Over Memorial Day Weekend 2012 on the shores of New York’s Lake Champlain twenty-eight men, veterans and non-vets, gathered for a retreat hosted by The Minnesota Men’s Conference and Soldier’s Heart organizations. Among those attending were Ed Tick, Miguel Rivera, Tom Gambell, Ben Dennis, Roger Shourds, and Craig Ungerman.
Building a sweat lodge at the Memorial Weekend Retreat
I wrote the first draft on the plane heading home as memories poured out. The poem is the centerpiece of an unpublished manuscript about my home neighborhood, THE COMO POEMS. I do have a new book of poems coming out this year. The new collection is titled, PORTRAITS OF RODEO CLOWNS AND ROYALTY. Red Dragonfly Press, 2017.
But the following poem is not in the new collection. ~ Timothy Young
DON’T FORGET, GRAMPS
Or, Six Ways to Leave the Old Neighborhood
Don’t forget. They called me Gramps.
By eighteen I had gray hairs among the dark ones
and I wore a necklace of boils and an acne scapular.
Beneath my work shirts I wore piebald undershirts,
stained back and front, with blood and puss.
Yet, the curse of acne was the blessing.
It helped me run out the front door
of the Minneapolis Induction Center.
and I headed home, rejected by the Army doctor.
Everyone else went out the back door,
boarded the bus to the airport, and flew to
Fort Bragg and basic training.
Six months later they were at the Mekong.
Don’t forget how Crazy Bob, Sneaky Pete,
Cootie and Steverino, came back from Nam,
howled with me, their sidekick and documentarian.
They yelled to me, “Tell our tales, fucker!
We’re all Mother Skuzzers. All of us.
And we’ll stay that way ‘til we die”
Don’t forget being in the camper without tiedowns
in Crazy’s pickup tearing 80 MPH on the interstate,
and we mocked the wind, as it lifted us
four inches off the pickup’s floor,
and we begged Bob to drive 90.
Don’t forget smelt fishing at Lake Superior’s Shore
—Cootie, Sneaky Pete and Crazy Bob—
all of us in chest waders dipping oversized nets
into the icy, Knife River current,
trying to scoop schools of horny, silver fish.
We mostly failed and didn’t care.
Don’t forget those few smelt
like scaly pricks in the bucket
while we drank to oblivion.
Sneaky Pete and I stuffed a smelt down
the back of Cootie’s pants after he passed out,
and he rolled in his stupor, squishing and scratching,
mooshing and mashing fish flesh into his hinder’s crack.
Hours later when he woke up stinking and unfazed,
he laughed with us at his own mess.
Then Strawberry came back, yowling like panther,
“It’s not me, it’s the rest of the world!”
He had eaten shame. In the Marine Corps
and at home, he ate shame.
He’d nearly drowned in a training pool
because he couldn’t swim, especially with a backpack.
“You’re no Marine, Strawberry.”
The sergeant laughed as he sank like a big rig’s gear box.
and they yanked him out flopping
like a bullhead without whiskers.
He volunteered for Nam four times,
while driving semis in Okinawa,
and they turned him down.
“You’re no Marine, Strawberry.”
Two years after his honorable discharge
he strung himself from a pipe in my basement,
strangled himself while gurgling on the phone with his ex.
Then Crazy Bob caught his wife humping his best friend.
Bob drove his Harley 100 MPH off a Dead Man’s Curve,
long before Thelma and Louise did it movie-style.
Steverino, the sniper, returned from the jungle
with his feet crusted and stained to black.
He bragged that he’d changed his boots
only twice during his year-long tour.
Ten years later he divorced Crazy Bob’s sister
and finally married his high school sweety.
Then he began to suffer migraines.
He hit her once, went into his bedroom,
put his pistol in his mouth, and sucked lead.
His Dad, a WWII vet, offed himself in the 50s,
His step-dad, a Korean War vet, did it, too, in the 60s.
We blamed his icy-eyed mom. We were wrong.
After Nam, after smashed cars and mashed fists,
after fights and cackling, crackling liquored days,
Cootie asked twenty-seven women to marry him for love.
I witnessed six of those proposals, myself.
In 1983 I won a literary award, in the humor category,
for a short story about Cootie’s love-life.
After thirty years and a few divorces,
his heart gave out to a weight
his drinking could no longer withstand.
Minutes before Sneaky Pete flew out of Nam,
he locked his sergeant in a remote meat freezer.
Once back in St. Paul he spent his money,
and lost his money on hookers, craps and pain-killers.
Then he simply disappeared into a suburban fog.
In the 70s Crazy Bob and Strawberry
were the first to leave the neighborhood
and the planet for good.
Steverino waited until the 80s.
In the 90s the old neighborhood died for me
when I married and moved out of state.
What do I do for my neighborhood friends?
The friends who were sprayed like high-octane fuel
through the cultural carburetors
and into the cylinders of hatred’s machinery?
What do I do with this neighborhood’s compost
but turn it and turn it with the pitchfork of my pen,
‘til it’s shit’s so old it’s sweetness?
What do I do because they once yelled,
“Don’t forget, Gramps. Don’t forget our tales.
Our Skuzzer tales…..Don’t forget, Gramps.”
~ Timothy Young
Lake Champlain May 2012