photograph by Bill Bingen
photograph by Bill Bingen
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
“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
“If we left now we could get up there a little after noon,” Gary
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
rifles in the back seat, and sure we were going to get a couple
even though climbing a hill was tantamount to ending up in the
At Fool’s Hill, named for those who’d slid off the highway into
a coyote loped onto the road and stopped, looking calmly at the
As I swerved, Gary took his foot off the gas and touched the
We swung around the fool animal sweet as you please.
Neither of us could stop congratulating each other on our
By the time we’d come to the Paonia turnoff, we were getting
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“Have you figured out how we’re going to get into the wash?” I
“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
“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
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
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
Gary wasn’t talking anymore. Sheer guts and pain had silenced
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
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
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
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
In the hospital I’d heard him wake up screaming in the middle of
Then the car tire’s humming weighed down eyelids, and I fell
knowing a man ought to do more than “leave a note” in life.
a photograph by Ethel Mortenson Davis
When we visited Cedaredge, Colorado, taking Tom’s mother with us, the motel we stayed in was filled with hunters. They got up before dawn to go out on Grand Mesa to hunt, but later on in the day we went for a drive in the area around Cedaredge and found fields full of deer close to houses where they would be safe.