Friday, December 14, 2007

Maker of the Fire


This afternoon,
on the street,
an old man brushed past me,
and something about
the grace of his step,
the width of his shoulders,
or the fire in his eyes,
reminded me
of you.

All evening,
sitting in my tiny apartment,
the haunting image of you
dominated my thoughts.
I could smell the baby oil
in your hair,
silky snow-mantled gray black.

You seemed to actually
be there,
shimmering in the air,
shaving with your hunting knife
in cold water;
wearing a Montana storm coat
in August,
to keep the heat out,
and long underwear
before and after
the rest of us;
tearing the backseat out of old cars,
sleeping in them
as if they were station wagons,
and driving them roughshod
over washboard ruts,
rolling up a great cloud of dust,
that could be seen for miles.

Master of the bullet
and the blade,
proudly standing astride
three white tailed deer,
providing venison for all;
one of your long arms held high
over your head
with a squirming string of lake trout
dangling and twitching
clear down to the top
of your cork boots.

Building a roaring fire
out of wet wood
when everyone else had given up;
making a fine firm bed from boughs,
pulling a canvas dropcloth up over your head
and sleeping like a babe in a snowbank,
cuddled up to the forest's warm bosom.

Tieing a hook
with your facile angler's fingers,
dropping a shimmering line deep down
into a swirling green eddy,
teasing a twelve inch trout
out from under a log,
and into
your heavy black iron frying pan;
enjoying soft fresh fish flesh
and tiny bones for breakfast,
with trout skin black brased
and chewable.

that special way you had
of crouching around a campfire,
after we had consumed a marvelous meal
that you had created,
and you had washed the dishes,
with black sand and pebbles
wrist deep in the current
of an ice cold creek;
when the fire turned to orange-gray ember ash,
and rocks popped from the heat,
and you poured brown shreds of tobacco
into pale white paper.

Your eyes would lose their focus,
like one of Jack London's dogs
of primordial romps,
and your mind would reach back
to lumberjack,
Montana cowpoke,
and all the other calloused
roughnecked gentle giants
that had passed through
your long and fertile life;
and when you held up
a thin burning twig
to light that perfectly rolled cigarette,
it tasted all the sweeter,
knowing that every deep drag off it,
connected that day
with yesterday.

For a tiny Bull Durham moment,
it all clicked into place;
the trout,
the long hike,
the fire,
the naked exhileration
of cold mountain air,
your youth,
your children,
your grandchildren,
your great grandchildren,
your age and long life,
your oil paintings,
the grocery list,
the truck tires you needed,
tar paper on the roof,
thick oil in your gun barrels,
rust on your radiator,
mushrooms in the mud,
a rock in your boot,
rockets and roaches,
politicians and goats,
police and pigs;
those who had left you,
and those who were
still clinging to you,
needing you,
loving you.

God, Pop,
you were so very alive,
so cherished,
so vital,
and actually
you still are
in the hearts
of those left

Glenn Buttkus 1990

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