They knew the welcome of his fire,
the monger's stove to wrap around,
hot curbing to prop cold feet,
quick difference from the frozen air,
wind-swept railroad tracks, bare entry ways,
darkness where howling ghosts abide
or, last resort, slim cardboard wrap.
The lost, lonely birds came to roost,
flew in at dusk. He stoked the fire
to stir up flames, dried their feathers off.
Just as often he left his lunch about
like tasty suet hanging in the yard.
On Saturdays I brought his lunch,
dense laminates of meat and bread,
thick and heavy and coarse as sin,
brown banana we would not eat,
molasses-brown coffee in whiskey
bottles wound about with paper bags.
I never saw even one pint bottle
finished off within his grasp,
rarely saw his small hand feeling
inside a paper bag. His birds
did the picking, had suet choice,
hens dining before the cock.
When he died they came to grieve
the savior of their awful nights,
the drunken, besotted, brothered band
who so often drained his cup,
mottle-skinned, so soured of life,
pale host, the warred upon and beaten,
they came to cache the little man
who offered what was left of God.
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