aside and groped around, touching everything and everyone around him like a toddler. People embraced him and wept.
A middle-aged woman -- the blind man's wife -- pushed her way to the front. She faced her ecstatic husband, who had not been able to see her for half their married life.
She grabbed her husband's shirt and blurted, "Is it true, Ezra?"
He looked lingeringly at his wife through eyes clouded only by tears, and then embraced her.
Onlookers cried, "Praise God!" and "It's a miracle!" A bigger mob soon formed before Solomon. Tiny, who had been moving toward an exit, thought at first that the Okies were ready to send out for tar and feathers. Hearing the pious fervor, he drifted back and sat, watching the stricken and deformed being healed one after another.
"Holy shit. He can really do it." Tiny's imagination conjured up majestic temples, coast-to-coast radio broadcasts, and enormous stacks of money.
On they came. One hour passed, then two. Solomon was still healing the sick, with minimal effort.
There were no clocks in the tent, but in the town a few chimed. It was midnight. At that moment, beneath the red dust in the Oklahoma night, in a tent on a barren plain, Solomon was healing a woman hopelessly crippled by polio.
He became conscious of a sore throat. His nose began to run from a summer cold.
As Solomon drew his hands away from the woman's useless legs, his own wilted beneath him. He fell as the woman awkwardly drew herself erect on the first strong legs she had known in many years.
But she screamed as she saw the fallen Solomon's face assume the horrible scars of a burn victim he had healed earlier. Soon his eyes did not see, and he began coughing like the tubercular man who was healed just after eleven o'clock. Boils, arthritis and assorted cancers set in.
A few were still in line as Solomon fell. They came forth subbornly and began to grasp weakly at the figure before them, which was gradually losing definition as a human body. In time, the police arrived to save what was left of him.
The next morning, a new wind from the east blew into Pallequah, carrying away the apocalyptic red dust that had shrouded the area for so long. People went to work in the fields, opened shops and loitered in front of domino halls under the first azure sky they had seen in weeks.
The faith healer was taken to an Oklahoma City hospital, where he lingered for three days as a testament to the wages of mercy.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Written in 1998. Published in The DFW Poetry Review.


It's just my luck
To move into a dark, romantic mansion,
A labyrinth of morbid, decadent Victorian pleasures,
And find I've got Fidel Castro
Hiding out in my attic.
I wake before dawn
After a sleep that seems like decades,
And smell his pungent cigar smoke
Wafting down in musty ribbons.
I look out on the porch, and by the front door.
Khrushchev has left the plans
For the short-range missiles
Neatly rolled and secured with a rubber band.
I decide to carry them up to the attic
And introduce myself.
But I flip the switch by the attic stairs,
And the hall and stairs remain dark.
He's taken all the bulbs while I've been sleeping.
It must be fate for me to walk these darkened rooms
Like a long-dead, bourgeois, gringo Che Guevara,
And smell that pungent cigar smoke
For all eternity.
It's just my luck.

Copyright 2007 by Jon Gregory. Written in 2003.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


It was a memory of yielding and of peace,
One of being contained and protected,
And we know nothing matters anymore.
We're safe inside the liquid womb,
Sinking near its murky bottom.
I mumble small comforts to the others,
Though my lungs are too wet
For me to even cough.
But it doesn't matter, I tell myself,
Until someone opens the door,
And they shake my shoulder.
And I am rescued for another day.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory


When the immortal drunken artist
Promised that after I bailed him
Out of jail, he would paint me
Canvasses like none other,
I believed him.
But I became a dissatisfied customer.
He promised colors that would put to shame
The oranges of August sunsets,
Deep grays that would be more profound
Than the cloud cover of December,
Electric blues more pure than the azure skies of April.
He said he would stick needles into my ears,
And inject my brain with acrylic magic.
But not enough appeared.
There just weren't scenes vivid enough,
Colors rich enough,
Manifestos strong enough,
Lives profound enough.
Next time
He'll have to post bail

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory


Every day you lived that word
You stopped growing
For 24 hours.
And when you'd lived that word
For a thousand days of your life,
That was when
You began to shrink.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory

Friday, April 20, 2007


May I approach the bench?
Your Honor, I wish
to make a statement.
I ask You only for time
to argue and plead
my case completely,
and for a fair judge
to hear my plea.
For while they say
that justice is blind,
I hope that You will see
my motives much more clearly
than I could ever hope
to witness Yours.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Published in The DFW Poetry Review. Written in 1995.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Gray mist hung over the place
I once called Home
Just as it did
In fresher winters of youth.
The banana tree that bore no fruit
Still stood beside the house.
The rest was strange to me --
Neglected, disheveled, collapsed,
Like rags clinging
To a toothless, rasping bum
Whose face is too familiar.
And a world that seemed so huge
And ripe for winning
Was just a stunted miser,
Clinging like dark, gray mist
To a place he now calls Home.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Written sometime in the 1990s.


"I always knew I'd reach the top,"
You said with perfect candor.
"There never was a single doubt."
i tended to agree,
As You wiped my nose
With last week's payroll.

"We worked so hard to get this far,"
Your Dacron wife explained.
"It took so long to close the deal
"When Daddy bought the business."

Your busty secretary grinned
And rubbed her legs together
As she scribbled out a pink slip
For the cretin boy
Who punched in late.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Written in 1980. Published in Contexas and a few other journals I don't recall. Perhaps one day I'll look them up.


Slipping out the back way
Will just open the wound inside her deeper,
For he pursues with the jagged blade,
And slips it neatly and discreetly
Into the folds of her soul.
He is the assassin of her dream,
The dark-eyed procurer
Who puts her on the black-tar street
To poison for lust
And lust for poison,
And long by night
To die someday
On knife edge.

