The Elks at the Watering Hole

By: Steve Myers

Sundays they’d meander down from surrounding hills
                                                                                                  to the watering hole
just south of French Creek, where it joins the Allegheny, maybe twenty,
thirty on a good day in summer, the fog in no hurry to lift off the river,
& if I were visiting,
                                 my father-in-law would take me along, because
this was the rhythm of Venango County men, week after week, season
on season, for the members who hadn’t lost wives to dementia, cancer,
or a cheating heart,
                                    a chance to get away from the women, bullshit, maybe
win some money in the big drawing,

                                                                 the Iron City flowing & Wild Turkey,
not yet noon, a thumb-flicked Zippo, cover clicking back, scratchy rachet
of the wheel, flame-sputter, flame, head bowing, a face
                                                                                                  sudden, illuminated,
the long fhhhhhhhhhhh, with smoke stream, & a story would begin:

an Army jeep bouncing into a bombed-out Rhineland town, & in an old church
cellar, great shattered wine casks, you drank as you sloshed through it, dark,
                   someone’s uncle down the Mon Valley, the Gold Gloves boxer
who lost an arm; a lieutenant’s first whorehouse.
                                                                                       That was the talk,
and everything was Eddie, almost whispered, a shibboleth:
duck boots, fly rods, the Eddie Bauer Ford Bronco—Elks Masonic
to the nth degree.

                                 Laugh, move among them, wear the flannel, stand them
a round—still, I carried the scent of a distant country. One slight shift
of wind & heads would lift, the circle tighten.

Steve Myers has published a full-length collection, Memory’s Dog, and two chap- books. A Pushcart Prize winner, he has previously had sections of his Pennsylvania poem sequence in places such as Callaloo, Here, Juxtaprose, Kestrel, Penn Review, Permafrost, The Southern Review, Stone Canoe, and Tar River Poetry. Myers heads the poetry track for the MFA in Creative Writing at DeSales University.

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