Tag Archives: brothers

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.

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Filed under poems, Poetry, Thomas Davis

The Ballad of the Barn

by Thomas Davis

“They’ve always been half nuts,” she said.
He frowned, looked pained, and shook his head.
 
“No matter what, they’re still my brothers,”
He said.  “I almost hear my mother’s
Exasperation as she thinks
About the neighbor’s tongues, the stink
They’ve put the family in again.”
 
As pretty as an elf, her grin
Lit up her face and dark green eyes.
She looked up at the winter skies.
“Storms come and go,” she said, “and tongues
Will wag as long as songs are sung.”
 
“But Willie drove the tractor through
The barn’s west wall,” he wailed.
 
“The brew
That Sammy brews could make a knave
Out of a saint inside his grave,”
She laughed.  “They had a high old time
Until their words became a crime
Against their sense, and Sammy blocked
The barn door, shotgun ready, cocked. . .”
 
“The tractor didn’t even stall,” he said.
“It smashed right through the wall and fled
Into the fields as Sammy laughed
As if he’d taken up witchcraft
And addled who he was and sent
His soul into dark devilment.”
 
“They’ve lived together all these years,”
She said.  “They’re old now.  Human fears
Stalk dreams and make them long to see
A day when aching bones are free
Of pain, and memories aren’t lost
With morning dew or winter frost.”
 
“You give them credit when I’d like
To treat them like two kids and strike
Them with a pliant willow switch.
The tractor’s wrecked inside a ditch,
The barn’s west wall is half a hole. . .”
 
She stopped him with her hand, a droll
Look sparking flitting feelings shuttered
Like screens across her face.  He muttered,
Alarmed at how she looked at him.
He’d never felt so ill or grim.
 
“They’re old enough. . .”
 
She shook her head.
“They’re ninety eight years old,” she said.
“What is a tractor or a barn?
Ten grandkids hence, they’ll tell this yarn.”
 
He startled, grinned, chagrinned, and said,
“My mother’s neighbors are all dead.”

7 Comments

Filed under Poetry, Thomas Davis

Ballad of the Barn

by Thomas Davis

“They’ve always been half nuts,” she said.
He frowned, looked pained, and shook his head.

“No matter what, they’re still my brothers,”
He said. “I almost hear my mother’s
Exasperation as she thinks
About the neighbor’s tongues, the stink
They’ve put the family in again.”

As pretty as an elf, her grin
Lit up her face and dark green eyes.
She looked up at the winter skies.
“Storms come and go,” she said, “and tongues
Will wag as long as songs are sung.”

“But Willie drove the tractor through
The barn’s west wall,” he wailed.

“The brew
That Sammy brews could make a knave
Out of a saint inside his grave,”
She laughed. “They had a high old time
Until their words became a crime
Against their sense, and Sammy blocked
The barn door, shotgun ready, cocked. . .”

“The tractor didn’t even stall,” he said.
“It smashed right through the wall and fled
Into the fields as Sammy laughed
As if he’d taken up witchcraft
And addled who he was and sent
His soul into dark devilment.”

“They’ve lived together all these years,”
She said. “They’re old now. Human fears
Stalk dreams and make them long to see
A day when aching bones are free
Of pain, and memories aren’t lost
With morning dew or winter frost.”

“You give them credit when I’d like
To treat them like two kids and strike
Them with a pliant willow switch.
The tractor’s wrecked inside a ditch,
The barn’s west wall is half a hole. . .”

She stopped him with her hand, a droll
Look sparking flitting feelings shuttered
Like screens across her face. He muttered,
Alarmed at how she looked at him.
He’d never felt so ill or grim.

“They’re old enough. . .”

She shook her head.
“They’re ninety eight years old,” she said.
“What is a tractor or a barn?
Ten grandkids hence, they’ll tell this yarn.”

He startled, grinned, chagrinned, and said,
“My mother’s neighbors are all dead.”

4 Comments

Filed under Poetry, Thomas Davis

Brothers

I wonder what our families
would have been
had the older brother
taken the younger
into his heart,
protecting him,
helping him?

Had the older sister
loved the younger.
taking the difficult choices
with her?

What would the products
of these families,
the children—us—
have been to each other?

Would we have wanted
To destroy each other?

5 Comments

Filed under Ethel Mortenson Davis, Poetry