Didn’t know him. Never met him.
Someone said his name was Thomas.
Maybe it was, but I’m not sure.
On nice days, he’d sit by the side of the road
on one of those green plastic chairs
you buy for a few bucks at Wal-Mart
and snap a two-finger salute
at passing cars. I always waved back,
and came to count on his being there,
I missed him when he wasn’t.
His white shirt made his dark skin darker.
I’d think back to singing “Old Black Joe”
in music class. Do kids sing it today?
Or read “Little Black Sambo”? Probably not.
He sure loved smoking.
I never saw him without a cigarette
scrunched up in the corner of his mouth.
I bet Miz Thomas had a strict
“No Smoking In The House” rule.
So there he sat, lighting one cigarette
off the smoked-down butt of another,
welcoming strangers he’d never meet
until one day there was no chair,
no salute, no wisp of smoke.
WILLIAM SWARTS is the author of Strickland Plains and Other Poems and Treehouse of the Mind, and won 1st Prize in the 2004 Litchfield Review Poetry Contest. His poetry has been published in over 30 literary reviews and journals.
An English Literature major at Brown, he received his law degree from University of Pennsylvania and practiced law in New York City and Paris. He studied with Bollingen Prize winner David Ignatow at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA Poetry Center in NYC. He lives in western North Carolina.