My grandpa’s life was lean and tough,
a streak of gristle in the teeth of God.
He was a revenuer searching
for stills in North Florida’s piney woods,
a target for ticks my grandma
couldn’t scrub away–no matter how hard
she boiled that water–and for tick fever
no doctor ever cured.
But God must have loved him,
God knows why, making him fall asleep
on a damp mosquito night
staked out in a Buick behind
a moonshiner’s fire, slumped down
so far in that car his head
fell below the dashboard.
It was his partner, upright
in the driver’s seat, who took
the bullet. Grandpa stayed slumped
on the floor, invisible ’til morning,
drove home covered in his partner’s blood.
Yet it wasn’t a bullet or a tick
that finally killed him, just
his own inflexible heart.
He never learned to soften;
when the pressure built, that proud heart burst.
There was not much left inside it–
a few marbles and a rubber band,
a map of the piney woods, an old photo
of my grandma with a long brown braid
she’d cut off years and years before.