top of page

"Don't Cry No Tears" • Neil Young & Crazy Horse (by Sheldon Birnie)

I’m out on the lake when the sun comes up. I’ve been here since the bar closed. It’s been light out, now, for an hour. 

I put the canoe in down off the bank where I keep it locked up, summers. Needed to clear my head. Forget about her for a while. So, I got paddling. 

The lake was like glass, a thousand stars reflected in the water, fingernail moon burning bright in the east. Across the water, I heard a voice singing, notes from a guitar echoing. I pointed the bow towards the sound.

Guy was playing a Neil Young tune. Don’t Cry No Tears. I had an idea who was doing the singing. When I pulled up to the end of the pier, my hunch was proven correct. It was the bartender from earlier, off shift sitting cross legged on a rock, lit cigarette stuck waiting in the bridge. My old buddy.

How do, pal? I called once he finished singing. Beauty tune. Sounds good.

What up, bud? Nice night for a canoe.

Hop in, I told him, extending my paddle to steady the boat. He did just that, sitting himself up front. Headed home?

Yessir. I knew the way. It’s a small town. I shoved off, backpaddled, orienting our craft for the journey. Any requests?

Keep the Shakey going, man. He obliged, running through some classics. After the Goldrush. Helpless. Cowgirl in the Sand. 

About midway, out in the open water, he stopped, pulled a number from his poncho. I laid the paddle aside and we burned it down. Above, the Milky Way hung, dazzling, sending pinpoints across the eons to ping back up off the surface of the lake. Polaris. The Big and Little Dipper. The emptiness between each point of light unfathomable. A meteor streaked across the sky from the west. 

Once, thousands of years earlier, one such stone from the great beyond had come burning down through the atmosphere, smashing its way through the earth where the east end of the lake now lays, ripping through the bedrock until it tore through a spring, hundreds of feet below the surface. The water rose up, flooding the area. How far down the rock went, nobody knows – the bottom of the bay there so deep, so muddy, so unclear, as to remain a mystery to this day.

Somewhere, on a far shore, the silence was broken as someone laughed, crashing and splashing into the icy lake. No doubt nude, howling at the sliver of moon above. Buddy picked up the guitar again, I my paddle, and off we went.

He continued playing. Pocahontas. Albuquerque. Powerfinger. In time, I paddled the canoe up on the beach not far from where I knew his family cabin to be. 

Thanks for the ride, bro. He disembarked, pulling another number from his pocket to toss my way. Safe travels.

You too. And thanks for the tunes, bud. 

He lumbered up the beach, disappearing in the shadows. I paddled back out into the lake again as the first hint of blue began creeping up from the treetops on the shore. While the dawn chased the stars first the stars and then the moon from the sky, I let the canoe float, drifting idly. I burned the number down, but it didn’t help. The loss still weighed too heavy.

As the loons started their haunting caterwaul, I felt the tears roll down my sunburned cheeks. I didn’t bother to wipe them away, this time.

Sheldon Birnie is a writer, dad, beer league hockey player and erstwhile musician from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He is the author of Where the Pavement Turns to Sand (Malarkey Books, 2023) and can be found online @badguybirnie


bottom of page