Grandpa liked his Pall-Mall straights
ripped in half, stuck one half
in his shirt pocket, smoked the other
down to a roach, with leather-
tough fingers

a second-generation German from
Minnesota, transplanted
to Iowa

had a house painting business,
barked orders at hired help, then
left them unsupervised
most of the day while he drank
at the tavern

he always came back smelling
of cheap beer and pickled eggs, yelling
with that strangled, raspy throat bellow,
“Jesus-Christ, I thought you fellas would’ve
had this shit wrapped up by now!”

He’d then smoke a Pall-Mall shorty,
grumble to himself and
blow his nose like
a farmer

when he drank Mad Dog,
only at home, he waxed philosophical
asking me, “Boy, do you know why you should
stay away from red-heads?”

I knew the answer, heard it
a hundred times
but entertained him anyway,
“Why grandpa?”

“Cuz they’ll give ya the shits and
steal yer soul!”

He always laughed like a drunken pirate
after, until he coughed, spitting
on newspapers laid-out
on the floor.

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