As a Boy Scout, Dad decoded
The dit-dit-dahs of Morse, the swashed flags
Of semaphore, bugled “Taps.”
At war’s end, trumpeted jazz,
Sported a dashing Errol Flynn mustache,
Drove a Mercury coupe, led a brass swing band.
Growing gray, he bought a Mustang,
Captained boats down the Chesapeake,
Tracked game, and bow-hunted bear
In the snow-packed Appalachians.
A snappy salesman with the gift of gab,
He spoke loquaciously, and loved to boast
Of his singular prowess—how he closed a sale,
Bagged a buck, or sang a tenor solo.
Rising late, he rode his route,
Carrying customers’ cash, lugged
A black debit book, big as the Baltimore directory
Bound in crocodile hide, holstered a Colt
Semiautomatic, and often flashed
The gold badge bestowed by the Sheriff
When he ran the county’s Democrats.
Then cause and effect was suddenly
Suspended. He got lost in a crossword
As in a cul-de-sac. Was flummoxed by phones
As if after Babel. His tongue got
All tangled, his words turned to blab.
Now housed in a hospice, he greets his grown children
“Good guy, good guy,” misplacing their names.
Seeing the woman he once swept off the dance floor
And the daughter named after the music they made,
He draws blanks—while a bunch of balloons,
Like a gaggle of gossips who gibber behind him,
Distract his attention, till he’s almost unglued.
Pliant as clay, he grows softer and kinder,
More rarefied—as if refined by affliction.
As we quietly mourn his premature absence
And mortified pride, our prayers turn to Please,
Let wings take him up now to the ballroom of heaven
As a brassy young boy he took up the horn.
Let him trumpet the tunes that wooed his young wife.
Make melody again. Dance the jitterbug of joy.