I keep thinking about this word: bifurcates. It means to split, like the heart splits into different valves or the bronchi split into separate lungs.
Does that remind you of trees?
There was this huge, old magnolia that split like that in Dad’s front yard. The two sides split and reached in opposite directions. Magnolia petals fell everywhere. My little brother and I would grab up as many as we could and stuff them all under the back porch.
What else did you bury under the porch
When we were little, we liked to stir mud soup into deep plastic bowls. After a rain, we’d sit in the backyard lifting mud into our bowls. Once while we were stirring, a baby bird fell out of a tree and plopped into the dried leaves right beside us. It was bald and barely alive, jerking its little bone wings. I scooped it into a magnolia petal. The mom bird never came looking, so we built a shrine out of leaves and browned petals under the porch.
The bird stayed alive all day and night, just blinking around its petal bed. In the morning, we ran out to check first thing, and its body was so still, but my brother blew on it and it jerked again. We sat beside it in the sand and shells under the porch, taking turns blowing every couple minutes to see if it was still alive. When it died we buried it under the porch. After, knee-walking around the grave, we played house with the petals and leaves. Here’s a stack of plates, here’s a cup, here’s a broom
Have you prayed for your father to be strong?
He said when he died he wanted to become a plum tree. He said he was a pirate before I was born. He said when he first held me, he laughed because he never thought he’d make it past thirty but there he was at thirty-seven with a brand new life in his hands. Then his daddy died right after I was born. I bet his pirate part died right when his daddy died. But he reached down and grabbed me up and looked at me and thought, Well, all right now, because most parents give their pirate parts to their kids. It’s different for me, though. I’m too young to have a baby, so I’m not sure where to look or how to reach down.
Where will you go after he dies?
Dad still owns the house with the porch and the magnolia tree, but there’s this flimsy fence under the porch now. He built it to keep out the strays. The other day I pulled it apart and crawled under there. I could barely fit, and there was nothing left. No petals or bowls or leaves. Just dirt and shells, bare like it was before we buried the bird.
When was the last time you went to church?
When I was little, our church gave out hot doughnuts. I’d squash them until they were flat, and the glaze on my fingers made my skin the same color as the doughnut. I wondered why we ate those gross crackers instead of doughnuts when we tasted Christ.
The crackers are a metaphor.
Some doctor said Dad’s brain is busted. Just meat. When everyone’s done sobbing and saying goodbye, they’ll turn off the electric lungs, and he’ll disappear into stardust or whatever. Do you think his soul will twinkle up to heaven like Peter Pan? He didn’t believe in all that. He said, This is all you have. The body of your life and the anatomy of your body.
He’ll be there, even if he doesn’t believe.
My little brother folded Dad in a magnolia petal and we built a shrine around him, knee-walking while we built. The sand and shells pressed crescents into our skin under the back porch while we took turns pushing air through the trunks of our lungs, watching Dad twitch until he was good and dead. We’ll bury him there, under the porch. Dad and the petals decomposing, and out pops a tiny plum tree with a skinny trunk, straight and strong enough to knock over the porch and the house. The house falls over, and the tree splits in the middle so my brother and I can climb it and straddle it and peel the bark and pick the leaves and pile them into plates and cups and brooms. We’ll eat the plums and lick the dirt off our fingers, right there in the crack of the trunk.
Story image credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Steve Jurvetson