Dog years

I have an old dog named Chamberlain,

We work together on nights Allie is away,

He’s blind in his left eye and he walks sideways,

Toward me as I sit hunched over the old Olivetti,

That I use to type poems on,

It’s in the corner of the sun porch that Allie,

Closed in last summer to keep out the snow.

He leans against me for support,

Old yellow head on my flannel pajamas,

Tongue hanging out. I feel his breath through the plaid,

He’s old and dying, but we both ignore it,

Dying is a rite of passage, like being born in a litter,

Or being born an orphan, or even like finding,

Yourself trapped, in  years of late,

In an old farmhouse – up in the Poconos.

Rites of passage, they kill us in the end.

Allie comes home from work at twelve thirty and finds us,

Me, the Olivetti, Chamberlain, and an unfinished poem.

Allie makes a fried egg sandwich for us,

And we eat it on the porch.

Chamberlain licks my paper plate clean when we’re done,

After that we all watch tv until dawn,

The unfinished poem waits for another day.

Before we go to bed, Allie cups her hands over his ears,

She draws his face close to hers, and says,

“He’s 98 in dog years, if he makes it three more weeks”.

——————————

Ed’s Note: I have not written much poetry in recent years, but I used to write quite a bit of it. I am in the process of sifting through a lot of the old stuff, seeing what I want to keep and what I don’t. My collection, titled “Wearing Earth Tones in a Savage Land” is in the works and will appear here for a nominal price (like free) in a few weeks.

Mahalo,

Ed

…wondering…a salesman’s last night on earth…

On Saturday night, Tulip called me from L.A. Some of you who have been reading EEOTPB since the beginning remember her. She is an old friend of mine who moved from Florida to California several years ago.

She asked if I could find a poem that I wrote ten or a dozen years ago. It was about a close friend of hers.

I found it.

———————–

…wondering…a salesman’s last night on earth…

…I’m wondering how it is tonight,

Out on Bass Lake, and out in Spirit Lake,

And in Grand Lake and on the Great Salt Lake,

Down in Lake Charles and out on Lake Shore Drive,

How is…

The tiny girl named Janie from the Woodsmen,

Is she making out tonight?

Did she save the napkin, or the night, or the dream,

Would we have made it without screaming, just us.

How about the others, like,

The young hooker with her scrubbed cheeks,

Loaded on George Dinkel and telling me once again,

That she had found her love and was returning,

To Pomona to attend Community College with,

Her friend from the dance company…

…nurse comes in to reload the morphine drip.

…was there a fight in Juarez, or was it the girl Cynthia,

I was waking up in the back seat of a cab – on,

The Stanton Street Bridge at dawn,

Wondering if that call had been from Harry,

Back at the Sioux Falls plant. Not caring then,

Not me because of the tremendous high.

If we sold another six hundred thousand,

Color television chassis south of the border,

I could not have cared less…or more.

I love the figures, but not the change,

Just the bottom line people back at the office,

They love when the numbers fly by quickly,

But not me…too much road time to care,

My concern is for the common people,

They say…

…they say I won’t last until dawn

…and I think of her, a young lady married to a man

Who couldn’t keep a job, and who drank each night,

Until he was oblivious to her and her cares,

Dawn. What a name for such a lady -such a timid name.

The last part of the night, the darkest part, will take him,

That’s what they say behind the curtain.

But I wait here, shackled like a tethered brood mare,

Chained to the misery of my last night on earth.

“Give ‘em Hell Harry,” I exclaim to no one in particular,

And I watch dawn break over Kansas City.

The High Line Drifter’s Lament

April is National Poetry Month, so I want to post a couple of pieces of poetry that I have written. These poems have all appeared elsewhere. This poem, The High Line Drifter’s Lament, is one that I wrote several years ago. The High Line is a railroad freight line that runs between Seattle, Washington, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the United States. It passes just south of the U.S., Canadian border, and crosses the states of Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Back during the 1980s and 1990s, the High Line was terrorized by a gang called the “Freight Train Riders Association”. This gang was responsible for lots of violence along this stretch of track, particularly in the state of Montana. People who illegally rode freight trains were fearful.

The High Line Drifter’s Lament

I was riding on the High Line, on a trip across the plains,

Passing south of Enumclaw, soaked from late night rains,

Riding fifteen hundred miles, across the northern tier,

Choking hard on cheap red wine, cursing hard the fear,

I got a second hand Hi-Standard; I keep it in my pack,

I sleep with one eye open, because I have to make it back,

An old timer told me in Spokane, while we were playing cards,

How thugs had come to terrorize the rails and the yards,

They found a man in Kalispell, a month ago today,

He didn’t have a home or name, but now he has a grave,

They’re rolling drunks, and killing men, and raising lots of hell,

Killing them that ain’t like them, and anyone who’ll tell,

They don’t give any warning, and they don’t make any sound,

They’ll shoot you dead and disappear before the bull’s next round,

So I take a chance, I check my piece, keep my back against the wall,

In thirty two more hours I’ll be with you in St. Paul,

By morning light this train will pass, from the mountains to the farms,

And I’ll be that much closer to the shelter of your arms.

I sell the gun…and have some misgivings…

Note to my readers: This is part 4, the last part of a ‘serial-blog’.  A serial-blog is something I wanted to try, but might not attempt again. But you never know. Without reading the first three parts, it probably won’t make too much sense, so if you are new here (or just showing up late), please scroll down to Part 1 and read the blog posts in order. In a nutshell, this is a short story that is intended as a personal commentary on gun control. The experience is true, or as best I remember it. All names and some inconsequential details have been changed, so if a character sounds like you my friend, there is a good chance it is.

PART 4

…I continue…

Dean White had it made. Or so I thought back then. If there was ever a guy who was truly his own man it was Dean.

About fifty years old at the time, he looked older. He had a long salt and pepper beard almost to mid-chest, and long grey hair almost to mid-back. His hair was always pulled back in a pony tail, held in place with one of those turquoise Navaho hair clasps. He also wore a turquoise ring on his little finger and always wore a turquoise bedecked belt buckle on a hand tooled belt. Dean hadn’t an ounce of Native American blood in his veins but he apparently liked the jewelry.

Dean made his living with a small printing business that he ran out of the basement of his house. He printed labels for catalogs and fliers and usually worked all night. This left him free all day to hunt and fish. Dean was married to a girl named Suzie, who was at least twenty years his junior. Suzy had platinum blonde hair and had worked as a stripper at a club in Kansas City before she left that world behind to marry Dean (or so I heard).

In addition to his printing business, Dean also was an accomplished gunsmith. He was known to buy and sell guns too, so he wasn’t surprised when I showed up at his house one morning with the .22 High Standard, wrapped in cheese cloth, and stowed in a shoe box. Someone had told me that as long as a pistol was contained in a box, any box, that it wasn’t considered a concealed weapon and you could carry it on the car seat beside you (sounds like hooey to me now that I think about it).

Dean was coming off of an ‘all nighter’, having just finished a big print run for an Omaha department store, and he still had 250 bulletins for the First Presbyterian church to run off before services next day, so he was a little grumpy. Suzy was pleasant though and brought us both steaming mugs of hot coffee.

Dean unwrapped the pistol, and inspected it like he knew what he was doing. While he was looking at it I gave him the condensed version of how Lenny and I had tried the gun out on a firing range, conveniently leaving out the fact that the range was on Earl Hackelman’s farm, and not only had we trespassed, but we’d almost been run down (or gunned down) by Hackelman himself. I told Dean that the gun shot right and high.

Dean laughed at me. “This ain’t no target pistol, son,” he said. “Now if it’s targets you want to shoot…” He got up and went into another room. He came back with a long oak box with a fancy inscription carved into the lid above a carving of an eagle with outstretched wings. He sat the box in front of me.

I opened the box. Inside was a true .22 caliber target pistol. I handled it carefully. It was perfectly balanced and the difference between it and the gun I had purchased from Harry was as pronounced as the difference between my 1969 Plymouth and a racing Ferrari.

“How much?” I asked Dean, momentarily seeing myself entering professional shooting competitions.

“Three seventy five,” said Dean, “but I could allow you fifty for your gun, so make it three twenty five and it’s yours.”

“Kinda out of my price range,” I said, as I laid the target pistol back in its ornate cradle. “What can you give me outside of trade.”

“Thirty bucks,” he said without hesitation.

“Thirty bucks,” I said, “wow, I paid fifty.”

“You got screwed,” said Dean.

“How about forty then?”

Dean smiled and pulled a turquoise money clip from the front pocket of his jeans. He counted out thirty five dollars. “Take it or leave it,” he said.

I took it.

*

A few days after I sold the pistol to Dean, I ran into Lenny’s brother Rick at the County Line Tap. I hadn’t spoken to Lenny since the day he approached me with the offer to buy the gun. Lenny had left town for California without saying goodbye to anyone.

I walked over and asked Rick if there was any word from Lenny.

“Didn’t you hear,” he said.

“Hear what?”

“Lenny got robbed, that’s what.”

“Where…when?” I asked.

“Modesto, California,” he said. Then he told me that Lenny had stopped at a burger joint to get a bite to eat, and when he came out his car was gone.

“They stole everything he had,” said Rick.

“Everything?”

“Yeah, everything. All he had left were the clothes on his back. They found the car the next day stripped and burned.”

Careless Lenny…I thought of the gun that I almost sold to him.  Would I have put a weapon into the hands of a criminal, had I sold the gun to Lenny? Could the gun – my gun – have been used to rob, intimidate, or even kill?!?!. The answer was an unequivocal yes.

I was haunted by my ‘almost sale’ for some time afterward, and in my mind’s eye, I could  see the look on the face of  the happy car thief, after finding the loaded .22 pistol carelessly left in the glove compartment of Lenny’s unlocked vehicle. I could see the evil glee in the man’s eyes as he slid the piece into the waistband of his jeans. Later I could see the look of terror on the face of the liquor store clerk as the gun brandishing robber demanded the cash drawer. Maybe she would resist, or perhaps a feigned gesture would be misinterpreted as resistance. Maybe the thief would panic, pressing the trigger just a bit too hard…this target would be much closer than the one in Hackleman’s cow pasture. At two or three feet it wouldn’t matter if the gun shot right, or high. I would hear the sharp crack of the .22, and then I’d see blood on the face of the store clerk, and on the thief, and then on myself…after that I would awake covered in sweat.

THE END