Baxter Black

Good Bye, Old Man  
     by Baxter Black

Somewhere deep in the old man's eyes a mem'ry took a'hold.
It fought the ageless undertow that drains and mocks the old.
I wiped a dribble off his chin, "Pop, tell me what you see?"
"It's all the boys I rode with, I think they've come for me."

Unconsciously I checked the door. "It's nothin' but the wind.
You better try and git some rest, tomorrow we'll go in."
"Is that you, Bob? I can't quite see. Yer mounted mighty well.
You never rode a horse that good when we were raisin' hell."

"Lie down, old man. There's no one here." "No wait, that looks like Clyde.
He helped me put ol' Blue to sleep. Why, hell, he even cried.
Now don't forget to check the salt, them cows'll drift back down.
Well, I'll be damned, there's Augustine, he worked here on the Brown."

"When I hired on to buckaroo...But that's been fifty years."
The old man squinched his rheumy eyes, I dabbed away the tears.
The boss had told me he was old, had seen a lot of springs.
I bet ya if you peeled his bark, you'd count near eighty rings.

We'd rode the last three summers here together on the rim.
Just he and I, for puncher's pay. I'd learned a lot from him.
But now I'm settin' by his bed, uncertain what to do.
I ain't no good at nursin' coots. I'm only twenty-two.

"I reckon that I'm ready now. My friends are set to go.
They've got an extra mount cut out that's just for me, I know."

"You've got to stop this foolish talk! You shouldn't overdo!
Pop, all you need's a good night's sleep. You'll be as good as new."

"Don't make it complicated, kid, cut a pal some slack.
The saddle on that extra horse...that's my ol' weathered kak.
I'm comin' Bob, I'll be right there."
He winked a misty eye
And tried to reach up for his hat, then died without a sigh.

I'll tellya, man, it freaked me out! I dang near came in two!
I'd never watched a person die, especially one I knew.
I tried to say a little prayer but all I knew was grace.
So I just said, "Good Bye, Old Man," and covered up his face.

I poured myself the bitter dregs and stood out on the step.
Alone I listened to the night, as still as death, except,
I thought I heard above the coffee sloshin' in my cop,
The far off, easy, pleasured sound of old friends catchin' up.