The poetry of John Grey

Frogs on Fire

He would stay up all night setting frogs afire
as much as he loved amphibians.
And he purposely pedaled his favorite bicycle into a tree
just to destroy something he loved.
Destruction. No direction.
He put the two together and came up with the word “skateboard.”
And he hung out with some guys who wanted nothing more
than to be angrier than they were.
So they invented their own war-cry.
And they knocked down fences, blew letter boxes apart with fireworks.
Kicked sleeping bums in the shins.
And were, of course, forever in awe, of the frog
as it burst into flame and blew up.
Almost as good as pushing kids into ponds.
Or breaking the good wing of a damaged bird.
They turned laughing into screaming and then laughing again,
worshipped anything flammable.
All that frog death and not one haunted.
Same with the songbirds they pelted with stones.
Or the geese they chased with swatting sticks.
He was one of the crowd.
Never in fear when the likes of an old lady came after them with her purse.
Not when there were six kids.
Not when they all had rocks in their hand.
Taunt and torment – that was their credo.
And a way of talking, of acting, that nobody else understood.
Flipping strangers the bird and taking to the streets on their skateboards.
A smack across the jaw, a crash into a sidewalk
only brought our louder laughs, crazier screams.
They were animal stompers, stick pokers.
vandals longing to be older so they could vandalize
even the young girls who looked at them with disdain.
But then one of those girls smiled at him.
He was by himself and he unraveled.
He set a frog afire but quickly doused it with water.
It died anyway. But, for the first time, not in vain.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Midwest Quarterly, Poetry East and Columbia Review with work upcoming in South Florida Poetry Journal, Hawaii Review and Roanoke Review.

One comment

  1. I just watched Somebody Up There Likes Me and this poem by John Grey totally sounds like the life of Rocky Graziano as a rebellious teenager (minus the skateboard). It is so sad to watch young people full of anger making their life and their neighbors’ lives miserable. ” Frogs on Fire” does an admirable job of illuminating the senseless cruelty and misguided energies of angry adolescents, who are hurting and know no better way to deal with their pain than to embody it as a macho source of pride.


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