Skip to main content

Grey Sparrow Journal and Press, as of January 31, 2018 will move to

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
Contact Us

Always a Musical

Doe-eyed girls singing country & western songs
into the camera for us, uneasy yet rapt
auditioners for the coveted role of Most Adorable Child.
We two parents, creators of the now decade-long
production The Happy Family, half-wincing at the broken
harmonies and under-rehearsed dance routines.
The bedtime-hour long past, the summer darkness
descends like a reticent curtain while the girls
and their mother giggle, amused beyond easy repair.
Happy in the presence of this troika of pale-skinned
beauties, but sullen always in the pit of my own muddled
gut, I observe them like a climber at the summit,
keen to get on with the tricky work of descent.
Longing now for another show of their childish grandeur,
only this time with faux tears and fake melodrama.
Something, let’s say, where they play sisters who
don’t wholly love each other, where the parents—
aloof and grim as caretakers of undoable errors—
don’t allow bedtimes to pass unnoticed, let alone
such music in the house, all the silly song-and-dance.

                                                                        -John Ballard



The cleaned rooms smelling of lemons,
the dust everywhere unsettled and glinting
in the sunlight, falling, rising, maybe music
if I could hear it, like so many unheard things.
A plane in the sky overhead, reverb of flight
but also of distances, goings-away.  Maybe you
up there echoing the sentiments of the people
in the rows around you: Can’t get there soon enough.
Everywhere the world below etched and grooved
and parceled into colors according to plantings
or wildness or asphalt.  I can picture you now.
Not regretting things.  Sticking to promises. 
Calm as the day is long, now at last you can be.

                                                                  -John Ballard


Grandmother at Ninety-One
These are the days when nothing
is made possible by desire alone.  Bedrailed,
diapered, cathetered, grace’s exile,
the age of bones, of skin as amorphous
as some bleak geography from 20,000 feet.
By the bathroom scale scribbles on a pad
of paper: her daily recorded weights
(102, 102, 100, 97, 99, 94, 92…), the proof
we like to have in numbers of what goes on
right before our eyes.  Caretaker daughter,
a son who drinks and inquires after
the life insurance; grandsons who do
nothing more than stand by, relieved
of duty by miles or estrangement
or the high hurdles of the diffident heart.
She gapes as the visiting nurse Theresa
rattles on about her cats, her car problems,
the need for her patient to get out of bed.
Theresa’s bejeweled hands appraise her,
molecularly gentle (dare I say a saint’s touch?).
Grandmother says “Huh?” to a question
no one asks, deaf even to the silence now,
to my unspoken pleas for Theresa to shut
up about the cats, to take her junker
on down the road to the next invalid.
Goddamned gypsy nurse—words on the tarmac
of my tongue, waiting to take flight.
Of course I keep silent, as does Grandmother:
pluckless, devoured by hungry years, frowning
a little at all the fuss.  All the dragging
on of things, all the dragging out.

                                          -John Ballard