Your father (my grandfather) showed me the football field,
where the bigger kids cleated you to stop you from playing.
Your stepmother, Louise, watched every game.
You snarled at her to stay off the field,
no matter what happens out there.
She struggled to hold herself back.
She remembers how you always fought
and told her, You’re not my mother.
There’s still amusement in her voice
as she relates how you, at twelve years old
figured out why you couldn’t get along
Louise, we’re just too much alike.
Your father pulled his pick up
off the shoulder of a small dirt road,
the same one he used to take you
to the hunting camp in Ten Sleep
He stepped out of the truck,
and pointed, across the dust
at the ranch where you grew up,
The house was right about there.
he says And that,
(finger sweeps left, precisely.)
is where your dad broke horses.
Twice, he pointed out
the Holly Sugar Plant
where he himself had worked for years
processing sugar beets.
He tells me, he got you that desk job,
there, that he wishes you’d kept
instead of going off to college.
if only he’d stayed, he says
and his voice cracks, like
it would have been different.
Want to see where he is?
your father asked, not waiting for my answer,
He drove to the cemetery.
Louise said he’s only come back once,
About twenty years ago.
She talked him into going.
She thought it had been long enough.
He fainted. she said and they never went back.
Even now, more than 30 years gone
he stumbles, but she’s ready
to help him back into the truck.
We sit at Chuck’s Grill, in Thermopolis,
to meet your brother David.
Your father drums his fingers on his
watch face, adjusts his hat brim.
Louise clasps his arm,
reminding him to take it easy.
I don’t notice when David arrives.
He just appears at the table
and shakes my hand
without commitment in his grip.
He stays almost silent, until finally
explaining that he’s deaf in one ear,
so I can talk towards the good one.
They should be telling me things
that a son would want to know about
his father, things that only families know
but only Louise, and she isn’t blood.
When she does, they let it pass
with tired nod or half smile.
Your father’s used all his stories,
and your brother would rather
act like he’s listening.
I wish I had some evidence of you
to show them that something
came of what they lost.
But I have nothing to give them.
I never had enough for my own reference.
Still, you are here
at this table, in between us,
your father, brother and son,
like the red plastic tablecloth,
beneath all of our hands,
what we’ve ordered.
Every day pumps hammer down,
swing up, pulling oil from the hills,
Mechanical hands pull sugar beets
and drop them into empty trucks.
Irrigation tubes decorate everything,
long fences of their thin linked arms,
cast shadows throughout the fields.
Earlier, your father pointed to them
and said, You have to bring the water in
or even the grass won’t grow here.
I stopped to see you again
on the way out of Worland,
before heading out of town.
I’d come a long way to leave
with nothing but snapshots of scenery
having only touched the holes you left
in others. I thought, maybe
you would speak to me alone.
I kneeled down at your marker,
traced your name with my fingertip,
trying to spell who you were.
I reached for what was left to say,
what I’d always wanted to ask,
but couldn’t find;
the words to finally bury you.
But, I couldn’t ask questions
you never answered for yourself.
For years I wished you were here
Some years I was glad you weren’t.
I don’t wish anything for you anymore.
I did all I could to see you
even knowing I wouldn’t see you,
there, where you’ve always been,
beneath the grass I kneel on,
a ghost that won’t stir in his coffin,
silent beneath a brass plate.