A Late Encounter With a Former Mentor

He retired to a college town
and there I saw him, in a bagel place
on the main street, downtown.
The look on his face?
I guess I’d call it unfulfilled,
as if fifty years of work had killed
whatever heart had beat within
that trunk, now weak and thin.

He didn’t recognize me as he stared
off into space.
His wife buttered his toast with care,
he seemed lost in the place.
He’d thrown a book at me once,
called me names, thought me a dunce;
I had every reason to be smug
at his now-lowly state, his bitter mug.

Except, I recalled, a son of his had died
in his twenties.  I’d played squash with the boy,
who later left home and moved west, tried
his hand at careers as if they were toys,
just what kids do with time on their hands;
why not put on different lives in different lands?
The old man had let him go, I’m sure reluctantly,
but understanding youth must be free.

I was gone from the firm when I heard the news;
a head-on crash, two young men dead.
Who knows if they were smoking pot, or if booze
played a part?  If so, it would be left unsaid
among friends of the family; no need to libel
his name, they’d read a verse from the Bible
over the grave, something the son would not have done
at least until his father’s years had run.

I looked at the frail figure in a diner booth; I recalled
that I hadn’t sent a sympathy card to the man.
We’d parted badly, he was galled
that I’d spoiled his plan
that I’d take over for him some day
since his son neglected work for play.
I didn’t speak then either, just passed on.
That part of my life and his was gone.

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