What You Wanted, Disease, and The Coughing Man

By John Grey



You pointed to a stain between the stove plates.

“Your coffee,” was all you said.

And then to the chocolate ice-cream fingerprints

around and on the refrigerator door handle.

More evidence followed:

a man-sized hand smudge on the bathroom window,

a ring of dirt on the bath itself.

You roped in a pair of BVD’s half under the bed

and a drop of blood on the pillow

from a nosebleed.

As for my study –

we didn’t go there.

We couldn’t.

It was so messy

there was only ever room for one at a time.

Of course, there were flecks of mud from my boots

in the parlor.

Some magazines left on the porch

and damp with rain.

You were right of course.

I did live there.

You still wanted the man.

But you could have done without

the clues to his existence.





I know you’re there.

Don’t try concealing yourself from me.

You’re in my blood.

You’re in my urine.

And no doubt in the spit

when I spit on you in kind.


I don’t care about your Latin name.

That’s the doctor’s job.

I just want you to open up,

admit that you’re responsible,

that you’re the one who’s doing this to me.


So no more bone-crushing aches.

No more back-breaking pains.

I just want the truth.

Are you going to kill me or not?


If you are,

then get it over with.

If you’re not,

then what’s the point

of you hanging around.

I’m not a boarding house.

As far as you’re concerned,

I’m a body.

And I have all that I need inside me.

There’s really no point to you being here.


So maybe you’re lost.

Maybe you’re in the wrong guy.

Or you’re confused.

You think you’re a good red blood cell

when you’re something else entirely.

The thing is I don’t need you. 

And I’m sorry if you need me.


But I have a life to live

and you’re not helping any.

You’re a disorder of a function.

Does that sound like life to you?





Man in the theater

two seats back of me

can’t stop coughing,


a great lump in his throat no doubt

but no amount of hacking

can free it loose.


He’s there to embrace

the grand scheme of things

as it’s acted out on stage


but is unable to get beyond

the details of his own body,

the minutiae that derails the broad strokes.


The Machiavellian rise to power of Richard III

plays out against a protective reflex

of the breathing passages.


One is Shakespeare.

One suffers the irritation

of a lesser author.