top of page
  • John Grey

John Grey: Get in and Live

Image: Unsplash, downloaded (28.2.2021.)


I don't feel any breeze unless

it's the whoosh of the bullet.

Nor do I celebrate a fellow human

being if they don't float well above

my murkiness and mud. I keep watch

for arms and legs that can be measured in

fluidity, not simple marching.

And as for eyes, I prefer that they

be the heirs to outrageous shades

of color and point of view.

The mind should be the atlas

of itself, lightly trodden, and the heart,

a kind sickness to which there is

no longer a remedy. I adore the

semi-colon. The honest face above,

the fluttering below. I have said

this to the point of not saying it:

high tide, low tide, the iconic surge,

the long disheveled breath,

all of these can easily satisfy none of these


He punched time clocks.

There were days it felt like they punched him.

Worked hard and long amid the past century’s decline,

its industry most of all.

Factories ran because of him.

He was more of a current than the actual electric flow.

His attention to the task never wavered.

So he didn’t see the snake,

red scales slithering into the dusk’s black soul.

He was one more worker

glued to the assembly line,

chained eyes, wrists, arms, hands and legs,

creating more product,

an unquestioning soldier

as good faded in memory dimmer each day.

He kept those wheels and pulleys turning,

even as that asp bit deep,

stoked hell-hot ovens,

stacked the backs of trucks,

breathed dust and dirt,

transfigured spare parts,

as if he was creating Eden,

lost a finger in an accident,

half his hearing sacrificed to pulverizing noise,

poisoned, laid-off,

he stumbled out into the brutal winter air.

No longer a company man,

snake-bitten unto death.


It’s spring

but it’s also Monday morning

so the season must bide its time

if it wants to be in the air.


the fog’s burning off

so the drizzle can begin.

I’m stuck in traffic.

Windshield wipers work overtime.

I don’t get a day off.

Why should they.

My exhaust contributes

to the general miasma.

And my face is hard-edged

as I refuse to give up an inch of roadway

to that guy trying to squeeze in

from the breakdown lane.

That’s my week.

I commute.

I suffer through a boring day

on the job.

It’s spring, a time of rebirth,

renewal, rejuvenation and resurrection.

But my paycheck does not stretch beyond

last winter.


"It's all there in the framework" so he tells me.

"The building wouldn't stand without it."

I'm staring up at the skyscraper.

The sun blinds my eyes before I can see its top.

"And then it's in my leg," he adds,

explaining why he can hardly stand with it,

his body an ongoing limping testimony

to the wrath of an exploding shell.

It's all metal. And there's thing called "mettle"

that he also introduces into the conversation

from time to time.

It's now these monoliths get built in the first place.

It's how men survive in tough places,

dodging bullets and bombs.

He gets stuck on words.

And he's big with what's going on behind the façade -

the glass, the stone, the flesh. It's metal. It's mettle.

He buys me a beer.

He doesn't have it in him to let me return the favor.

"So much beneath the roads that you can't see," he says.

"People are worse. There's more heart in that damn

piece of shrapnel below my knee than in some I've known."

He almost died for his country.

But the country did him no favors when he returned.

He worked on the cleaning crew for one of

these giant office buildings for forty hard years.

"Imagine that," he'd tell me. "From rifle to broom.

From stripes in the shoulder to minimum wage.

The thing is - that's all that I was ever good for."

I don't begrudge him his complaining.

I sit still for the war stories,

even the cruel ones that go against my grain.

And if he wants to take pride in a soulless edifice

whose rugs he vacuumed, walls he washed,

then I'll just bite my tongue.

We all have to get in there and live our lives.

Or we may never have this conversation.

About the Author: John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in New World Writing, Dalhousie Review and Blood And Thunder. Work upcoming in Hollins Critic, Redactions and California Quarterly.


Recent Posts

See All


ZiN Daily is published by ZVONA i NARI, Cultural Production Cooperative

Vrčevan 32, 52204 Ližnjan, Istria, Croatia

OIB 73342230946

ISSN 2459-9379


Copyright © 2017-2021, ZVONA i NARI, Cultural Production Cooperative

The rights to all content presented at belong to its respective authors.

Any further reproduction or dissemination of this content is prohibited without a written consent from its authors. 
All Rights Reserved.

The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


are supported by:

bottom of page