“A Pair of Old Jeans” by John Grey

I’m throwing out a pair of old jeans
but not my efforts to be a good person,
I’m trying to answer all of your questions,
truthfully, not like a cloud of vapor,
who I am, where I come from,
feel like they’re standing before you for the first time –
yes, I’m feeling a little storm-tossed,
because I’m not sure my life can measure up to yours –
I’m also tossing the black t-shirt with a band on it
because I’m not twenty-one anymore
and hoping I can cast some light
on everything everybody ever did to me –
whatever I say, it’s as much to educate me
as you – at least, it’s my effort
to make sense of this moment in time
by stepping out of it –
so I remember the first person who broke my heart,
the first person who discouraged me;
but they’re fleeting, serve little purpose,
shadows of shadows –
high school crush? what is that?
girl in the coffee shop? who is she?
girl who asked me to grow my hair out
who was half way to being you –
I still have these teenage poems,
would have been better off burning them,
wherever these women are now,
I hope they’ve done well,
and their kids are healthy –
of course, in the din of a crowd
ignoring them would be better,
for remembering can be a little bit like dying:
compartmentalizing the brain
like cleaning and packing my clothes neatly
so some shelter will take them – it’s raining,
or maybe I’m imagining it,
can’t recall most people,
not even the damage we might have done to each other,
but know that somewhere in my brain,
lingering in a corner,
is every word I ever heard,
every face I ever saw,
not even the universe is as big as this –
then there’s my father who died.
who must feel the same,
my mother who thinks that
I should have been something other
than what I became,
and there’s the names I changed
to protect the nerds –
you’re saying something,
I’m not sure I hear you,
I don’t know how much you know,
like the days on Block Island
when I finally discovered
what manhood is all about,
and those walks in the woods
where my spirit got a good going over,
caught in a powerful storm,
stuck in some church youth group –
those were other days, other people,
Daggie and Luke, tender Marie,
and lectures on God and the Devil,
times of silence I could actually feel,
like the spaces between notes in a song –
the thing is, you never run out of room in your head –
you tell me it must be
some kind of therapeutic exercise
but a few of those people were pretty okay –
at least they must have been –
sometimes I can smell the past,
sometimes I can taste it,
it doesn’t always gel neatly,
and the ones I miss and those I don’t
confuse me, confuse each other,
or appear so clear, so precise,
more than I could ever hope for
and I even thank my brain for showing them to me –
did you know I had a best friend in kindergarten,
I suffered the indignity of a first kiss,
I never did move to my dream city,
my fourth-grade teacher encouraged me –
now look at me,
I have a wife, a house, a garden,
I know what it’s like to change,
I’ve drifted alone,
I’ve made plans together.
I’ve been present when the truth came out,
and I’ve sometimes wondered
where will we all end up,
and am I the man you think I am,
and who’s that driving away in the distance –
well it isn’t me
and you shouldn’t be surprised by that.



John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. He was recently published in Transcend, Dalhousie Review, and Qwerty, with work upcoming in Blueline, Hawaii Pacific Review, and Clade Song.

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