Crutches

by Thomas Davis

My middle brother Gary died of cancer while I was in Grand Junction, Colorado to see him one last time a couple of weeks ago.  This is a difficult free verse poem to publish in wordpress because of its long line, but I wanted to publish it in his honor.  The story itself really happened.

Nights in hospital rooms were over:
Antiseptic smells, constant pain, medicine that took you from
yourself, fluorescent lights, a bed that cranked up and down.
Now Gary, my brother, and I were sitting on the car porch,
his foot in a cast, agonizing nights of pain behind him,
my leg in a cast so uncomfortable I could hardly move.

“Hunting season starts today,” Gary noted with understated
nonchalance.
“Yeah,” I said, “and we’re stuck here in these casts.”

Gary pointed at the jeep sitting in the driveway.
It hadn’t been driven for two months.

“In the hospital Jim Fennell told me hunting’s pretty good
around Paonia,” he said.
“He came to see me after he left you.”
“And how do we get to Paonia?” I asked. “I can’t clutch and step
on the gas.
We only have two good legs between us.”

Gary looked speculatively at the jeep. “But we have two good
legs,” he said.
“Hunting season started at dawn,” I said, knowing I wasn’t
saying anything.
“If we left now we could get up there a little after noon,” Gary
replied.

I reached for my crutches. He was holding his crutches.
Three minutes later we were in the jeep mimicking driving with
two good legs.
I stepped on the clutch; Gary stepped on the gas.
We decided that if we had to stop quick we’d let the engine die
as I braked.
Otherwise we’d work it out.

Thirty minutes later we were hauling happily out of Orchard Mesa
toward Delta,
rifles in the back seat, and sure we were going to get a couple
of bucks
even though climbing a hill was tantamount to ending up in the
emergency room.

At Fool’s Hill, named for those who’d slid off the highway into
empty space,
a coyote loped onto the road and stopped, looking calmly at the
jeep.
As I swerved, Gary took his foot off the gas and touched the
brake.
We swung around the fool animal sweet as you please.
Neither of us could stop congratulating each other on our
driving skill.

By the time we’d come to the Paonia turnoff, we were getting
tired,
and I was wondering what we thought we were doing.
Neither of us had been out of the hospital a week,
and the kitchen table note we’d left
was bound to get Mom so agitated Dad would be in the Ford
driving like a mad man toward where we said we were going.
Gary was manic, though. Hunting season was open.
Nobody could keep us down.

From Paonia we started up into the hills on a boulder filled
dirt track.
Three miles from pavement we pulled into a meadow exhausted.
Clutching, shifting, leg-reaching, hand and arm coordination
caused by two teenagers doing one teenager’s job wasn’t working.
Once the jeep had stopped we sat in our seats
and stared at the country where we found ourselves,
five miles from where our note said we’d be.
Where we were was a nightmare for two boys
who still hadn’t figured out how to carry rifles
swinging across uneven ground on crutches.
Surrounding the small meadow where we’d parked,
hills were littered with stone shelves and thickets of scrub oak.

After a minute Gary said, “Looks like good deer country to me,”
and he was out of the jeep, figuring out how he was going to
carry his 30.06.
Back home we’d managed by pressing the gun butt against the
crutch
and slowly making our way to the jeep.
But we couldn’t hold gun and crutches that tight while climbing.
At last Gary unbuckled his belt and tied the rifle to his right
crutch.

An hour later, hurting so bad neither of us could stand the pain,
we had climbed our first hill and were staring at a small wash
snaked through twisted slopes, a nightmare of rock and brush.
I sat down and looked at the anguish on Gary’s face.
Why had I been so eager to go along with a fool idea?
Wasn’t I the oldest? Shouldn’t I have been the one with good
sense?

Then Gary’s face lit up, and he grinned as if he’d hit the
world’s biggest jackpot.
He bent down to unstrap the 30.06 from his crutch.
A two point buck walked out of scrub oak in the wash below us
and stood looking at where we were standing.

I wasn’t prepared for the shot when Gary fired.
I slid off the sloping rock where I was sitting and found myself
with my leg higher than my head with no idea how I was going to
get myself
back up on the rock so that I could leverage to my feet.

Gary started shouting like a mad man: “I got it!” he yelled. “I
got it!”

He’d shot the buck?
The thought dimly forced itself through my dilemma.
How were we going to get the buck, our rifles, and ourselves out
of the wash, up the hill, down the hill, and into the jeep
so we could drive home?
How were we going to drive home when we were both on our last
legs?

I stared at Gary, watched him hobble through a victory dance,
and thought, “Damned you’ve been stupid, Tom.”
Then, leg throbbing and burning up in my cast, I maneuvered to
my feet.

“Come on, Tommy,” Gary said. “Let’s get this sucker and then go
out and get you one!”

