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Old Paul

Apr 12 2011

When I was a 16 year old counselor in training at a Vermont summer camp, we used to walk into town on our days off.  One day we saw an old guy in his driveway, and we waved to him.  He struck up a conversation with us, and we went inside.  We were stupid kids, but fortunately old Paul wasn't looking for trouble, just a break in his lonliness, boredom and drunkeness that he lived in day after day.   We went back a couple other times, and I've often wondered what his story was and how it ended.  This is called "Old Paul"

Moths swarm around old Paul's porch light;
Mosquitos investigate his screens;
Spiderwebs cover all his windows,
And cobwebs cover all his dreams.

There's cans of baked beans in his cupboard,
His glass has a few more sips of gin.
A cigarette again has turned to ashes
Like the spark that once had burned within.

Paul's got an ex-wife out in Denver;
A second one moved up to Montreal.
His five kids live up and down the east coast,
But none of them ever care to call.

Of course, there's still Bill from the machine shop,
He still lives in his house across the town.
But ever since the two of them retired
Bill never seems to want to come around.
It seems the smell of dust and squalor,
And the smell of stale tobacco smoke,
The smell of lack of hope and hygiene
Make Bill feel like he has to cry or choke.
Besides, Bill still has his Nancy,
they've been married for 47 years.
And old Paul has a little gin left,
And a soul so dry he has no more tears.

Paul still allows himself to see some promise
In each new bottle that he walks to town and buys.
But again, the summer sun is setting,
And again, his bottle quickly dries.
He falls asleep at his kitchen table,
As lonliness and gin take their toll.
One wonders which vessel is the emptier,
His bottle on the floor or his hollow soul.

The moths still swarm around the porch light,
Mosquitos still investigate his screens.
Spiders spin additions to their webbed homes,
They continue to pursue their simple dreams.
Though sleeping now, Paul does no dreaming,
Dreams he once had have slowly passed,
Up to Montreal and out to Denver,
And in the bottom of another empty glass.

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