Crickets signal the need for sacrifice,
a thanks for good harvest,
appeasement for the war gods of winter.
The frost is overdue.
Near the end of October,
the mosquitoes hum and bite
as I still sit on the front porch.
Today I watch the taillights of your truck recede
down the narrow one-way street.
The changing of the leaves
signaled your need to depart
before the biting cold returns.
Our visits this summer were an archeological dig,
a mining of memories, resurrecting artifacts of the dead.
So many years from our hard-scrabble farmer roots,
we pick up particles of death and
call them family stories.
We visit that small West Virginia county our people called home.
No farmhouse now on Bloody Run,
a rusty, shell of a footbridge dangles over the creek,
the steep hillsides required a scythe to cut the hay.
No signs people ever lived here,
never owning the land, no graves left behind.
We find the old high school, the church,
and discover, in aimless driving, a sign,
directing us to a familiar cemetery.
Nearly obscured by trees,
branches over-hang the road,
lean from high banks above it,
crowding us toward the center.
A lean-looking man, eyes us with suspicion as we pass.
More deer live here than people, always have.
We climb the hill to the end of the road,
a cleared, mown cemetery and
point to family names surrounding us.
You worry we will be perceived as trespassers,
I say if we do not belong here, who does?
Later, we check out the one-room schoolhouse.
a plaque lists more family names.
All summer we have come together and departed,
always confirming, questioning, re-telling,
until in autumn’s chill I am grateful for respite.
I put aside the bones of our ancestors,
turning my thoughts to the miles
you have already traveled and
wondering if we will ever meet again.
We gnaw the bones of our ancestors,
Meat long gone, seeking the marrow.
As dawn breaks, a vortex of dead
surround us as we merge into the light.
Even the shadows have shadows here.
At the abandoned farmhouse,
trees cocoon us in quiet,
we take respite from the sweltering heat.
Old Blaze roses claim the fragile front porch,
seem to hold it together with thorns so wicked
we do not pick any for remembrance.
Weeds and vines encroach, crowding out once riotous
peonies, bachelor buttons, zinnias.
Farther out the skeletons of dead fruit trees
are shadows of themselves,
and their shadows, leafless,
spread long fingers across the landscape.
In the woods along the creek we seek memories
of crawcrabs scurrying under rocks,
minnows flitting in the shallows.
The dry creek, silent now, gives no solace.
The only sounds a strange susurration,
like rain on leaves, but not rain,
instead frass and leaf bits dropping through the canopy.
In the distance the eerie scream of a rabbit
tells another story of loss so other life can continue.
Once the family here hunted rabbits and groundhogs,
sprayed insecticides on caterpillars,
but it is the people who are gone,
returning the land to nature.
Saddened, sobered, we turn to leave,
one last view of the old house
collapsing in on itself.
Only echoes of children running in and out,
slamming the screen door now hanging by a hinge.
Bird babies now in rooms once housing human babies,
who grew, left the nest, did not return.
The grass, bleached and dried by the sun,
only the grave of the old dog still green
having provided its own fertilizer.
The sins of our fathers wash over us,
let the blessings of our mothers cleanse us,
nothing the same since Grandma died.
Darkness makes us vulnerable
reaches those deep spaces inside
where fear resides,
overtaking rational thought.
Fear tastes of iron and copper,
smells of sulfur and methane,
sounds like snarling and shrieks in the night.
We construct our beliefs from the debris of our lives,
promises never kept,
fear holds us back from the richness of life.
Fear has a companion,
Hate is always looking for a new home,
hate is lazy,
builds on the foundation prepared by fear,
saves its energy,
lets fear do the heavy lifting.