CHARLIE

He expected everything. Imagine that.
On long, glowering August days
he would fathom the hard hearts
of automobiles in his garage,
insinuate his black-mooned hands
into the maze of automatic transmissions,
into the viscera of poached deer
hanging from the beams, the rain dancing
in galoshes on the corrugated steel roof above.

Half the time the customers couldn't pay,
and their cars would fill the field out back
like corpses in the rye grass and jack pine.
Half the time he would give the venison away
to Chippewa hoboes camped along the swamp.
He was my hero, skinny and bitter
in striped overalls with the knees out.

He knew things I had to know--
how to lay cement blocks for a septic tank,
twanging the plumb-line with its chalk etch
of blue, how to hammer a nail in three strokes.
How to fillet a fish and fry it
before it quite stopped wriggling.
How to drink whiskey neat in a jelly glass
all afternoon and still be able to see
a spikehorn buck along the Muskegon River
in last light and drop it to its knees
with one shot, no scope, from a hundred yards.

I didn't know any better.
I thought these were good things,
proper things for a man to know.
I was nothing like him and he knew it--
city boy who read too much,
always breaking my glasses, always
stepping on the fishing line down along
Tinny Creek where the evening brown trout
swooned under cedar logs, always complaining
about mosquitoes and blackflies and no-see-ums,
always figuring this paradise would last forever.

Some Grand Rapids executive owns it all now,
every outbuilding and rusted Chevy,
all the piss-poor land as far as you can walk
on a good day. Charlie died and was buried,
reeking still of gasoline and Canadian Club.
They said it was cancer of the balls
doing its job, working overtime,
clocking him out early,
just like an old friend would do.

Copyright 1995 Danny Rendleman