Phil Cousineau


It is nearly dawn in Liberty, Texas,
A backwater town of clapboard shacks, tire-swings
And dark green praying mantis-like oil derricks.
I fill up the car from a gurgling six-foot glass pump
While a crackling radio plays “Crazy” by Patsy Cline,
And the grease-barnacled owner named Morry
Takes over-the-shoulder slugs of Jack Daniels.
He mumbles the lyrics while blinking back face-rusting tears,
Waits for the bluesy lost-lover anthem to shiver to a close,
Then suddenly confesses to me in a gravelly, stutter-stepping voice,
“If I knew I was going to kick the bucket tomorrow I reckon
I’d change everything: my job, my old lady, my life.”
The cigarette butt flares as it burns down to his fingers.
His eyes glaze over like a hunting dog frozen in point,
A neighbor whose house is burning down now.

At dusk in the tangled rush-hour traffic of Manhattan,
A cab driver harrumphs to a Life magazine reporter
Who is interviewing him about the meaning of life,
“We’re here to die, just to live and die.
I do some fishing, take my girl out, pay taxes,
Then get ready to drop dead.”

In Stockholm a century earlier, chemist and inventor
Alfred Nobel one morning at breakfast was startled
To read his own obituary, and discovered to his horror
That he had been eulogized not for his creations,
His philanthropy or compassion, but for the destruction
He had wrought in his life, only for his invention
Of dynamite, only as a merchant of death.

First published in Deadlines: A Rhapsody on a Theme of Famous and Infamous Last Words.