I stared at my brother. Who was he anyway?
“How are we going to carry a buck out of here?” I asked.

Gary looked at me, startled. “We’ll drag it,” he said.
“Won’t do the hide any good, but I got my buck first day of
hunting season.”

“Have you figured out how we’re going to get into the wash?” I
asked.
“Why should I worry about that?” Gary shot back, clearly puzzled.
“We just get down there, put a rope around the buck, and drag it
out.”

“Your foot hurt?” I asked.
He shot me a look of pure malice.
“Of course my foot hurts,” he snarled. “So does your leg.”
He looked at the sky. “Sunset will be here before we get back to
the jeep.”

I didn’t say anything, but put crutches beneath arm pits
and started struggling through thick brush.

Once we got into the wash I strained to hold dead weight high
enough
for Gary to tie rope around the buck’s neck.
Then Gary tied the rope around his waist and started making his
way up the hill.

An hour and a half later, sun going down, I had the rope around
my waist.
Gary wasn’t talking anymore. Sheer guts and pain had silenced
him.
I’d suggested we give up and leave the buck for later,
but he’d gotten so upset I thought he might start hitting me,
so we struggled, fighting uphill until we could see the jeep.
Then I carefully put crutches downhill as far as I dared,
planted points into ground and dragged downward,
cussing silently at pain, my idiocy, and my stupid, stupid
brother.

When Dad finally came up the dirt road, headlights on,
he parked and heard us shouting.
He climbed the hill, took one look at Gary, then me, then the
buck,
then shook his head and said, “You two.”

Without another word he untied the rope from my waist,
grabbed the buck’s horns, hoisted it onto his shoulders,

and carried it toward the jeep.
Off the hill he looked at the jeep, catching his breath,
and said, “We’ll take the car home. We’ll get the jeep tomorrow.”

Gary fell asleep before we’d gotten off the dirt road.
Dad winced every time the car crept over a boulder and scraped
its frame.
He kept silent so long I couldn’t stand silence any longer.

“I was a damned fool,” I said at last. “I shouldn’t have gotten
us in this mess.”

Dad didn’t say anything for a long time.
Silence ached with recriminations and regret.
“At least you left a note,” he said at last. “A wise man always
leaves a note.”

We turned off the dirt road toward Paonia.
I squirmed in my seat and wondered how Gary could sleep through
his pain.
In the hospital I’d heard him wake up screaming in the middle of
the night.
Then the car tire’s humming weighed down eyelids, and I fell
asleep,
knowing a man ought to do more than “leave a note” in life.

14 Comments

Filed under poems, Poetry, Thomas Davis

14 responses to “Crutches

  1. Sending you love I have just been here with my sister God rest their souls. ❤

  2. What a marvelous character portrayal and evocative piece of writing, Thomas. The great sadness you must feel having lost his physical presence in this world is, I hope, in some small way redeemed by bringing memory to such vibrancy in art. This is the kind of literature I love best—true to life and language….a gift from your gift to your brother, and to us all. Take care.

    • Cynthia, you are such a great poet. I just saw a publisher that publishes poetry by elders like us, particularly women. You ought to try them. Thanks so much for this comment. I admire you and your poetry greatly.

      • And who is this publisher, Thomas? A plethora of “publishers” is cropping up now— glorified grammarians and self-proclaimed editors who have learned to use Amazon’s Create Space for those who don’t understand how it works, and are seizing this moment of writer-glut to their own promotional and/or financial advantage.

        Thank you for your kind words, though. They mean a lot, coming from one who really does know and create poetry.

    • http://www.chicorybluepress.com is the press I’m thinking about, Cynthia. They are listed in Poets and Writers, so that usually means that have credibility.

  3. This is such a moving story, Thomas, and the way you tell it brings it to life most vividly. I’m truly sorry to hear of the loss of your brother. I imagine you have many other memories as bright as this one.

    • He was a character John. I have several other poems of this sort in where he appears as a character. I use a long line, so I don’t know how to make them look right in wordpress. They are all designed to be read outloud, so, as in Walt Whitman’s poetry, the long line is important. I am greatly enjoying your new series on work. I can’t comment on it, I guess, but I think you could very well end up as one of the more important English poets. I look forward to buying future books.

      • There’s no easy answer, is there, to handling long lines on WordPress? My publisher found a similar problem, though less extreme, in reformatting my book for Kindle. I wonder whether to reinstate capitals at the start of each line, although that’s only partially successful. I can say however that this technical problem in no way diminished my appreciation of your poem ‘Crutches’ — and I forgot to mention how much I liked the use you made of ‘leaving a note’.
        (Thank you for your very considerable encouragement by the way!).

  4. What a splendid tribute. And a marvellous piece of writing. I thought I caught an echo of the two wild brothers in “Inside The Blowholes”.

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