Old Mister J.
The four of us spent that winter in Montana
up Mill Creek at one of the old cabins, alone
except on Sundays when Mr. J. arrived,
building a fire in the stove of his one room,
taking the day to read the Sunday papers
and sip at whiskey, a drop at a time
but a long time, until he'd stop by to visit,
late afternoon, face ruddy as a stove.
We were hot with music and our new wives.
He was bemused and dry and drifty.
He could have been a famous Chinese poet,
hermit monk. We could have been barbarians.
Afterward, we made a little fun of him
and then forgot. And then forgot. But now
I know that whiskey sip, that watching
a small fire blazing up and dwindling
while outside dark water moves quickly away
under its ice, almost innocent of its time.
We want to leave the empire collapsing.
We want to leave the empire being built.
The Great Great Plains Those Years
Harlan loved the plains when the rest of us
in the cabin in eastern Wyoming
were griping about the nothing around us
as we drank and sunned, somebody coming down
from the hills in Cuba. Still, he wasn't sure
where he was going when he left that day.
If he turned one way at the end of the long
dirt drive he was heading back to Denver.
The other way and he'd be going home.
He'd decide when he hit the paved highway.
None of us realized, until it happened,
that we couldn't see the last curve of the drive
and would not, would never, as it turned out,
know which way he went. Up to that moment
we must have thought the earth was flat, that you
could never see someone disappear like that.
By the time we left, there was even less to see
around us and, of course, when we looked back
we couldn't see the house. Remembering it now,
I can't tell you which way we turned when we came
to the road the state called Secondary.
Robert W. King recently won the Grayson Books Chapbook Competition. Old Man Laughing was a finalist for the 2008 Colorado Book Award in Poetry. Some of These Days appeared in 2013 from Conundrum Press. King lives in Greeley, Colorado. website