All For a Song

The radio was playing something country.
Hank Williams, George Jones, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson –
the reception was too crackly to hear.
But the cabbie knew it well enough.
Good-old-boy music was the very core of his being.
At least, he sang along like we were in Nashville
not negotiating a Providence rainstorm.

Of course, I have my own misplaced soundtrack.
It rides those bumpy South Queensland backroads,
drawls its maudlin heartbreak tune from cheap car radios.
No ten-gallon hats. No glittery rhinestones.
Not a honky-tonk woman in sight.
My song comes with its own hard-luck stories.
Plus a few sheep. Some cattle. Drought of course.
Anything the landscape can do to squash a dream.
But there’s no denying that abject misery can be hummable.

It’s been long years in America but I’m still Australian,
rendered low from time to time by homesickness,
even with everybody dead or gone every-which-way,
and dairy-farm-land diced up for development, gated communities,
small towns now cemeteries, bush bulldozed, streams drained,
skies made ordinary, once grassy ground ruled by cement.
But sometimes a song is the remedy for being elsewhere.

In chords, in notes, old times reassert themselves,
family not seen years, friends I’ve lost contact with –
Would I know them? Would they know me?
Does anybody but me remember that cabby?
“The Dying Stockman” and “The Old Bullock Dray” say “Yes.”


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