time to time he goes to pray.” I don’t know all the names on the
stones in my father’s plot of memories and regrets. I’ll never
know all he’d seen inside the bodies and hearts opened to him,
all he’d forgotten or decided to forget. But I imagine they are
there, clustering around him still—for one spirit never leaves
another — in a chorus of anger and grief and grace. Don’t worry,
Doc. We know you did your best.
Making dinner on an ordinary night, I was listening to Classical Minnesota Public Radio when the men’s vocal group Cantus
began to sing.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me.
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
You used to rock me in the cradle of your arms.
You said you’d hold me till the pains of life were gone.
You said you’d comfort me in times like these and now I need you.
Now I need you, and you are gone.
In my kitchen I stood frozen and weeping, gripping the edge
of my counter as if it were an altar because to let go was to let
go of that ringing note of beauty that was cutting some ragged
TWO WEEKS after the memorial service, I climbed into the Stal
before dawn, heading back to the airport. A pale shape loped
through my headlights. Coyote. I hit the gas. The old engine
roared. I almost had him, the son of a bitch who kept me awake
all week when I wanted sleep more than oxygen but had to keep
pushing my sandy eyes open and my cheeks into a smile. But
suddenly the coyote ducked right and disappeared.
Coyotes are common all over Iowa too. On freezing nights
their songs needle down off the river bluffs and into my warm
living room, where my cats shiver and flatten their ears.
The world goes on. No matter what I’d rather do about it.
“MAYBE YOU COULD USE his phone,” my mother offers, six
months later. “It’s just sitting here.” I’m the family technophobe
and cheapskate intellectual, with a million theories about how
screens fuck us up. I do need a phone. But speaking through
the device that held my father’s voice creeps me out and saddens
me. Maybe I can download the messages, though, to save them.
Maybe I can download the pictures.
It’s a jolt to unwrap the familiar black iPhone in its battered
blaze-orange-and-Realtree-camo case. When I scroll through
the pictures, I see through his eyes. Instruction manuals and
my niece on her pony and tractors for sale and my own flowering garden in Iowa and small things he considered beautiful:
Wild Cahaba lilies in the swamp. Spring crabapple blossoms.
Galaxies of tiny white flowers in the grass. The sign my mama
propped in the driveway when the killdeer chicks took over the
front yard: Caution! Baby Birds in Road! And over and over, my
Mythic wildlife, too, were here. There was the nine-foot alligator baited with raw chickens until it bit down on a four-pronged
hook. There was a red-eyed snapping turtle thrashing in the back
of a truck. And at the sandy edge of pine woods stood a man
hoisting, on a chest-high stick, a rattlesnake so big each end
almost touched the ground, its thick body shaggy with scales, its
head fist-sized. It is a sleepy, murderous beast. It is a blast of Old-Testament desert-hearted myth. And it is something my father
would have taken great pleasure in thumbing back to, savoring
it as a sign that the world had not yet been thoroughly explained.
He looked to see those signs. So do I. That’s how I’ll remember