Paulelmo's Blog

A house I didn’t see (one for my brothers, what men we were)–a poem of sorts

We were three on the highway

my brothers and I,

tooling along as well

as anyone ever did tool.

 

But with destination.

 

It was in the middle a.m. hours

of a Christmas morning;

we had left my house in Charlotte

and were bound for the family home

in Gauley Bridge.

 

I 77 stretched out in front of

and behind us,

those rural areas of

Northern North Carolina

and southwestern Virginia,

where you’re always

in the middle of nowhere

no matter how many mile markers you pass.

 

Bon Jovi might have been playing on the radio,

but if not them,

something equally festive for

my brother Steve and I.

A funeral dirge would have been festive

for Steve and I that morning.

 

The highway rolled

through valleys and over hills.

We rolled with it,

singing along to the music,

like the fools that we were

in that version of now.

We’d passed so many miles in such fashion

that we were drunk on the vibe.

 

We crested another hill, and

my brother, Tim,

was the last to see them.

 

There were two of them,

a man and a woman

a married couple, perhaps.

He was pushing a shopping cart,

and she walked near to his side.

 

Steve and I fell silent, and

Tim arose from his reclined position

in the back seat,

to see what had stopped

our celebration of song.

 

The silence hung

 

like a dripping wet bedspread

on a damp morning’s clothesline.

 

They were headed north,

just like we were.

 

Tim, at eighteen,

was even more of a sarcastic smart-ass

than he is these ten years later,

and I prayed to God

that he would be able

to process the sight

and not need say something

to lighten the mood.

I knew that if he did,

I’d probably have to hit him for the first time.

 

The silence hung,

 

and I noticed that there was an exit

further up the road.

But from where had they come?

I couldn’t remember how long it had been

since we’d passed the last exit.

Still, there was an exit up ahead,

and I envisioned the nice little house

that I’d see nestled in the hillside

right off the highway.

Warm smoke wafting from the chimney.

It was all I could do.

 

But we passed the exit,

and there was no such house.

I don’t remember exactly what I did see

down that road,

probably just hills and trees,

because whatever it was,

I recall that it gave me the impression

that this was not where

the couple was heading.

 

I don’t know how many miles passed

before Steve let out the sad sigh

that broke our silence,

but I do know that part of that silence

is still with each of us.

 

A decade later, Christmas nears,

and the memory visits often,

leading me to think three thoughts:

 

I am pleased and proud

that my brothers and I

gave the sight

the respect it deserved.

 

If we had offered a ride,

would they have abandoned the cart?

 

And

 

I sure hope there was

a house I didn’t see,

with warm smoke wafting from the chimney.

 

***

Oh, but the lives we live. Be well, friends, and take care of the guy next to you if you can; check on him to see if he’s doing OK. There’s no way it can hurt.

 

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