Copyright 2007 by Jon Gregory. Written in 1999.


Leroy Johnson lives in the Regal Motel
In scenic downtown Sedalia.
His father shined shoes.
His grandfather was a field hand.
Leroy is 60, a one-time Baptist who's been too drunk
To go to church for the last 35 years.
His beverage is often Falstaff beer, which he likes to drink
Alone on the streets at night, taking in the cold
Inside and out.
His smoke is a cheap cigar,
Whatever gets nicotine to the blood quickly,
With the least nausea.
He eats cheaply -- rice and beans and vegetables
With just enough hot sauce,
On a hot plate in his room.
He was once a tough little fellow.
Respected in all the taverns in town.
Now he tries to stay out of everyone's way, for his belly
Is soft, his hands slowed, his reflexes listless.
His clothes are mostly black and brown, matching his skin.
His income used to come from the numbers,
sometimes from whores, now from dishwashing.
He could have been a mathematician.
He is as American as a baseball game,
And as much a stranger in his own land
As his long-lost appendix is
To his own bloated side.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Written in 1988.

Friday, April 13, 2007


It was the day the Goodyear blimp
Came down over Shacktown
And crashed on the highway
Next to the wrecking yard.
Winos put their bottles down;
Hookers spat out their johns;
The cops stopped beating Rodney King;
And chop-shop bandits dropped their tools
As flames scorched the brown ozone sky.
"Oh, the humanity!"
A reporter cried out in vain.
A few days later, a charred asphalt crust
Covered the space where the rubber
Finally met the road.
I steered around the "road closed" signs
And sped down the shoulder,
Holding my breath against vulcanized smoke.
Hell, I was late for work.

Copyright 2007 by Jon Gregory. Written in August 2003.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


A tribe is a way of conning yourself
Into thinking you're not alone --
A ritual dance the natives perform
In ceremonial lodges,
Hand-in-hand, tongue-in-cheek, thumb-up-your-ass
Consecration of membership,
Robes of an unbroken chain of order
That clothe the hairless ape within.

A friend is a way of conning yourself
Into thinking you're not a freak --
A listener to your many laments,
Like a human sanctuary.
Give and take, take and give, one last mistake,
The nature of a long kinship,
From rags to riches, and then back to rags,
Tatters of remembered neglect.

A dream is a way of helping yourself
Believe you'll never really die --
A ritual dance your brain must perform
To keep you moving with the tribe,
Arm-in-arm, locked in step, one of the clan,
Until you sleep, and freedom pulls
You out of line, and then you know,
One day we all must dream alone.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory


He slipped into Dionysian coma
Amid the black lace brassieres
And was rushed to Betty Ford Clinic
Where he was dead on arrival.
To die for art
Is a beautiful thing.
The question is:
Will it make good box office?

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Previously published in The American Dissident, Fall 2001/Winter 2002, and in Map of Austin Poetry e-zine.


Memory is a lonely matinee for the cursed.
A cast of unpleasant characters
Parades across the mind's stage,
Taking bows every day,
Twice on Sundays --
Well-supported by embarrassment,
Under the painstaking direction
Of bitter regret.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Published in the Austin International Poetry Festival's 2002 anthology. Written in 1993.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


The somnabolist walks among us. Without Doctor Caligari's aid he murders the ancient dreamers of our city and spares others like him, spiritless and seeking surer means of anesthesia. The living shall know dreamless slumber, even as they build the pyramids, till another man's godless acre, and begat many more recruits to march in lockstep to the great hypnosis.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Written in 1992.

Sunday, April 8, 2007


There was a drop in the stock market tomorrow.
Rain is forecast for yesterday.
And as the Dow flooded the streets,
His broker advised him to sell
The thunderheads in his portfolio.

He was ever the clever investor,
Mindful of seasons and cycles,
But in reverse.

And in time, he got rich
Off hot stocks in winter and
Cool bonds in summer.

But then, the day arrived
When lightning reduced him
To charred junk bonds.

His memory fades into mercury
Like midnight sun.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Originally written in May 2002.

Friday, April 6, 2007


It's doubtful whether flat-earth life is real
And high-peak dreams are not;
Whether we steer smoothly across our times,
Or the times are leveling us;
Whether our love is eternal,
Or prairie sex with a ring and a prayer;
Whether DNA flatly determines
Everything about us,
As if it stands for Dumb Naked Ape --
Or did we choose our horizontal truth?
It's doubtful which of us will live longer,
Whether I was a blessing or
A flat-out curse on you, or you on me.
Whether our lives and times out here
Meant anything at all,
There is one thing that I will never doubt:
You made some days on this bare plain
The best I ever knew.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Actually written in November 2000.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


Would you rather have your dreams die
Before your brain cells do,
Or prefer it the other way around?
Maybe it depends on which dreams
Or which brain cells we're talking about.
And since we only use about
6 percent of our brain cells
In an average lifetime (or so I've heard),
That means about 94 percent
Of one's brain is expendable.
But some of us use 100 percent
Of our dreams, and then
In an average lifetime we make
About 6 percent of them come true.
That must mean about 94 percent
Of one's dreams are expendable,
And that's a lot of death
To witness in an average lifetime.
And so, some decide they'd rather
Have the brain cells go first,
And they spend a lot of time and money
Racing to kill them off.
But in an average lifetime,
The best that they can hope for is a tie.

Copyright 2007, by Jon Gregory. Actually written in January 2000.