John Grey

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Penumbra, Poetry Salzburg Review and Hollins Critic. Latest books, “Leaves On Pages” and “Memory Outside The Head” are available through Amazon. Work upcoming in Lana Turner and International Poetry Review.

LIFE IN A FACTORY TOWN

It is a machine
not a heart -

a factory floor
not a dance hall -

funnel smoke
not a walk down lover’s lane -

raucous noise
instead of warm words 
between two people -. 

it is the job
not an encounter –

the end result is not love
but a gizmo –

but you work
and that’s attractive
in some women’s eyes –

so you will marry.
raise a family –

there’s more than one
production line.

THE ODDS

Lompico sandstone overlies basement rocks.
But what does this have to do with tiny ornate china cups
that line the mantle above her never-lit fireplace?
And the Earth’s lithosphere is capable 
of suddenly releasing great bursts of energy.
Is that why she holds down those heirlooms with one hand
while she brushes them gently with the other?

She knows terms like “tectonic shifts” 
and “Richter magnitude scale”
to describe what looks like ordinary backyard 
in an average Los Angeles neighborhood.
Her children are playing but there’s 
a worry in her face as she oversees them
through the kitchen window.
She’s expecting the ground to open up at any moment,
for her brood to disappear down giant cracks.

I wonder how she can live some place
where the next fault could destroy 
a family, a house, a neighborhood.
But then she comes back with a laugh, 
a shoulder shrug and “What are the odds?”
I don’t think she’d ever care
for a world made knowable.

MISSISSIPPI, SATURDAY NIGHT

Rutted road blanketed by darkness
leads to rickety bridge, and small towns,
alligator burps, frog timpani, 
starlight bogged down in swamp water,
music rocking from a tavern jukebox,
slow rivers whispering through the woods,
summer lush and steamy and yet still dying of thirst,
so it’s barbecue and beer in the shade of the magnolias.

Conversation turns to those no longer with us,
or the sparsity of good jobs, and whether
this is still the best of places in which to live,
and the old man who’s lived alone 
in that rickety old fishing shack,
the one with a taste for feeling lonesome,
and the game upcoming next Friday night.

Someone strums an old guitar,
sings REM songs, then “Free Bird”,
another complains that it’s too damn hot
to ever do something productive,
so he doesn’t leave until long after midnight,
and another tells the story of bluesman Robert Johnson,
how he met up with the devil at the crossroads.
 
Folks smelling of sauce, suitably soused,
cussing everything from heat lightning 
to promises not kept, too numbed to be bothered
by a slithering shadow that could be a snake, 
sleepless hollows under the eyes, 
frequented by droplets of sweat.  

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