dark trees in silhouette, blurred as seen from a moving car

Elegy for the Men of My Stepfather’s Town

Every time my stepfather asks
if I remember Gordy or Lloyd or some other
lifelong, small-town acquaintance —
Dead, he’ll say, rolling his neck

as he taps out a cigarette.
What do they die of? Heart mostly.
Congestion or lack. Weathered years
in seed caps and pickup trucks.

Larry who sold hardware
went tethered to oxygen
after the store burned
to the ground.

Calvin spent weeks measuring paneling
to hang in my parents’ stairwell
only to shoot himself in the head
after he finished the job.

Leroy the veterinarian,
who drank coffee at our table
after tending a cow’s mastitis
sailed away on dementia’s slow raft.

Some names I only pretend to recognize.
Context of coffee shops so crowded
we kids had to lean against the wall,
picking sugar from our napkins.

Others must have slipped
without my notice.
Mr. Munson, playground supervisor.
Ferdie who delivered gas.

Men who loomed old
forty years ago.
Men like dowels.
Like mortar to brick.