Some morning in late September
he’d stumble in the diner ragged
as a dandelion in a dust storm:
ripped jeans, wrecked hat, boots
busted. Hacking his smoker’s cough.
He’d sit at the counter, bum a cig,
stir his coffee too loud staring—blank,
glum—through fly-specked glass.
He’d say he was waiting on a ride.
You’d think, Chicken shit. Same SOB
you saw loafing under a hackberry
while you were sweating your ass off
loading hay, found waiting in the loft
when you got to the barn. Lurking
on her front porch when you tried to
slip away in the night. Running
his mouth in the AA bleachers. Drunk
at the VFW bar. Once, you and some
buddies tried chasing him down,
coon-dogged him halfway to Idabel
before he disappeared—poof—into
open prairie just north of the river.
And then: you’d look up from your
coffee and find him gone, nothing
but a thin curl of smoke rising
from his stubbed-out cigarette,
the front door closed, dead-shut,
its little bell mute, un-tinkled.
And you’d think: Good riddance,
and snap flat your newspaper.
Thank God he doesn’t stay longer.
Originally published in This Land: 2016