Barbecue pits are for banked fires and picnics, but this
is no barbecue. I am bundled into a chair, blanket
on my knees, mug of tea in hand, marshmallows a
distant, dismissed thought. So much poison in this
funeral pyre. I wouldn’t want to eat of what issues forth
from this roaring pit, its fires eating into corpses
of my father’s outbuildings. He called them his barns,
but they were never so grand as that. They were rough,
little more than lean-tos, built by summer labor. I sweated
and swore my way through driving nails and hefting
boards, hanging insulation and stapling wire, caulking
bolts and begging to be old enough to leave this hell
of being held hostage by my father’s farming.
None of this feels like it was that long ago. Certainly
not long enough ago to be memories with a man
who’s died. I know it cannot ever feel like long ago. There is
not enough time. There is never enough time. I dismiss
the thought. There is poison in that pyre too.
I have traded the hell of hostage for the hell of mourning,
of seeing ha’penny nails glow red, let go, and air rush in
to feed a fire so starved for fuel that it will not be choosy
as it licks across moldy fiberglass, termite-eaten plywood,
jagged paneling we tacked in place to keep the barn walls
whole, not enough years ago. I don’t know why those walls
are groaning, now, in their final misery as they sink into ash.
Shouldn’t they be happy to not be forced to house moldering
rusting mouse-eaten remnants of capitalism’s shipwreck?
To not hold wasp nests, now going from gray paper to red-
hot ash, flying up, up, as so many of their inhabitants did when I
was tasked with stepping in to fetch some welding supplies
for whatever Dad was doing? Why do I not see their glow as
jubilant, as entering a new phase of life, ashen but ready
for what comes next?
I first met her when Dad called her Dog, edge
to his voice and grumble undertone, but he
went out of his way to pet her each time
he saw her, and once or twice I caught
him telling her she was a good Dog. She’d tear
across the neighbor’s pasture, wriggle through
the torn wire fence, rocket up the driveway until
she found Dad, sitting on the porch, waiting,
watching. Dog would walk with him to the barn,
follow him through chores and maintenance,
and she’d chase rabbits and cats and dreams
of both. Dad would call to her, “Dog, hey Dog,
you get back here,” laughing despite himself.
What they had was special. I knew this
the morning I dropped by and Mom told me
Dad had fixed the dog some buttered toast. Dad,
who never did anything so sentimental for any
of his human family, prepared a meal for this
Dog. Bailey, we learned, belonged to the neighbors
down the way, who have horses and train dogs
professionally. They had wondered where Bailey
was going every day, and why she came back
home so happy.
They didn’t say goodbye. Bailey was there when the
hospice nurses had treats for her, sitting in her chair
on the porch, waiting. I did my best to pet her the way
she liked, and she gave me a happy-dog face because
she could tell I needed it, but I was not Dad and she wanted
to see him. When my husband drove Dad’s truck around
so it would be out of the way of the bereavement parade,
Bailey got excited, met him at the door, and when
it opened and Dad wasn’t there, she stopped, a little
confused, a little hurt, looking past him for a man
who wasn’t coming back.
Marybeth Niederkorn is the author of a lot of work, some of which has appeared in numerous publications. Her 2019 poetry collection, Times Knew Roamin’, is available from Spartan Press. She lives in rural Missouri with her husband.