The old man sat
Legs crossed, foot bouncing
The blinds were drawn
Summer heat screaming
From the warped floorboards
You could see the dust, each particle
Floating in faint strips of daylight
Terminating along a piss-stained rug

I waited patiently
Struggling to maintain
As the stench assaulted each nostril
The integrity of the chair, in question
As I shifted uncomfortably

He lit a cigarette
Blue rings of smoke danced
From one ray to another
The dust, emitting a strange glow
As if tiny cosmos were being born
And just as quickly, fading into nothing
The Big Bang, right there in front of me
I was a witness

My God, I’d give anything
For a glass of water

He took a long, deep drag
Then snuffed out the cigarette
Against the table
No ashtray, hadn’t been one for years
If ever
He leaned to the left, shrugged a shoulder
Squinted his good eye
As he dug a hand into his pants pocket
How deep, the pockets, I’m not sure
But in time he produced a handful
Of coins, lint, a pocketknife
And two pieces of candy
Caramel, maybe butterscotch
I can never tell the difference

He nodded his head slowly
Held out his hand to me
“Want a candy, boy?”
“No, thank you, sir.”
It’s possible I mistook his confusion
For annoyance
“Suit yourself.”

I had come here once before
Looking for answers, years ago
I’m not even sure if he remembers me

“You were always a scared little shit.”
Oh, he remembers
“Are you scared now?”
The question made me smile
“No, old man, are you?”
“You’re God-damn right I’m scared.”

I sat for a long time, watching him
He barely moved his frail, weathered limbs
The collar of his musty flannel shirt
Hung open, exposing the bones beneath
Ratty green work pants, faded
From years of trying, for nothing

There’s no answer here, just a rotting reminder
Of everything that once was, and still is
Within distance, time, reckoning, judgment
We fall, spiraling into the same nothing
And pray for acceptance, then forgiveness
Not from the ones we bludgeon along the way
But from ourselves