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Poetry and Medicine
February 3, 1999

Granddaddy and Boys He Knew in School

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1999;281(5):402D. doi:10.1001/jama.281.5.402

Old men whittled oak for hours.
Granddaddy led them, flick, and flick,
and old friends followed like a rhythm band.
Down on the county square, on benches of iron bars
straddling fat roots of elms and hemlock,
decades before the high-rise jail or seniors' center,
the spit-and-whittle club punched the clock
like bankers' hours, nowhere to go but home—
a Dodge sedan, with the seat down, or a shack.
Billy Earl and I played jackknife with those men,
mumbletypeg, blackjack for matches. One by one
we watched them cough into bloody handkerchiefs and die
or disappear, praising God or Roosevelt one day,
then gone. One year, I found park benches empty,
nothing but squirrels on the county square,
and most of those looked old, hobbling like dogs
on all fours, not hopping. Never mind
that some old men wheezed Help, strapped down
in nursing homes like Granddaddy, fed by college boys
like me, to pay tuition. Sometimes I see arms
around bars of the ten-story county jail
where the courthouse was, where squirrels
and toddlers had roamed, where old men wailed
about the drought and taxes and shook stiff knuckles
at each other, their only remaining friends.

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