Autumn leaves

The first leaves of autumn

Gather under the empty, grey, park benches

That are arranged so neatly

Beneath the one hundred year old oak trees

In the county courthouse yard.

I ask the waitress at the cafe on the corner

Where they’ve all gone –

The old men who used to sit out

On the now forsaken grey benches

Every day that it didn’t rain

They were there until the first snow

The ones who still wore overalls and work boots

Even in retirement – in less than perfect conditions

The ones who carried pocket watches on Brockway fobs

And smoked pipes packed with Prince Albert

Or Muriel cigars or Lucky Strike cigarettes

As they discussed…

the drought and the flood

the County Attorney and the last election

the heat and the cold

the John Birch Society and the N.F.O.

the Warren Court and Richard Nixon

the checkout girl at the Save-a-Lot

the Chicago Bears and the price of gas

the price of haircuts, and Kaiser-Frazer cars

the good war and the bad war

the new war and next war

the wife they’d lost to cancer

the son they’d lost to drink

the daughter they’d lost to Jesus

the friend they’d lost to carelessness

the farm they’d lost to the bank

the life they’d lost to toil

the dreams they’d plowed under

…those men…

the waitress shrugs

and says that nobody like that has sat on those benches

in over thirty five years.