We called him Old Man Rocker,
didn’t know his name.
He just sat there on his stoop,
in the early morning sunshine;
wrapped in overalls--
stained, blue-striped legs--
and funny, gray chest hair poking out from his undershirt.
He’d pull the pipe from between his amber teeth,
knock it on the arm rest,
kick the ashes off
onto the cool grass where his old hound
rested like wet laundry in a bucket.
That old dog;
he’d open one eye;
move his head some;
go on back to sleep.
Old Glory hung limp from its perch,
as if complaining to Old Man Rocker of neglect;
damp from the heavy dew,
no breeze to spread her gown in drying.
an invertebrate black hole,
warped through the air.
He didn’t listen to Old Glory,
paid no mind to the buzzing horde,
pipe out again;
sipping some coffee from an old tin cup,
oxidized red and orange from lye soap.
It didn’t matter I was a girl—
more like a tomboy—
I was “one of the gang”.
“Hey Old Man Rocker you got a hole in your sock,”
we’d yell ‘n’ then run through the cornfield
hard as us kids could run
with leaves from the cornstalks slappin’ our faces
like we heard him fast in pursuit,
until we just couldn’t run no more.
We used bright, colored balloons,
filled them with clear, cold water,
joy stretched full of expectations --
some would rupture and leave
a band around the faucet like an engagement ring--
then sneak back out there,
latex grenades in a basket;
lob them at Old Man Rocker,
skins burstin’ and layin’ the grass out flat
like green, crystal-glazed hair in the sunlight.
Then off we’d go,
howlin’ and hootin’
and trippin’ on the bigger clods of dried earth.
I fell once, skinned my palms and knees,
never got hurt real bad and didn’t cry.
None of us got him wet, though.
He’d merely creak back and forth;
to and fro;
smoking and drinking
and smiling and thinking.
We heard Old Man Rocker passed on one morn,
Twern’t much for most,
made me cry.
Snuck out through the fields that very next day,
spider webs clingin’ to my salty, wet cheeks.
arms of my soul like willow tree branches.
The chair was there,
but no flag;
no pipe and no cup.
I cried again;
yelled at the clouds,
“I didn’t realize I loved you, Old Man Rocker,
I hurt some.
You’re gone and I don’t even know your real name.”
I called him Old Man Rocker.
I put a flower on his chair.
A wide, yellow-headed dandelion
with a thick stem--
The biggest I could find.
The basics of life,
the foundation of love,
the dowry of innocence.