John Bowden

Jack

 

Dust and soot scraped his coal-covered throat,
And gave my grandfather’s voice a crackle that 
Made him sound like a burning building.
He’d roll another Bull Durham like a surgeon, sitting in his
Archie Bunker chair, stained wife-beater over what once was
A miner’s granite chest and back.

Most afternoons he’d put on a clean shirt and amble
Around the corner to Verbolis’ taproom for a few Gibbons
And rounds of house whiskey with others just like him.
Usually he’d make it home for dinner,
But now and then he’d lose count, and
Ignore the clock on the wall.

At some point near dusk, an escort would arrive:
One of his six offspring, or an in-law, or,
If the hour was particularly late, 
My German grandmother, sight shadowed by cataracts
But seeing him better than anyone, would seize him
Sweetly by the arm and walk him home.

On the way he might moan about his early exit,
Or sing a chorus of “Tipperary” and
Curse the whores who ruined the mines.
Dinner always stayed warm, and later on, 
He’d sit on the porch, cigarette glowing in gathering darkness,
And sober up to the cars passing by on Main Street below.

My grandmother might bring out ice cream,
And they’d sit, little sound but the traffic and the
Music of spoons against bowls,
Maybe some conversation, maybe not,
Just the comfort of the long-together,
And the breeze pushing the night along.