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One Time

One time when my mother was dying
slowly but surely in the nursing home
death creeping like bindweed over a field
my youngest daughter and I
drove out to Alliance the four hundred
miles from Omaha. We did that
a couple times. When we were there
we went once to a corner
north of town 10 miles where Uncle Buck
had his Quonset, across the highway
from Uncle Heavy’s place, and cousin Frank’s,
where there were the ruins of a house
just the basement remaining, bricks
in the ground, filled up, with bed springs,
old washers, bent pieces of scrap iron,
tin cans, bedframes—everything
imaginable from the time
before The Bomb and TV—all junk.
The Meth heads most likely
have cleaned that all out by now
fifteen years from the time
I took her up there to show her
where my dad and his brothers
had lived at one time.
I don’t know when it was.
All the uncles and my parents are dead now
these many years, and no one alive
who I know knows when it was—
this is just one of at least four places
my father’s family lived in Box Butte county
in the “Dirty Thirties,” when Grampy T.B.
and his boys made a living sharecropping.

Briana and I looked at the trash
and walked to the old tile-block cistern
that still stood like a monument
to thirst or impermanence
and she took a picture of me
in front of it, and I of her,
but no selfies—they hadn’t been
invented yet, nor the cell phone.
Another nod to impermanence,
those photos are somewhere in a box
and in a few years no one will know
why the photos were taken, and in a few years
no one will know who the people in them are,
and in a few years they will be chucked
into the trash bin outside someone’s home
as surely as I tossed hundreds
into the dumpster
when her grandpa died, the year after mom,
the last two I knew who could say
with any certainty who the ink
fading on those papers represented.

Just a few feet from the cistern
a depression in the stubble field
marked the place where buffalo
wallowed in the mud
my father said. The three round
grain bins Uncle Doc built in the ’60s
just east of the old foundation
I shoveled wheat in as a boy,
nearly choking in the dust
and auger fumes with my hay fever,
augering out the next load
after the next load my uncle Doc
hauled away in the faded green ’53
Chevy wheat truck to Deaver Grain
over in Berea, across ten miles
of dirt road you couldn’t cross
if rain came, that alone could save us.





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