Barn Burner

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.