Little Frank

The old man lived alone in the woods.

He ran the ridges and waded the streams,

killed squirrels and rabbits by day,

pints by night.

Well, pints, half-pints, quarts, and fifths –

likker was not sequestered to the hours of darkness.

He imbibed whenever there was something to drink.

 

He drank till the well ran dry,

then lay down,

sometimes fell,

often slept on the ground.

 

Mornings,

once the fog had lifted from his mind,

he was gentle and kind,

loved kids,

joked, and laughed,

gossiped and grinned.

 

But, when he got mad…

 

Small and sneaky he was,

cunning and shrewd,

meaner than a badger in a briar thicket.

Cut you,

club you,

hack you,

bushwhack you,

whatever it took.

 

Rolling papers and loose tobacco,

yellowed fingers,

hard as bricks—

always shaking, trembling

till the brown water calmed the seas,

and his nerves relaxed

as the liquid ran warm through his veins.

 

“Watch yourself, whistle britches,” he’d warn—

playing,

half joking,

but I never let my guard down,

never truly relaxed,

even when he was old and spent.

A mean man doesn’t need strength and speed.

He’s committed.

 

He sucked every drop of juice

life’s fruit had to offer,

bitter though the nectar often was.

He was a mortal contradiction—

a caged animal trying to free itself from bondage,

at other times a gentle nurturer,

teaching boys to be men.

 

Last time I saw him,

frail, pale, wheezing, and tired,

he was kissing whiskey,

and coughing in a rag.

His breathing was shallow,

his gravelly voice hollow and weak.

Too late for Little Frank.

 

As the fat lady prepared to sing,

neighbors wondered aloud,

the status of his soul.

“You think he’s saved?”

“Don’t know, but he drank that booze,

and the Devil kept score.”

 

He left nothing but memories and lessons,

images in a boy’s mind

that ought to be shared,

that warrant a few lines on a page.

Not even time has dulled the edges,

softened the texture of his life.

The old man lived alone in the woods,

and that’s where he departed this life.

 

 

 

 

 

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