Before He Died - Poem by george fillingham
When Mary found him huddled by the barn
Asleep, his cap pulled down about his ears,
His collar pulled high up about his neck,
At first she didn't recognize him then she whispered,
"Silas? " She shook him softly on his shoulder.
How much she saw he'd changed how tired he looked.
Silas groaned in shaking off his sleep;
Confused he turned to see her frightened face.
He dropped his head again then tried to rise.
"Silas, come on in the house. I'll make
Some tea. You'll want a cigarette. I'll let
You smoke this once at table where it's warm
But we won't make a habit of it, eh? "
Silas tried but couldn't get his footing
So Mary pulled his arms to lift him up.
But Silas nearly stumbled, clinging to
The barn door for support. His eyes were wild.
"Are you all right? " asked Mary, coaxingly.
"Come, let me get you to the kitchen. You
Can tell me all about your travels. Where've
You been? " But Silas only mumbled, groaned.
She let the screen door slam behind her back,
(A thing she never let her husband do)
And helped sit Silas in a kitchen chair.
"You want some tea? I'll fix us tea. Here, let
Me help you shed this heavy coat of yours.
I'll hang it here beside the stove to warm."
So Silas let his arms be pulled from out
His sleeves. He ran his hand across his face.
He tried to get himself to focus in.
He said, "Miss Mary, please... I'll be all right...
Don't you go making trouble just for me...
I'll be all right inside a minute here...
I'm just so tired now, ... I just can't think."
But Mary put the kettle on for tea.
She got two cups down from the cupboard hooks
And brought them to the table. "Silas, where've you been? "
Silas looked at Mary for a moment
Unsure of what to say. He sighed then spoke.
"My travels? ... Pillar to post? I mostly just roamed...
It seems I've been a roamer most my life.
One time, Miss Mary, I visited my aunt
Before she died. She lived in Delaware.
I can't have been too old that time... I seem
To recollect the train ride there but not
Much else... For sure I was in Delaware...
I saw my Aunt Laverne... I saw her house,
Her living room... but I remember nothing
Of the land around or even where I was...
As though I went from one house to another
With nothing in between but tiny windows...
A musty smell of empty furniture
Or maybe a person's face with tearful eyes...
I feel that empty time right now so bad."
"Now Silas, " Mary said while reaching out
To pat his arm and offer comfort, but
She knew it did no good. "That happens to
Us all sometimes. Although we try to live
An active, vibrant life, aware of each
And every moment, everybody trips
And falls, forgetting something rare, ... and trust
Me, Si, I've been through Delaware a time
Or two... there's not much there." This made him laugh
Which pleased her most. He looked down at his cup.
Then silence settled down again to wait.
She looked around the room then back at him.
"You want to smoke? I'll get you one of Warren's.
"Silas...? " But he was fast asleep again.
"Silas dear, if you want to rest at least
Let's get you to the lounge where you can stretch."
As Silas roused himself again he groaned
Apologetically. "Miss Mary, please.
I'll be all right... I'll try to stay awake...
I want no charity you understand
Though you've been kind ... I've come to ditch the meadow...
And if there's time before the spring I'll help
To clear the upper pasture... me and Wilson...
Remember Harold Wilson...? He worked last summer..."
"Now Silas, honey, that was several years ago.
He's teaching at his college now, I think."
"It's been that long...? No, no... I could have sworn..."
He gave his head a shake and rubbed his face
Then let his head fall back against the chair.
He sat there with closed eyes a minute more
Then brought his head back up, his lip a-quiver.
"I'm almost 86 year's old, Miss Mary,
86! I've worked my blessed life, ...
From 10 or 12 year's old when I could get a job,
A paying job, until this very day...
Been sick one day in my whole life... I mean
Been sick to death, ... not just a cold or flu, ...
But I mean sick in bed with everyone
Around me thinking I was going to die...
Been sick one time... and not one doctor knew
What ailed me... I worked for Mr. Garnett's farm
Until he died, ... then after that his son...
And then I worked for Mr. Brewer's farm
A while... I drove tractor, ... bailed hay...
I herded cattle, both beef and milking kind...
I mowed the grass, kept the chickens, slopped
The hogs... I fed the goats, stabled horses...
And I can stack a wagon half again
As high with hay as any hand around...
I did all this to help my ma and pa
To keep my brother in his city school.
I worked so much that home was like a camp.
My ma and pa were never much for talk.
They seemed as like to partners on a work
Detail as being parents for two boys.
Back then I never noticed how it was...
I mean, I liked that they would ask if I
Was done with fixing this or making that.
I never gave a thought about a home
Or what it might be like to be a kid,
To go to school or play a game with friends.
It weren't until I come to work for you
That anything like home would come to mind.
I have to say right now that working here
Weren't work to me... Just now, beside the barn
When I was resting there... I almost saw..."
He paused to rub his eyes and hide the tear,
"But I'm so tired now... and snow is coming...
I told you once about my finding water
By using a hazel prong... I'm sure I did...
Miss Mary when is Warren coming home...
I need to speak to him... he has to get
That Harold Wilson kid to work again..."
The kettle whistled and Mary poured the tea
While Silas rubbed his forehead then his eyes.
She lit a cigarette for him and placed
A cup of tea before him, touched his arm
And said, "Now, Si, you rest a minute here.
When Warren comes, I'll send him in to you."
But Silas was asleep again, his head
Upon his chest, the unsmoked cigarette
Burned unattended in a glass ashtray.
So Mary sat down near the door to wait
For Warren to return from shopping late.
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