I awoke in the field hospital at Shangri-La.
All clean and warm and dry.
My foot throbbed and sort of oozed a bit.
But the pick was gone.
“Bless you,” I said
To the Company doctors,
Feeling very grateful.
They just smiled and took my pulse.
A few days later
I learned it was Arthur
Who saved my foot,
Not the doctors.
Some of the men from my gang
Came to visit me in Auckland
At the big hospital
Where I’d been transferred,
And they told me all about it.
“When the doctors at Shangri-La
Saw what a mess your foot was in,”
Said my workmates,
“They was going to just
Cut the bleedin thing off.
But Arthur laid into them something fierce!
That got ‘em shifting their bloody asses pronto
To save you…
And your bleedin foot!”
My workmates laughed heartily
At the memory and added,
“They wasn’t ready for a bleedin
Bastard like our Arthur!”
“Nobody ever is!” I said,
And the men laughed even more.
The men laughed because it was true.
Have you ever noticed how
The truly brave face life
With laughter in their hearts?
Then, with a rare but temporary sense
Of respect, they added,
“That Arthur! He sure showed them!”
Oh! The contradictions of life!
Now they were proud
Of the terrible gang boss
They’d once feared.
Later Arthur visited me
At the big hospital in Auckland, too.
“You’ll be okay, you little shit!” he snarled.
I was nervous about his visit until
He laughed and said the Company
Wanted their pick back.
As we talked I could see for the first time
That Arthur was actually a human being,
And not just a ferocious gang boss
Always shouting orders
And wanting things done.
So I asked him
Why he was so tough
On me in the beginning,
When I first joined his gang.
“The men had to see
That I showed no favorites,” he replied.
“And I wanted you to learn,” he added,
“To stand upon your own two feet.”
Then he roared with laughter!
“Two feet!” he laughed.
“A-haw haw haw!”
“Huh?” I said, but then I got it and
I began laughing too.
“Shhhh,” hissed the nurse
Who came running.
“Quiet please! This is a hospital!”
“Oh, shit!” whispered Arthur sheepishly
When he’d caught his breath.
“Humph!” she answered,
Staring us down like we were naughty children.
Like most healthy men,
Arthur despised the hospital.
And I think he was a little
Intimidated by the nurse, too.
I know I was.
“Well, take ‘er easy, mate,” whispered Arthur,
Anxious to be gone.
“Wait a minute, Arthur,” I said.
“I’d like to thank you…”
“Forget it!” said Arthur.
Then to change the subject
He cursed hospitals ferociously
For about ten minutes
Hardly stopping for breath,
Ending with something about the nursing staff,
And what the whole bloody lot of them
Could bleedin-well do
With their blasted hospital!
Then he said goodbye and walked out,
Followed by the nurse’s stern,
Yet I thought somehow admiring, gaze.
He’s been dead a long time,
Arthur the gang boss.
Killed in an accident
A few years later
When a Caterpillar D-9
Ran off its own tracks
And tumbled down an embankment.
Arthur was standing at the bottom
Of the embankment,
Urinating against a bush.
They say he never knew what hit him.
But I wouldn’t know.
I’d already left by then
To begin my journey as an artist.
Sometimes I wonder where Arthur is now.
I hope he’s happy,
And not squashed too flat
By the bulldozer to enjoy the afterlife.
Because I owe him a lot.
A lot he wouldn’t want, probably.
And instead of sentimental horse shit
Like saying you’re welcome,
He would probably suggest
Most strongly that I shove it!
Way up where the sun don’t shine!
So from the year 2016,
Arthur, wherever you are,
From the bottom of my heart
As I stand upon my own two feet,
I thank you!
I love you.
You big son-of-a-bitch.