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It had no rhyme or reason
as the saying is why a few boys on the cusp
of adolescence pelted an old man

we knew only as Damku
with gravel stones the size of golf balls
picked up on the gravel road

that ran parallel with the two lane highway
the old man plodded along its shoulder
every day at about mid afternoon

a burlap bag slung over his shoulder, 
filled with roadside pickings –  empty soda 
and beer bottles, with a stash of
cigarette butts, the unburnt tobacc 
he hand-rolled for his own use
in an old barn where he lived.
His beard was always
no more than a week old and it bristled 
like a scruffy animal pelt. 

In cooler weather he was never without 
an old army trenchcoat 
shaped over his stoop shoulders 

like a shelter, wisps of silvery hair 
escaping from a snug-fitting brown knitted toque, 
flying in the wind of passing cars. 

We waited motionless behind 
hazelnut bushes growing along 
the gravel road, our hands gripping

the coarse gravel stones.
Within range and an easy target, 
we pelted but not to hurt him

then scurried off like foxes
into the depths of the woods that rose from
the margin of the road

until we could no longer hear
the old man’s anger
camouflaged in his strange language – 

another reason we felt justified 
in pelting him though 
the real reason was the gnawing

summer boredom that left us restless, 
looking for something, anything, to do
when brook trout refused to bite 

our worm-baited hooks, 
and birds had stripped blueberry bushes clean. 
The sound of the old man’s shuffle 

up the highway gave him away,
energized our evil intent
like a lit match sets dry leaves afire, 

made us feel alive and useful,
and gave purpose to the afternoon
when we took our places in readiness.

When school reopened, 
the news that old Damku was dead,
hit by a drunk motorist,

the impact hurling 
his body into a small depression 
off the highway where it lay 

undetected for several days
had no effect on us boys, no more
than crushing a bug underfoot

just because it was there.
What hit us hard was that his absence 
had robbed us of an activity

we had come to depend on
and we would have to come up with
something new to fill the vacuum.

That was years ago.  
And a dark  heavy guilt still
harbors his name and image in me

and continues to grow,
eating at my peace of mind, 
like a pernicious hunger 

that is never filled
and keeps rising of its own desire
like a determined spring sap.

Copyright © Maurice Rigoler