Friday, June 08, 2007

The Drifter Dreamer (and me)

Written not long after Pentecost in the summer of my graduation from Notre Dame, "The Drifter Dreamer" despite some ill-metered verses and a main character who's a cross between Boys Town's Fr. Flanagan and Clint Eastwood's Spaghetti Westerns, still resonates among the younger male set. My own conversion was just coming into completeness, and I was just realizing the gift God gave me in working with kids ... could be combined with my "way with words" ...


Into town there once came a Drifter Dreamer
A handsome man who as far as we knew hadn't a name
We never knew then what to call him; nor now when we recall him
All we know is that the town is not the same

He wandered into our world with a whisper
But we soon felt thunder in his every step
When the Drifter came to call, there was laughter for one and all
But only wonder when he finally left

He told us that he had a dream
A dream that all his life had made him drift
"So with all respect due, I'll be just passin' through."
But on his way he sure made our ways shift

He drank firewater with all our "worst"
An' preached Fire an' Brimstone against all our "best"
He proved just as in tune downin' shots in our saloon
As callin' them for our Sunday Service on an hour's rest

He'd boom the old spirituals 'round the barroom
And we chugged as we cheered each fine choice
But once we got enough chances to groan, he'd sing some of his own
And we all knew the man truly possessed a voice

Once some hustlers dealt him a few hands
And soon he had left with every dime that was there
Then he turned right around and said, "Let's drink these bets down!"
And made sure both shark and citizen were served an equal share

He soon had all the women he wanted
But they soon found all he wanted was talk
To those out for sex, he shrugged "I get more than enough exercise
so you might as well all take a walk."

At night the Drifter was always in sight
But he rarely passed among us during the day
And when we'd corner him at dusk and ask where he was
He'd wink but he never would say

Some assumed he went out and drank whiskey
Some claimed all he did all day long was go pray
Many of us young ones were told that his life must have been golden
Others scoffed that at best it was gray

Well, maybe his private life weren't perfect
It was the one thing of which he would never tell
But though I was then but eleven
I swore if the Drifter didn't make it to heaven
Then none of us stood a fat chance against hell

But whether you were skeptic or believer
There was one point on which all were quite clear
Whenever the Drifter Dreamer departed
There wasn't a soul without tear

But no one ever saw him WHILE he was leavin'
'Til the one day I chanced to pass him by
When he called, "Who are you?" I just froze and turned blue
His looks could kill and I thought I must die

Instead he eased me as he seized me with his smile
And he asked if I too had a dream
Pretendin' to be tough, I said "I'm too old for that stuff."
He said, "I bet you're not as young as you seem."

Then he laughed, doffed his hat, and began disappearin'
Dancin' a jig of a sort off into the sunset
As far as the town has discerned, the Drifter's never returned
But his last words remain strong with me yet

As for his fate, the townies all had their theories
"Married a rich widah" or "settled down strikin' gold"
But their stories don't fool me; if he's alive, he's drifting
The Drifter would die before he ever got old

The Drifter's legend, I hear, is now fadin'
And with it, his dream will fade too
I guess it's always the same for those men who remain
—But in me the Drifter's dream has come true


Tom O'Toole
August, 1981

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