Old Man Henry
by Ken Hada



I.

Eat off your old man
as long as you can;
Eat off your old man
as long as you can

He repeated his advice. It came
in pairs to me from this curious
evocator alone in western Oklahoma,
who rode the rails west out of
Tennessee – depression-era going
somewhere, anywhere – motion
is always better than hunger,
motion is better than hunger.


II.

He must have been past eighty
when he took a liking to me, his
lean, tall frame like a fine walking
horse only lately cherished

______________________________this
gentleman who now enjoyed living
out his newfound role as sage
of Woods County.

_____________________He’d been there
long enough to remember with wisdom
where it was he came from – Tennessee
just the way he said it sounded honeyed,
ephemeral, no longer binding

____________________________not to be
confused with the here and now – this
place of red dirt and opportunity for miles
as far as an eye can see – this place where he,
for reasons he cannot name, got off the train
and dug in.


III.

I’m just a big boy that summer.
I’m making good money
in the hayfield and catching catfish
at night – sprawled on a Canadian River
sandbar, yellow poles nine feet high
sticking up out of sand, we look hard
at the tips tipping in starlight, a fire dim
behind us, a stringer-full splashing
at water’s edge.

___________________I am eighteen
and every Sunday morning at the church
door Old Man Henry shakes my hand
and repeats his mantra:

Eat off your old man
as long as you can;
Eat off your old man
as long as you can

____________________– his eyes misty
with sincerity, his hands so large,
tender – but oh so large.





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