John Grey, 7/22/2019

Current Occupation: Retired

Previous Occupation:  Financial Systems Analyst

Contact Information: John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Muse, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Hawaii Review and the Dunes Review.




Forty years slamming a pick
against an unforgiving black wall,
filling a handcart
with debris –
no wonder he looks so haggard.
No guessing his true age.
Not with his crown buried
in a rag cap,
face slumped below his shoulders,
and beard gray as slag.
None of his descendants
ever had to work so hard
in such a dismal, confined space,
for low wages,
back bent to the belt buckle,
breathing soot for air.
I stare for a moment
then close the album covers,
shut down the pit
until the next time.




Working the machines indeed!
May as well be me
dipped in the grease,
crunched by the gears,
spat out onto the assembly line.
With brains numb,
feet chained to floor,
and foreman’s monologue
screaming in my ears,
humanity gives way to apparatus.
Eight to five,
who’s being conveyed
if not the one
with sorry head on weary shoulders.
And who gets wrapped and boxed
and sent on to a broken home?
You guessed it.
The one with the flimsy paycheck.
It’s a factory.
You learn on the job
just how expendable you are.
The message is clear:
if you don’t like it,
you can quit.
There’s plenty of people out there
looking for work they won’t like.



Another day
cracking open a sidewalk,
shards of concrete flying
every which way
under the brute insistence
of my jack-jammer.
I've enough forehead sweat
to fill a bucket,
back's aching
but still a slipped disc or two
from worker's comp
and my ears, despite the headphones,
are as jackhammered
as the earth below.
But it has to be broken up
so some pipe or other
can be fixed down below
and then everything
cemented over
so it looks like it did
before I got here.
I'm no different
from the pavement.
I'm hacked apart,
go home for some repair,
then a little smoothing over.
Except tomorrow,
I move on to someplace else.
More jackhammering.
is there when I arrive.

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