On Friday nights he paid his road workers in cash,
one at a time from a cash box on the porch of his house
while the others–sons and grandsons of slaves most of them–
sang and patted jubee and danced in the front yard,
waiting their turn.
Later that night he would get a phone call
and drive into town to bail one or two
of them out of jail.
He said things like “that makes the cheese more binding”
when someone’s actions had unintended consequences
and “he drove his ducks to a poor market”
when someone married beneath them.
His father walked him over the Gettysburg fields,
told him the smoke was so thick you couldn’t see anything.
With a heart damaged by the 1918 flu, he raised his kids,
voted the straight Democratic ticket and died at sixty two.
When the nights turn cold in the fall
and the maple trees leave their calling cards on the back roads
I sometimes catch a glimpse of him in the morning work day mirror
or in a remark to my daughter about selecting suitors
or picking school friends.
I never knew him and I know him well,
like I know the river delta when I walk it just after sunrise–
always different and always the same.