Old Joe

“It was a shame wen dey kilt dat president”
the old man said looking down
on the colorful caladias
“and dos utter gud men.”
It was a shame Joe
but what can you do?
“Dere you are, holdin dat baby.
Wat you tink?”
What do I think about what Joe?
“Bout what you cain do.”
Not sure I’m following you.
You were talking about the dead president
and now my little girl.
“Yo don’t tink dis world is all one ting?”
Well I guess so.
“Yo gess so. Hum.”
We were circling his shotgun home,
the retired railroad man and I,
my daughter snug up against my chest.
He had the nicest flowers planted,
his house painted and well cared for.
He called himself “old black Joe”
and he was just that, old and coal black.
His face shined in the New Orleans heat
his white strap undershirt bleach bright against his skin.
He wore khaki work pants with a crease and a shiny black belt.
“I drove spikes fo de railroad wit a sixteen pound hammer.
Did dat ev-e-ry day fo foty years.”
His wife was missionary baptist, dressed all in white.
She didn’t like me with Joe but he enjoyed the talk.
He loved the face of my baby girl,
his face lit up like a light bulb when he’d see her.
“Dats a pretty gal you got dere son.”
Yes sir, thank you.
“Yo mat tink dem men who kilt de president
oar run de railroad, dey callin de shots,
but dat baby in yo arms, how yo hold her,
dats what keeps the world. Yo’ll find out.”
His wife spoke to me through the screen door
when Joe hadn’t been around for awhile,
told me he had the cancer,
was in the Prytania Street hospital.
His room was cool and dark.
He was in so much pain
all he could say was “Lode haf mercy,
Lode haf mercy” over and over.
I started saying it back to him,
feeling foolish at first,
speaking to Someone I wasn’t sure I knew,
but the feeling rose in my heart
and I wanted mercy for Joe, for the whole world,
which I understood Joe was asking for too.
I held one of his big hands and prayed with him
until the pain let off, the body spasms quieted.
When I left the room I knew I wouldn’t see him again.
My daughter is a full grown woman now,
her son a young man, close to me.
The sea is up in a strong wind outside the cabin
and I’m thinking about Joe, how he held this world.
The old railroad man knew more than most folks,
me still growing into his knowledge,
how he would open his hands and smile,
his gold teeth flashing when he’d look at my baby girl.




21 Responses to “Old Joe”

  1. James says:

    He don’t say nothin’..but he must know somethin’
    He just keeps rollin’ he just keeps rollin’ along

  2. Pichay says:

    I don’t say much more than nothing myself. But I got an idea my love for my friends and care for this beautiful planet, my home has meaning, even as I’m uncertain…thank you.

  3. Maggie Causey says:

    Oh, Don…so lovely. An ode to Old Joe and to Eilish and new life as well. Thank you.

  4. Christopher says:

    This is very moving, Don. Speaks to where we are now, our feeling of helplessness and what truly matters. Loved the Eilish and Dez references. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Rose Meeker says:

    Beautiful and vivid – this conveys such eloquent wisdom. And yes, the continuity of love through the generations…

  6. Chaz says:

    What a powerful reminder, in this time of such racial fracturing in the U.S., that blacks lives DO indeed matter!

  7. Tony Palombo says:

    Reminds me of an old black man who came in regularly for adjustments at my chiropractic clinic in Baton Rouge when I had no fees for my services but allowed folks to pay within their means, which he thought was alright but would always one-up me by saying “But ya cain beat God givin'” I loved the simple heart of that coal black man. I love this poem. Thanks, Don.

  8. Bill Dare says:

    Takes me back to my youth in New Orleans… the wisdom of “Ol’ Folks” always inspires and directs this man. Thanks for your Wisdom Sharings, Don.

  9. Maria Jimenez Frid says:

    You speak of a man who was strong and earthy yet tender of heart………..a treasure indeed. Thank you Don.

  10. David Banner says:

    How Joe held the world…that is the truth of the matter….his compassion and integrity shine through this poem…..

  11. Eric Dunn says:

    This is a great beginning to a whole book…

  12. Linda Barnes says:

    This world is all one thing. Reminds me that I’m not doing my part to keep it better. Lovely

  13. Kim says:

    This reminds me of the love, respect, humor and admiration between the generations. A wise reminder to listen to each other’s heart.

  14. Pat Fitzsimmons says:

    “yo don”t tink dis world is all one ting” says it all my friend. Oh, this bittersweet life is a joy to behold! Thank you Don

  15. Hallie says:

    That’s a good one, Don. Thanks.

  16. Veronica Lim says:

    This one really touches my heart deeply, Don.

  17. Stan Grindstaff says:

    I agree with Eric… You have a fine narrative voice here, Don, & interesting offshoot characters could be brought in… Maybe characters featured in other poems… Like Ray Bradbury did with Illustrated Man where each tattoo launched a story… Also the tonal mosaic of this piece is richly layered with sounds & visuals… Masterful…

  18. Tom Wilson says:

    Wonderful remembrance, Don. I too have some fond memories of old black people who lived so close to the heartbeat of life. Well done.

  19. Very moving poem.

  20. Carol Carlson says:

    I read it and said “Wow!” out loud. Did all this dialogue actually happen like that? What a good human you are, Don.

  21. Carol Carlson says:

    I read it again. I loved it again. I better copy it to read over and over.

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