"But first, baby, as you climb and count the stairs (and they total the same), did you, sometime or somewhere, have a different idea?
Is this, baby, what you were born to feel, and do, and be?"

-Kenneth Fearing

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tour of Your Wyoming


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,

obscured underneath.

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.


  1. This is a fabulous piece of writing, such a beautiful way of expressing you feelings about the loss of so much. I hear you voice so we and can really relate to it. You could be talking about my father if we'd lived in the USA. The mood you create with such simplicity is tangible, and yet you stick to use ordinary words and images. It's all so very clear and simple, yet hugely powerful. To achieve so much with so little speaks volumes about your excellence as a writer. Thanks.

  2. Thank you Mick! I appreciate your thorough reading. Accesibility was a question I had doing this piece. I'm glad it came through as relevant to you!