John Grey: Get in and Live
Image: Unsplash, downloaded https://unsplash.com/photos/O7cW0a8lVFo (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,
he stumbled out into the brutal winter air.
No longer a company man,
snake-bitten unto death.
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 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
"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.