"The Name Game"

There are the names

of those present in his current life

and there are names

sequestered in the scar down his right leg,

those random palpitations of the heart.


Dave's wife is Julie.

His married daughter, Cynthia.

His son is Billy.

The boy is forty three and still living at home.


Retired, he prefers

his patio to just about every other place.

Even the rain doesn't bother him.

Julie brings him coffee.

Billy's off to work.

Cynthia lives in Colorado.

With those names out of the way,

there's a time and place for others.


It's a scenario that favors the strong of stomach.

Air's hot and steamy.

The food is gloop.

When it doesn't taste of death that is.

Only coffee has the essence, the presence,

to taste like every place,

every day of every year, at once.

Every sip is the perfect time machine.


So Dave's filling out postcards.

Al, now deceased, sits beside him,

scribbles the words.

"Everything's ok with me."

It goes well with Dave's

"I'm doing fine."

They're at the front.

The Julias, the Cynthias, the Billys,

of this world

have no idea what that means.


Rod has his cards done.

So does Joshua.

Machine gun fire strafes close by.

The other side could be upon them

any time soon.

But no one's jittery.

That's for when, or if, they make it home.

In war, the postcard writing hands

would surprise you with their steadiness.


Julie asks if he'd like a refill.

Dave wants to say,

"'Don't creep up on me like that"

but he whispers, "Okay" instead.


The rain stops.

The trees, the grass, took the onslaught well.

With the sun coming out,

they'll be gleaming before he knows it.


Years later was never in the enemy's plans for him.

Nor was a house in the suburbs,

a quiet place where he could sit and remember.

They wanted him dead, he recalls.

As dead as Frank and Sylvester and Jake.


There was that time

when in the company of one set of names,

he wrote postcard after postcard to the names back home.

Those guerrillas in the trees

could have blown every last name to smithereens.

They missed a great opportunity.

He's still alive.

Names are everywhere.


About the author

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly.

John Grey