21 September 2011
My Chevy Impala roared in heat,
as the wheels sped down the old state route.
I had a new Merle Haggard 8-track,
giving life to great music with a smile,
as I munched on some BBQ pork rinds,
and took some liberal gulps from my Billy Beer.
Up ahead on my right,
I could see the car stalled on the shoulder.
The white smoke drifted from the open hood,
as a giant of a man stood observing.
I pulled over to lend a hand, more than likely a ride,
from the sight of that unseemly smoke signaling death,
while the man nodded at my arrival,
and I knew it was him the moment I heard his voice.
I couldn't hear him awfully clear with the sounds,
but I could make out the words Jap and sonofabitch,
when he slammed the hood, came up to my driver's window.
"Say, Mister, would you be so inclined to give me a ride?"
He knew I knew it was him by looking at my shocked face,
all he did was give that legendary smile,
seemed to size me up as a fan but not a crazy one,
and allowed his sizable frame to my passenger seat.
"Nearest service shop will fit the bill, my friend,
I thank you dearly for the ride, that damn car is fried,"
he commented between breathing like a dying horse.
I didn't come to know he only had one lung 'til many years later.
He saw I was downing a Billy Beer and laughed hard,
"I guess that's one good thing we're getting out of the Carters!"
He yelled and I laughed along and offered him one,
he graciously accepted and downed it in about three seconds.
"It helps with the stomach pains,"
he said with a look of sadness on his face,
me not knowing the full weight of his comment at the time,
as he looked to be all of 100 in the morning sunlight.
He looked to be about ten feet tall,
but his hands were callused and blistered,
his face was weather worn and rusty and crow's feet,
well, they captured deep digging around his eyes,
as his head almost touched the ceiling.
All and all, he was just a man like me,
an ill one from the sound of his pained breathing.
I started to call his name,
but he told me all his friends called him Duke,
and Duke was good enough for me as I was a friend,
giving him a ride as he hadn't seen another car in an hour.
We didn't talk much as I was too shocked to speak,
wait 'til I tell my gal about this was all I could think!
He asked me my name and what I did,
seemed to be interested in little nothing me,
so I jabbered like a monkey for a while,
and couldn't help myself but tell him he was a hero to me.
Luckily he wasn't peeved at my almost childish glee,
but he grunted and cleared his throat at my comment,
we shared a cigarette as we came into a little town.
"I'm no hero, son, it's folks like you who work hard and do right,
you folks are the real heroes of this world,"
he replied as we pulled into the service stop.
He offered to pay me for the ride but I refused,
though I welcomed his signing of my ball cap.
"I'm not long for this world, son, but knowing there are men like you,
well, willing to give a ride to someone out of courtesy,
it fills me with a bit of hope for the world I'm checking out of soon,"
he ended as he walked tall like a wall off into the sun of the service stop.
He turned as I was pulling out, waved and yelled out,
"Take care, pilgrim!" like a well rehearsed and cherished line.
Thirty-five years later the memory seems like yesterday,
giving a lift to Duke in his time of need,
knowing damn well I'd have done the same for anyone,
as I've done this a thousand times since and will again.
His comments on heroes and goodness have never left me,
while I still value his films like gold as I always have,
it's his waving good-bye only a year from his death I most recall,
almost as if he was waving good-bye to us all,
and through telling me the world was going to be okay,
it somehow resonates with me through the age,
that we as an American people will all be all right,
as long as we remember to do good by others day by day.
For Marion Mitchell Morrison
"A page of good prose remains invincible." -- John Cheever
"And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth." -- Raymond Carver