How Men Talk
by Sammy Parker
In late 1957 Lewis bought a 1955 Ford Fairlane,
29,000 miles on it, but, Lewis said,
Soft and easy miles,
like maybe five and three zeroes of mine.
Smiling when he said it in that low, slow drawl,
words sliding, bouncing through the space
where those two front teeth used to be.
The 12-year-old boy thinking, Wow,
she looks a little rough,
red-paint rocker panels nasty scratched,
dent in the trunk, one taillight gone.
This was, sure ‘nuff, he thought,
a gravel-road car, rode right hard.
Lewis, pride unspoken but showing,
parked it close to the barn
so all the men could see it through cracks
in the walls of the hayloft,
where they went to escape some harshness in their lives,
the women’s sometimes stern and voiceless glares,
drink moonshine from Mason jars,
tell how it was and is, not much interested
in how it was gonna be.
The boy loved the old barn:
empty corn crib, rust-twisted chicken wire,
gray kernel-flecked dust;
cramped dark stall in back, no horses,
none in years as silence took hold;
narrow, rickety stairs, boot worn;
upstairs loft, scattered hay-bale remnants,
wobbly table, old wooden chairs.
On the uneven tabletop, jars of clear, big-bead whiskey,
drunk on rowdy communal days
by the boy’s dad and uncle and Lewis;
old men in overalls, sweat-stained fedoras,
slow moving and slower talking;
high-mountain ‘shiners, wary ones
of dirt, corn, plow horse, copper tubing.
The boy learned little, too young to know to listen,
too proud of being included to care.
Sometimes, bored and tired, he’d slip back downstairs,
air still but somehow restless, July-dirt dry,
sense of lives, of stories told and ended long ago
beneath the roof’s overlay of rusting tin.
Other days, alone, he’d search for the barn’s soul,
glad to walk toward it, stand quiet inside,
trying to picture its look, inhale its scent when new,
how the air might’ve tasted
in the heat and sweat-work energy of bustling summers,
the crisp slowing cool of red-gold autumns
when loft and crib were full
and his grandmother was a wide-eyed pretty girl.
Couple of years later, early November,
she walked him to the barn, arm around slim shoulders,
slight shadow on her wrinkled face,
old and tired, he thought, startled.
You know, she said, there’s a passel
of ways to tell the truth, and you need to listen
when they take you with ‘em.
After a few drinks, they’ll tell stories, wind backward
through all that liquor talk. That may be, she said,
as close as you’ll come to knowin’
the heart of your dad and the rest of ‘em and
this place—four-steps, stop, pause—
Yeah, there’s a bunch uh silly man-foolishness,
but there’s some truth, good ‘n’ bad, amid it all.
Think on it, son. Listen hard.
Later, the boy sat alone in the Fairlane,
58,000 and change staring behind clear, cracked plastic.
He looked hard at the barn, the deep autumn sky
above the ridge’s high boundary,
thinking deep as he could go about what she’d said.
Decided, yeah, sounded pretty much right,
and he might never hear his dad’s story
like he’d tell it in that loose, easy air,
something worth keeping,
think about it all sometime down the road.
After all, he figured, does seem like
men sometimes come sideways at the truth—
so, he figured, best go extra hard at it,
even when it’s buried in the faint, corn-silk dust
of hayloft moonshine rambling,
maybe even in the soul of a tired old barn
or the silent dignity of a rode-hard 1955 Ford Fairlane.
Sammy Parker was born and raised in the mountains of western North Carolina and is a longtime resident of Georgia. He taught English at Western Carolina University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and has had poems published in multiple editions of the literary journals at both. He’s a U. S. Air Force veteran and worked in technical publications at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. His poems have been published in multiple editions of Belle Rêve Literary Journal and in Red River Review, Appalachian Journal, Muddy River Poetry Review and the inaugural edition of Ponder Review. Read his previous poem in Deep South here.