Poem Written For My Grandfather Talking About Suicide
by Michael Meyerhofer

He is almost the last of his kind.
So many old friends already gone,
unwilling to face Alzheimer's
or incontinence in a nursing home,
choosing instead their locked garage

or rusty pickup, a place in the woods
spreading their brains like comets
on the dry leaves. As a boy
he earned thirty-five cents a day
scavenging copper wire, cast iron,

odd scraps of lumber and granite
in an age before welfare, when a job
meant scraping asbestos or lead paint
and getting drafted into the Pacific,
watching your brothers take

every bullet or cancer meant for you.
Moving your tiny shack and babies
when the county tells you to
because a highway's coming, and you
don't know how to file a challenge.

I used to get some enjoyment
out of gas engines, he says, all those
chugging wheels and gears and points
to a yard filled with them,
just something else to care for now.

Life is just pain and obligation
and someone richer or stronger always
wanting that little bit you have,
that little bit you've made.
So I ask him about the trees,

eyeing those sturdy branches
soaring above the hand-made rooftop,
hoping to draw out of him
that story from his younger days,
when he quit drinking long enough

to finish this place and haul saplings
from the shores of the virgin dam,
all the way up the road on his back
until now, decades later,
each one could dwarf a castle

but he doesn't hear me. He sits
for awhile, lost in thought, then
jumps up suddenly and starts
filling a tin dish with bread crusts
and leftovers -- for the cats

he explains, his face softening
almost to a blush. A family of strays
have been coming around lately
and he feels sorry for them. I guess
everything's got to eat, he says.

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