By the back door an umbrella stand
without umbrellas. It’s reserved
for canes. Plain and painted crooks,
a duck’s head; gnarled mesquite,
a brass knob mounted on polished oak.
One that might be blackthorn,
from an Irish ancestor,
a story we never knew.

My father would stand there sizing up
the morning, then pick one from the cluster.
You never knew when a rattlesnake
might slide across your path, so be ready.
Down the rutted road, through the cottonwoods,
around the pond he’d stocked
with bass and bullfrogs, along
the wire fence and past the incurious
gaze of cows, finally upslope
to the waiting coffee, the chair, the books.

Now they are my canes, and I understand
they were never meant only for snakes.
It’s such an uneven road, the hills
grow steeper year by year, and the hand
wants something companionable
to fill its grip. And for the eye looking back,
it’s a comfort to see some evidence,
that dotted third track, like punctuation,
there alongside the boot marks.

Michael Harty divides his time between poetry and the practice
of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. His work has appeared in
New Letters, Comstock Review, Measure, I-70 Review, and
elsewhere, and he is the author of a chapbook, The Statue
Game. He lives near Kansas City.
by Michael Harty