January 22, 2020

“That Finals Hour,” Poetry by John Grey

“That Finals Hour,” Poetry by John Grey

It’s not complacency. It’s stupefaction.
The final is in an hour. And I’m not
sucking this pen like a popsicle.
Behind my lips, I’m in a chewing frenzy.
Yes, I’m sipping coffee. And peeling
and orange. But the activity required
is like a drug. My frayed nerves deserve
no less. Some friends stroll by.
Trades looks tell all. Once eyes
adopt a principle of honesty,
self-confidence falls flat on its own face.
In a room to the building on my right,
it’s not a simple mathematics test that
awaits but the labors of Hercules.
A growling Nemean lion of an algebra
puzzle. A geometrical hydra. A
stamping, snorting, trigonometry
Cretan Bull. Compared to me,
the ancient strongman had it easy.
He could stop at twelve. Ah, if only
the test were on mythology. All
those contradictory characteristics.
Gods and heroes. The supernatural.
The bloody. The inspiring. The
miraculous. Best of all, one plus one
only had to equal two sometimes.



Grand architecture flanks your coach
as it rolls down Vienna’s Ringstrasse,

You look through the window
at the old city wall,
the magnificent Hofburg Palace,
and the fantastic façade
of the State Opera,
its frescoes performing “The Magic Flute”
in your head.

I know this
from your email.
Otherwise, I’m missing you
an ocean wide.
Old Europe, the New World,
we take distance and disparity,
back to the eighteenth century.

I sit at the desk in my study,
maple tree brushing against the window,
as I type my reply.

Nothing new to see
from where I’m sitting.
I’m a relationship tourist.
I’m currently without a guide.



Last May,
at the airport in Atlanta,
I saw friends and family
kissing soldiers goodbye.

That seems long ago
and far away.

I fear that,
in the interim,
something dreadful has happened.

In some house,
a phone rang
or there was a loud knock
at the door.

What’s the odds that,
out of so many,
one or two might not return.

Is that my daily flash of optimism
bursting in my brain?
Tell me they have all lasted.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dunes Review, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Qwerty, Thin Air, Dalhousie Review and failbetter. This is his fourth feature on The Fictional Café. You can read his other works here.

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