While eating a funnel cake I saw him,
walking down from the uphill side of Main
where factory houses are stacked like cards.
That day he must have felt a little out of place
with the starched collars and tourist faces
of the Harland County Apple Festival,
tall, gray hair in a cowlick, wearing work boots
and overalls without a shirt,
looking like he had just awakened
from a third-shift-induced slumber.
I sat on a curb as he crossed the street
to a hippie vendor counting change.
"Where are your ham hocks?" he asked,
clearing sawdust from his throat with a loud hawk,
looking red-eyed and clearly confused.
"We sell hammocks, man – woven by Mayan Indians,"
the vendor replied with a faint smile and a nervous tug
on the shirttail of his sweater.
He spat on the ground beside him.
"I read your sign from my front porch,
walked all the way down the hill...,
aimin' to get me some ham hocks."
Hands in his pockets, the long-haired vendor
only shrugged his shoulders and smiled again.
The old man walked out into the street
among the crowds of balloons and baby strollers,
squinted his eyes at the vendor's sign above,
and scratched the stubble on the end of his chin.
He walked up to the booth once more,
stooping to get under the canvas awning.
"So you don't sell ham hocks then?"
he asked again in a querulous voice.
"Nope," the vendor answered with finality
and, almost mockingly, asked
"What are ham hocks?"
With a look like a slap in the face,
the old man backed away, bumping clumsily
into a young couple eating candy apples.
I turned to sneeze,
blowing powdered sugar off my paper plate,
but lifted my head in time to observe
the old man slip behind the vendor's booth
unnoticed by others,
hook the toe of his brogan
around a corner pole.
The falling canvas captured
the hippie and two customers
as a cowlick head of hair
sauntered away, disappearing
behind a bee-swarmed dumpster.
in Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel 7 (Fall 1999) 26.