“Lesson Number One” by John Grey

My Uncle George’s right hand surely has a dozen fingers.
They spread across the strings like spiders
while his left is so precise and stalwart,
holds down the wires against the frets,
from fat E to its skinny namesake.


I listen as if in a wondrous heathen church
and the melody is its sermon,
the chime of metal amplified through wood.
He plays guitar, an instrument
invented by the Spanish centuries ago
but still so thrilling in the here and now.


My eyes can’t leave his deft plucking,
the surprisingly long nails
that sometimes stroke,
sometimes hammer.
He’s rapid, then slow,
shaking off one tempo
to dive straight into another.


Here, in our parlor,
he floods me with the joy of music,
of being.
My thoughts fill with,
“If I could only play as he does.”


He is so lost in his picking
but then looks up suddenly
as if called to attention by my mute question –
“How is it done?”


He finishes the number
then encourages me to sit beside him.
It’s time for my first lesson.
My arms can barely wrap around the instrument
and the pressure of the steel
hurts my soft pressing finger.
So that’s how it’s done.








John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Perceptions, and the anthology No Achilles, with work upcoming in Big Muddy Review, Gargoyle, Coal City Review, and Nebo.