I knew him well.
We met forty years ago.
Not a big man, but wiry and wise.
Wore the same hat for as long as I can remember.
He used snuff, and would sometimes spit into the wind
From the open window of the truck.
I cleaned it a lot.
He called me city slicker for my naïveté.
I was twenty seven, he in his sixties,
but he still outclassed me in the brawn department.
When we visited, he showed me the ropes
Of backwoods country life.
I learned how to thaw a frozen water pump
In a stone basement crawlspace with no heat or light.
How to start a city slicker car frozen at minus 40.
Where to go to collect nets full of minnows.
How and when to pick earthworms.
I shoveled shit with him, and rounded up an errant pig.
Watched him string it up and bleed it.
We hauled it in, and cut it up on the garage workbench.
I learned, also, how love was shown to a woman
Whose spirit had gone to a different place.
Sitting her down, he clipped her fingernails, combed her hair,
Put on her favourite music, and asked for a dance.
We wandered through the second hand stores
To pick up a treasured trinket for her.
Always spurned. Had he ever learned
That what she really was saying was
This is not the thing. Do you not know what is needed?
He was saddened, but not enough to give up.
I went with him to these forlorn stores
When he was able bodied, and then when he needed
The thing still had not been found.
She tisked, wrapped the prizes in soft cloths,
And laid them to rest in her dresser.
We time travelled more and more quickly, it seemed,
And, at last, when his shuffling steps were measured in inches,
And I had turned away after spying the lace of little blue veins in his eyelids,
We went yet again, hunting once more for her happiness,
The walker packed in the trunk.
I knew this shopping search would take us long, and I said
Look, they have a wheelchair here. I can take you around the aisles.
He stood uncertainly within the entranceway. I brought the chair up.
This was the first time in his life.
The light within him dimmed, and his knees seemed to buckle
As he sat involuntarily.
We were in the store for five minutes when he looked up and said
And so, we went home.
Photo: The hat…………by Lee Dunn