© 2008 -- 2011 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Billy, Age 44

“Is it true about Billy?” someone asked me this morning.
That was the first I’d heard about it.

If I’d looked hard enough
I might have seen the dying
that is the end
of summer,

the grass burning brown,
caterpillars spreading tents
in the tops of trees

and the horn worm clasped
to its leafless stalk while wasp
larvae nurse its sides.

All this time without
a sound, like night storms passing
north, silent flashes

through the calm chirps of crickets.

Originally published in Columbus Dispatch, May, 1982.
© copyright 2004, 2009 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic Blog.
All rights reserved.

[Note: This is one of those poems that took several years to write. It's about a co-worker who committed suicide after taking a week off from work to get all of his affairs in order, including transferring the house to his mother's name and all the money in his bank account into his mother's account. The impetus for the poem came from a realization I had when I heard of his death that I'd seen the moment he had made the decision. There were just the two of us in the front of the store. It was close to closing time and we were both standing at the front counter filling out orders we'd taken over the phone. I looked over at him just as he looked up from the order form and stared out the front window. The look on his face was calm and resolved. He finished up the day's orders, said goodbye and left. That was the last time I or anyone else at the store ever saw him. So I wrote the poem about Billy's suicide multiple times. Sometimes I went into the history of his time in Korea or other times I wrote about the death of his father or about how Billy lived alone with his mother. He was an avid bowler so there was an attempt to write about bowling. I'd get the poem out again and again, revise, put it back the way it was, toss it out and start over. Then one late summer afternoon, I was sitting on my back porch watching a storm gather in the west and feeling a cooling breeze, and there was this poem in front of me. I think I took all of five minutes to get it down on paper, and I knew this was the Billy poem I had been trying to write for years. It was later published along with quotes from an interview I had given in a poetry column in the Columbus Dispatch. The topic of that week's column was the creative process.]


  1. Poor Billy. What a sad thing. How sad for his mother. I wouldn't have like this one bit.

    Have a terrific day. :)

  2. Wow, great poem and thankyou for telling us where it came from. How sad, he must have really been tormented by something more than the loss of his dad is what I am thinking. That is so horrible for his mom to lose her husband then have her son take his own life. I know that is a selfish thing to do...but can't help think how bad it must have been for Billy to do that!

  3. Such a touching, wonderful poem. Thank you for sharing.

    My brother had the same experience with a co-worker, and I think he feels somewhat responsible to this day.

  4. Billy did not pass unnoticed.
    Through your words and heart
    we mourned him again

    aloha, Poet!

  5. Cloudia-that was a wonderful sentiment and so true I have thought about Billy all day long
    Thankyou :-)

  6. It's truly sad that Billy, and those out there like him, feel they have nothing to live for.

  7. Powerful. Some friends of our lost their son this way in February. I commend you for finding the words and for sharing them with us.

  8. It's always bad for those left behind, those whom I call the "Should-haves." "I should have known," "I should have stopped him," "I should have been there," etc.

    Thanks for the poem and its backstory.

  9. Sometimes poems need background stories. Thanks for sharing.