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.