I grew up at the end of a dirt road
on a creek you’ve never hear of,
off a spur, that if you drove up it
you wouldn’t know why
when you got there.
Daddy drove cat for old man Stimpson
until he rolled it down the mountain
and broke his back. They said he was lucky,
being thrown clear. But Daddy said
pain talked to him every day
and he didn’t like the conversation.
I started picking ferns, barking chittam
and selling mushrooms; made spinners
and tied trout flies; got used to getting by.
We ate venison and rabbit, nettles,
quail and grouse, trout and crawdads.
I learned to drink thunder water
on the spine of Mitchell hill.
When I was grown, Mama gave me a hundred dollars
she’d saved; told me to go to town.
Get a job, she said, make a life.
But I didn’t want to change tires,
stock shelves, or join the army.
She withered up after that
tending her little patch of flowers
along the path to the spring.
Forty years later, I’m still getting by.
I’ve planted trees and cleaned toilets
for the parks, but I never left the woods,
even when I had to sleep in my truck.
There’s still a place or two left
to pick mushrooms, and I get along
alright with the dope growers.
I’ll deliver illegal smoked salmon
if you get word from one of my regulars.
And when you hurry your kids along
in the grocery store, I understand,
I won’t be there long.
“Getting By” appeared in Pemmican, the chapbook Men at the Gates,
Finishing Line Press and Getting By, Logan House Press. It was also
featured on The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor.