May 22, 2006

Ten years have flown by

since the American Dream died

when he breathed his last breath

on that goddamned hospital bed

and all I could do

was scream and shout

from my lungs top

the illusion was over

the bubble popped

Poppy was dead

after a month

spent in a coma

in that goddamn hospital room

on that goddamn hospital bed

and, though I expected the worst

I wasn’t prepared for this

as I kissed his forehead

and walked out

to join my family

in the lobby

I knew that his life

had left that body

battered and broken

he had had enough

a month after he fell

off a roof

for the second time

and if history doesn’t repeat itself

why does it have to rhyme?

My mother’s father

raised us like his own

trying to atone

for the sins of his younger years

spent grinding

through the gears


after day in

and day out

he vowed

that us grandchildren

would never go without


like he had as a kid

he tried his best

with his own children

but was too often

too busy drinking


the pain of his own

shitty childhood

his mother never

loved him

so he forged his age

and enlisted at 16

to get a head start

on the American Dream

he tried in vain for years

to win her over

and it was only over

her dead body

that he finally

put the bottle down.

I was a year old

when he came home

from Rutland

with a new lease

on life

lucky my grandma

was still by his side

trying to dry

all those tears

she cried

but in 1985

he apologized

and promised her better

promised years

filled with happiness

and family

and laughter

less of loneliness

and tears

no more beers

no more whiskey

no more sleeping

in the work truck

walking in the house at 7am

for breakfast

and coffee

trying to sober up

before 10 hours on a roof

this man was living proof

it could be done…

with my grandma’s help

of course…

thankfully she didn’t listen

to friends and family

and divorce him

because with her help

he won the battle

with his demons

and spent the next

21 years

being a good husband

being a better father

being the best father-figure

to me

and my brother

and my sister

busting his ass in the sun

day in

and day out

taking us on vacations

taking us fishing

leaving us wishing we had more time

at Grandma and Poppy’s house

more Sundays laughing over pizza

and ice cream

and he taught me to pray

out on the water

with a Buck Owens cassette tape

offering background music

to 8 hours sometimes

without a single bite

Be patient…

I swear this man had ADHD

but in that 14 foot

aluminum fishing boat

he could see God

he could talk to


and nature

was his church

was where he found peace

sometimes it was catch and release

but sometimes it was dinner

and even when we came home

empty handed

he made me feel like a winner

stopping at Friendly’s

for that giant Jim Dandy Sundae

probably 2,000 calories

but it was

a little piece of heaven

at the end of

a plastic spoon

at the end of

another amazing day

and by the end of

his life

he had taught me

to pray

but the river was the medicine

that I forgot to take

after he died

as I picked the fishing pole up

less and less

and I picked the bottle up

more and more

I’m sure he cried

and as I’d be getting drunk

and storm clouds

would close in

I’d feel his tears

and they would

cleanse me

of my sins

and ashes to ashes

and dust to dust

and even his last metal roof

now rusts

and those last shingles

he nailed down

are halfway

into a 20 year warranty

and he first visited me

by the rivers of Babylon

and he still talks to me

in my dreams

still calms me

when I scream

and he kept haunting me

when I’d drink

but now that

I’ve put the bottle down

and got the hell out

of that small town

he visits less and less

he only stops by

to cheer me up

when I get depressed

and my guess is

that he’s fishing somewhere

less stressed out,

no longer waiting

for my brother and I

to figure it out,

pull our heads

out of our asses

and I can see him readjust

his glasses


that we had to find out

the hard way

that hard work

doesn’t pay off


you could live happily

ever after

but just as likely wind up

laid off

after 30 years

of giving your heart and soul

as a company man

just like my old man,

or wind up falling off a roof

for the second time

in 4 years…

yeah, Poppy fell

a month before

I graduated from high school

in 2002

when he was 64

and I thought I knew everything

but they had to cut off his wedding ring

as his hands swelled up

and I welled up

with tears

as I’d drive home

from visits with him that summer

at the West Haven VA

playing his old cassette tapes

over the blown speakers

of my Jeep

the doctors said

he would be lucky to survive

but by the end of that summer

he was still alive

the internal wounds

and all that bleeding

had healed

and as he was dealing

with re-learning

how to walk

I was learning

how to march

I couldn’t talk to him

but his chances

of a full recovery

went from non-existent

to slim

and one year

after his first fall

I was home on leave

hardly able to believe

what a difference

a year makes

as I looked back

at the wake

from that little aluminum pram

fishing boat

I could hear him gloating

about the last fish

he landed

almost as big

as the one

that landed him into

The National Freshwater

Fishing Hall of Fame

in Hayward, Wisconsin




11lbs 4oz.

It had been a while

since I’d seen him smile

but all the pain

washed away

all the years

washed away

that day in May 2003

on the Connecticut River

in South Hadley

I knew that everything

would be okay

and it was

life was his drug

he spent more time fishing

and less time wishing

and his bones

and his body


his shattered left wrist

had healed enough

to reel in a fish

and his arthritic right hand

could still handle a hammer,

his achy body

slowly healed enough

to climb a ladder

and get back on a roof…

and my poor grandmother’s only wish

was not to come true.

He had a granddaughter in college

a daughter going through a divorce

and he insisted on filling my gas tank

every time I was home on leave

and he couldn’t let my kid brother leave

without some pocket change…

in his mind,

things could not change

he was a roofer

so he knew

what he had to do

“Only small jobs”

he said.

But this was a man

who should have been dead

only a year before,

a glutton for punishment

he wanted more

he wanted more for his family

he wanted to help

in anyway he could

even if it killed him

and in August, 2005

he helped rent us a beach house

for two weeks vacation

in Wellfleet.

“Don’t worry,

I’m just patching leaks

and fixing chimneys

and gutters”

But on April 21, 2006

I found myself adrift

with no rudder

when I got a message

on my cellphone

I had never felt so alone

in all my life

“They life-flighted your grandfather

to Baystate Medical Center…

he was fixing a chimney…”

said his former son-in-law,

my father,

in a voicemail message

that I heard as I was driving

through traffic

in Portland, Maine

and I had to pullover

to avoid crashing.

After composing myself

along the side of the road

I turned the car around

and made it to Springfield

30 minutes too late,

30 minutes after he was placed

into a medical-induced coma

30 minutes after

he whispered his last words

to my dear grandmother,

“I’m Sorry.”


They say that in America

hard work

will get you anything

it got

my grandfather

cremated and buried

next to a flat VA headstone

at 68 years old

with too many stories

left untold

he left this world

before he could

grow old

and it left

my grandmother

with tens of thousands

of dollars

worth of medical bills

owed to the hospital

where her husband,

who would have survived his injuries,

caught and died from pneumonia

a month after

the doctors

put him in

a coma

leaving me wondering

about this thing

they call

the American Dream

because in reality

its been a nightmare

for my family

we see

that the higher

you make it

up that ladder

the more likely

it is

that the fall

will kill you

About soitgoes1984

I was born and raised on land stolen from the Pocumtuc. I now live on a small island in the middle of the Pacific ocean, on land that was stolen more recently, from the Hawaiians. I am addict, struggling to kick the habit of fossil fuel. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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