November 13, 2023

“Wednesday in a Factory Town,” Poetry by John Grey

“Wednesday in a Factory Town,” Poetry by John Grey

Sunlight succumbs  

to weather and chimney, 

fat gray clouds, 

much billowing of smoke. 

In a town of factories, 

faces stare, 

solemn and blackened 

like stove flues, 

through windows, 

as red eyes make tunnels 

in the gloom. 


Rivers wait  

like standing water 

for more dust and grime 

to fuel their current. 


Shoppers cough their way 

from store to store. 

Kids grub up 

without even trying. 


No sky 

as once was promised. 


Not even the church, 

chiming three o’clock, 

can get back God’s attention. 




She can’t swerve to avoid the dead possum on the road 

without crashing through huddled sobbing mourners 

and braking just in time so she doesn’t topple down 

into the freshly dug hole, and smash headlong  

into her father’s coffin lid. 

In her mind, one death is all deaths. 

A man who withered away in his bed  

for two painful years is the bloodied mirror image 

of a slow, dimwitted creature crossing a road 

in front of an oncoming eighteen-wheeler. 

A splattered animal and a cancer-riddled man converge. 

A stretch of asphalt is a plot of sodden earth. 

And what’s a desperate yaw but a bent head, 

a stillness, a priest’s dull monotone, dark suits,  

even darker dresses, and two dozen faces, 

red where they’re not pale. 

She breathes deep enough for a dozen people 

as she rights the car, continues the journey. 

She slows down as she passes through a town, 

sees ordinary folks working in their gardens, 

sweeping the sidewalk outside stores, 

strolling through a small park, 

or, backs against a convenient fence, just hanging out. 

But, right before the “You are now leaving…” sign, 

she goes by a cemetery, a hundred or more crosses 

rising from a grassy hill. 

If the dead keep this up, then there’ll be no living. 




A feeling of starvation and then there's these chains. 

I keep asking for somebody 

but the only response I get is 

poor wretch . . . poor wretch. 

Hey, I don't deny the rich their splendor. 

I was after a bite of their arrogance, that's all. 


That's what I get for being me. 

The hatred of God. 

A front row seat in the city of winter. 

Not forgetting the biting campaign 

of the January wind. 

It's been blasting its nails into me. 


I'm nothing more than an eyelash this morning. 

My head slinks in behind it. 

My body defers to its will. 

No wonder, I can't get up so easily. 

A cop says this is my destiny, 

same as it is for all those just like me. 

Excuse me while my destiny blasphemes for a while. 


Oh they give me this day my daily bread. 

It comes with water 

and the severe eyes of one experienced 

in dealing with the dregs. 

I mop up my breakfast. 

It tastes like damp earth. 


I'll be in this cell until they're bored with me, 

toss me back out on the streets. 

Life has blows, some pretty harsh ones. 

but they don't hang my kind any more. 

The law prefers that we realize what we have done 

for as long it takes. 

The black messengers of death were too kind. 

It's a lifetime that taps us on the shoulder now 





overwhelms anxiety 

with clear, pure instrumentation, 

assimilates music 

clusters and gives, 

is as essential as consciousness 

and just as unidentifiable; 

deep-lying, out of sight,  

distant from all others, 

including time, 

filtering like broth 

in glottal breath, 

thickets of greasy globules  

distilled by motion; 

sex hates stillness. 

it starts fires, 

is most effective when 

the fields are level, 

it eludes metaphors, 

resists transparency, 

turns matter into something  


as wild natures tangle 

like meat chunks 

in consommé,  

breezing through conceits  

with excitable patience 

and a raging divinity; 

that’s how it’s done – 

sharp whirls 

sketch the high notes, 

skimmer to floats 

of unknotted clumps, 

persuasive turnings 

surface suggestions, 

no airs, 

eyes misting, 

rhythms rushing  

unbeginning and unending  

up into the point 

they lighten up – 





We can sigh, 

pretend we fit in blithely  

with the world’s myths: 

the good life, 

the people always kind to us, 

the law that treats us fair. 


Better than crying out in pain, 

or punching the nearest object.  



So many drooping downward 

as their lungs let out. 

A choir of acceptance. 

I’m their newest member. 




In my best grey suit,  

I’m a visitor 

to a construction site. 

An incongruous hard-hat 

protects my skull from falling debris. 

I wonder how long it will be 

before I’m as grimy as the workers. 

At least, I’ll never be as hairy. 


It’s a July afternoon 

and the sun lends stifling heat 

to the fires of industry. 

Machinery rolls here and there 

like slow-moving drays. 

The workers are stage-managed enough 

to stay out of the way. 


Some stand out 

from the ample, sweaty necks, 

muscled torsos. 

Like the guy high up, 

gripping the reins of a crane. 

And the kind of giant 

that little boys love, 

who’s yoked to  

a ground-busting jackhammer.  

And the foreman who manages all 

with calmly commanding eyes. 


There’s no point asking a question. 

I wouldn’t be heard. 

Not when metal clangs. 

Voices bellow. 

Engines pound and shriek. 

It’s more than all the noise  

there’s ever been. 




A solid right to the jaw 

in a black and white ring. 

Late night festivities in a gay bar. 

A judge pounding a gavel. 

Colorful trees of coral. 

Are those fiddler crabs? 

And surely the big man with the beard 

is a Hemingway impersonator. 

A back street in Key West. 

A tiny girl dressed as an angel. 

A sweaty bluesman 

playing a sweaty blues guitar. 

Exotic dancer. 

Effete snobs.  

Wheatfield at dusk. 

Sixties teenagers grooving 

to a record player.

The crowded aisle of a bookstore. 

A city. Hartford, I believe. 

A closeup of neon tetras. 

Another boxing picture. 

A guy on the canvas	 

holding his glass jaw. 

Pictures of children: 

Jenny is so awkward 

Maria is fidgety 

How did Juanita ever get so plump? 

And Louise who reminds me of  

a young George Eliot. 

And what is this? 

A minstrel show 

A quick plink-plunk on a banjo. 

Black face, black tuxedo. 

Then wine and cheese. 

Meet the photographer. 

Shake hands with her eyes. 




The tattoo artist jackhammers an eagle  

into Dan’s leathery arm, 

a wince for every feather, 

gritted teeth as talons sprout, 

a drop of blood at the beak. 


A bird of prey is inked into  

the limb of a flightless creature, 

that buys its provisions at the grocery store, 

doesn’t drop down like a raptor 

on the living to kill and eat. 


The eagle joins the devil  

who’d laugh at Dan’s modest sins, 

the mother he seldom calls. 


His wife’s fingers  

often linger at the heart 

just above his left wrist. 

It’s the only one she’s found so far. 


Wednesday in a Factory Town

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Stand, Washington Square Review and Sheepshead Review. Latest books, Between Two Fires, Covert and Memory Outside the Head are available for purchase. Work upcoming in the McNeese Review, Santa Fe Literary Review and California Quarterly

Wednesday in a Factory Town
#death#john grey#poetry#tattoos#workers

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