I’d seen him an hour or so earlier,
outside of Medford, before the
rain set in, and I’d hunkered down
at a truck stop to ease the dizziness
in my mind and the queasiness of an
empty stomach, too many cigarettes.
Must have gotten a ride soon, then
passed me when I was off the road.
Here he was once again; suede coat
now soaked to a seal-skin sheen.
His dog was soaked too; black lab,
no leash, sitting next to the bedroll.
That was about all I took in before
eased the gas and onto the shoulder.
I don’t know what possessed me.
Normally I don’t pick up anyone.
Something about his reappearance
perplexed me and needed an answer.
It was kind of a closed-in, dreary day,
a day when you look for company,
good or bad, just to share the rain
and the half-full bottle on the seat.
He didn’t run to the truck when
I stopped a bit ahead of him,
as a young man might do, but
merely bent full from the waist,
retrieved his pack, tipped down
the brim of his hat a lower, and
started forward with a purpose.
The dog came too, of course,
perhaps adding to my belief
in this man’s native goodness;
I can usually rely on dog sense.
Whatever the reason, I decided
to pick up this soaked hitchhiker;
he and the dog grew larger in the
right hand mirror, as did the knife.
Four – or is it five? – lonely leaves
left dangling from the apricot tree;
wrinkled, yellowed ancients of the
ravages of late fall, early winter.
Seems sort of forlorn to be the
last ones left hanging around
when all the others have left
hurriedly, in the wind, weaving
away to the far side of the yard.
Leaves and fruit bunch together,
huddled communally, windrows
against the base of the wall as if
in group therapy they organize
to rout the wind and restrain the
ravages of snow, rain, and ice.
Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school (remember, the hormonially-challenged?) English teacher living in Moreno Valley, California, with his wife of thirty-six years (poor soul, her, not him), their disabled daughter, one of their sons and his ex-wife and their two children, and twelve cats. Yes, twelve! He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing poetry, Rick would rather still be tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon.