A year ago today my father died. I was tempted to post the writings of another author or two, but ultimately it makes more sense to go with my own words.
So here’s a selection from the current draft of “The Grave Stompers,” which I hope to see published later this year (more details on that here). The story is a work of fiction, based loosely on a couple of very-real real-life Tennessee Grave Stompers I grew up hearing tales of.
I’d decided to write it up as fictional prior to my father’s passing, and then his death sent the story off on a slightly different course. So here’s the opening, which starts with a character based on me and my feelings at that time. ~rl
“It’s not goodbye.”
The words of a priest to a young man, spoken amid manicured grass and polished stones. Beneath a tent. Before a sealed casket. Cicadas in their seething millions sing the summer song of their emergence in the surrounding trees. The chorus rises and falls like the breath of the world.
He feels it against his skin.
“It’s not goodbye.”
He drags his hand across the polished wood of his father’s casket. Somehow it feels too smooth. There should be gaps or rises in the joinery, but his hand finds nothing of the sort. He spreads his fingers starfish-wide and strains to find some small imperfection in the craftsmanship. Anything to break the mathematical precession of the thing. Error of man or machine, either would give him calm and he does not know why.
But it is faultless. Absolute.
The young man raises trembling fingers to his face. His eyes are red, his features tense with creases. A gasp emerges from somewhere deep inside him. Tears and mucus stream his face.
The mucus never quite makes it into poems. As if all our leavings should run pure. As if we can hold grief itself up to the sunlight, clear as a glass of tap water, and expect to see through it. But it is murkier, far murkier. It is the brown waters of a swollen river. It is bilge and sediment. In its depths, it runs deeper and colder than we have power to measure.