Literary Yard

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‘The Great Unknown’ and other poems by John Grey

By John Grey


Benny bends over his guitar,
picks licks between chords.

from Clapton and Broonzy.
Jeff Beck and Albert King

and the kid he once was
plucking riffs out of the air
in front of a full-length bathroom mirror

as some in the crowd
think more of their beer
than his chops

but a couple of guys
stand eyeball to stage,
tracking his fingers
like Indian scouts –

how does he play like that.
they wonder

not how come he’s
in his mid-thirties
and still working no-name
bar-rooms like this

that’s one of the ironies of being unknown

you can get really good at it.



My country is Australia

and I’m back from the cane fields
crackling in fire
to lay the ground for the next growing season

and the alcoholic steam of a Townsville beer garden
where shirts are optional but hairy chests and arms are not.

I was surrounded by smoke and coastlines,
while relearning my own language,
purging my accent of New England,
immersed myself in who I was as best I could.

This is why I still lump sugar into my coffee despite my doctor’s orders.
I know where it comes from.
Stooped backs. Sun-ravaged skin.

And loud talk of football, politics, trucks, the harvest,
but none of women, none of wives,
none of the kids unless they’re playing in a game that afternoon.

I met a guy (a cove, a bloke) whose life-savings
are a tractor with a bent wheel.
Another from Croatia who still has family there.
Some wreck of a man was hunched over a corner table,
digging more of the ditch no doubt
that he’d been working on since he lost his job.
And I heard the crushers,
saw the snakes slithering away from the flames.
Everything a memory needed
to be reality for a week or two.

And now my country is Rhode Island.

The loud and puffy processing plant is in my dreams.
Part of my job now is imagining and remembering.
It’s winter here, another kind of weariness.
But not one that puts sweetness on the table.



Thanksgiving –
a turkey killed,
no thanks given.

Christmas –
gifts exchanged
with each other
then with the store.

New Year’s –
everyone as drunk
as necessary.

Easter –
no resurrection.

July 4th –
everyone as drunk
as they were
at New Year.

Birthday –
nobody remembered.

Columbus Day –
discover America
in my own way,
in my own time.
(See New Year’s and July 4th above.)



She is very quiet now.
She feels both the pain
and the privilege
but says nothing regarding either.

All in all,
her body was right to react
the way it did.
She would have made a lousy man.



In the light of sirens, her face is a chaotic brown,
carved up into portions, wet eyes rotating,
cheeks flared, mouth shunted to the side,
as a crowd gathers on the inner-city street,
and she breaks down over the body.

From the roofs of the tenements speaks the unrelenting deity.
“What else can I do for you, this night?”
“Haven’t you done enough!” she screams.
And all this while she bites hard on her tongue
until her silence bleeds.

A black drizzle descends from the clouds.
The ground is shaking.
The walls are breaking.
A bullet takes cover
where a bullet has no right to be.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Soundings East, Dalhousie Review and Qwerty with work upcoming in West Trade Review, Willard and Maple and Connecticut River Review.

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