Under Orders

By John Grey

A miserable, shabby starving tomcat.
Ancient factory and mangy cat.
Between misshapen legs, the mongrel licks.
Get that cat of here! Curse you bastards!
One of us kicks its scrawny gut.
Crack-crack-crack! The voice is like a whip.
Crack-crack-crack! Crack-crack-crack!
All day, brief break in the morning, afternoon.
Half hour for lunch.
The hungry cat howls.
Hey, who’s shirking there? Get a move on!
Hey, who’s shirking there?
What do you think we pay you for?
Hustle, or we’ll feel the lash.
Keep our voices to ourselves.
Save our jokes. Stow our laughter.
Scowl. It’s what the job demands.
Always, the train of life is in the tunnel.
Look how black it is on all sides.
The company’s too cheap to change the light bulb.
So on we work, blood, sweat and cheap radio.
On we work, aching back, pain in the right knee.
A jab with a bayonet’s what you need!
One of us kicks the cat again.
It skulks among some empty barrels.
It creeps and shambles.
If it don’t watch out it will get too close
to the gaping jaws.
Cat mince-meat and puddles of red.
Just the way the company likes it.
May as well toss the poor cat in.
Its misery would thank us.
For those teeth get us all eventually,
make no mistake,
It whips, it bayonets, it rakes with shot.
And then it opens its mouth and bites down hard.
See how it flaunts its power.
Wide, wide, wide! Sorry, we need to let you go!
Chomp, chomp, chomp!
The machine runs on, all belts and cogs,
oil and smoke,
runs on because the machine says it does,
loud and caustic and without cease . . .


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently, he has been published in New Plains Review, South Carolina Review, Gargoyle, and Big Muddy Review, with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Cape Rock and Spoon River Poetry Review.