Old Charlie sat in country sunshine,
his town hat pulled right down
to offer his squint some relief
from his mournful, perpetual frown.

His hands, once steady on leather reins,
shook gently on either thigh
and he stole borrowed smoke as the young went past
another pleasure his doctor denied.

He chatted with the words he had left,
spare ... and with pauses between.
Stories once lived and often retold
of the places and people he'd seen.

He was selling tickets when I walked past,
just killing some time in his town.
“Money for kids with the cancer” he said,
took my coins with hands creased and brown.

I asked enough questions to draw a response,
reluctant but steady enough
and his eyes met mine, all fire and blue,
“some of us mate, have it tough”.

Charlie had joined before Tojo weighed in,
had been with the 19th on Crete.
Had hid from the Hun when the battles were lost:
returned to the farm in retreat.

A hearty young lass soon caught his eye,
along the hard wooden pews he would stare.
Long walks holding hands and the eventual kiss
till it ended with rice in their hair.

His war-broken soul was reborn and alive
he grinned proud at her fast growing girth
and it might have stayed so, as he held his new son,
if his wife had not died during birth.

Ten hard years, in house and in yard
raising a sickly young child.
For the boy was pale, from his first breath,
too soft, too ill and too mild.

It was cancer they said, that bought on the end
and withered the boy from his mark.
So Charlie made another dirt mound,
by the tree with her name in the bark.

He held on to the farm, as neighbours gave way,
outlasting the floods, droughts and banks.
Till a fall from horse, broke his old back
and he sold it for a feedlot to Yanks.

Leaning a bit, he gives his chin a soft rub,
brings his story to a shrugged close.
His eyes are drifting over old times,
to other days, better days, I suppose.

I thanked him politely for sharing his tale,
dropped some coins into his poke.
He nodded and said “here's your tickets mate.”
“No thanks”
I was a winner from the first time he spoke.

Poet's Note: A story from the streets of Inverell and a chance meeting with an old bloke selling tickets at a card table, outside the Australian Hotel. From the new collection, "Straightening My Tie", released in December 2014.