RC (too many years ago / Canadia - so I must be Canadian!)

The Bully Cried

The storm blew in with maritime fury,
Drifting a long, white, frozen wave
The length of our farm's laneway.
The mailman slewed his VW to a stop
As my father and I were clearing
Some semblance of a path;
He grunting with the effort
And me whining with the injustice.
'Did you hear that he died last night? '
'Get out! ', exclaimed my dad,
And I ran to tell my mother,
Happy to be free of my shovel.
He had been a brush salesman,
On the road and away from home mostly.
The night before the storm had tried in vain
To keep him from his family.
But he kept digging and digging and...
In his bed, later that night,
The storm claimed his heart as
A consolation and the funeral
Was to be two days later.

I was afraid of his oldest son.
He was three years my senior,
And took great delight in cruel teasing.
So, being unaware of what death meant,
I was smug in the conviction that
My tormentor had been suitably rewarded.
Death, to me, was a theatrical device
Employed by my friends and me
In a game of cops-and-robbers.
There was no abyss of separation for us,
Only the young child's faith
In the permanence of life.

In the musty country church,
I stared in fascination at the open casket
As the ancient pump-organ
Rattled and wheezed its way
Through Rock Of Ages.
The hymn ended and as we stood,
It seemed the air was sucked from the room
As the grieving family entered.
I turned to watch him
Walking beside his mother,
Her eyes hidden by a veil of black lace.
His behind a veil of tears.
He walked mechanically to the pew,
His back rigid and ramrod straight.
His fists were tightly clenched
As if he were trying, literally,
To hold himself together;
Now, the man of the family.
As he passed I was overwhelmed
by such compassion for him
That I could have held him in my arms
And cried there with him.
I looked up at my father and realized
That I could reach out and touch him.
I could tell him I loved him.
But for this boy and his father,
That time had come and gone.
I knew then I could never again
Hate him for tormenting me for I
Had something he no longer possessed:
I had a father's touch.

The sun bounced stinging golden needles
From the surface of the snow
As we followed the casket and family
Into the church yard and to the grave.
The fresh excavation was the only
Mar on pristine mantle and ancient marble.
When the service concluded dad drove
The three miles home in total silence.
What he was thinking I never knew
And never thought to ask him.
But I knew that somehow I was different.
Something had changed inside me.
Looking back I now know that I began
My slow, irresistible ascent to manhood
On that long ago day when the bully cried.

Robert Clarke
Copyright 1993

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