by Joel E. Jacobson
A boy walks down to the lake,
leaving the others, the talkers,
back in the echo of a dusty chapel. He
makes his way to the far side
where the embankment rises
several feet and sits down.
He fingers a small, rough rock,
comes to know its sharp edges
and gently flips it, counting the skips.
A man died this morning.
Not his dad, not the strong, gentle giant,
but a weak man, a sick man,
a shadow of a man
who refused to acknowledge
that he was dying, dead.
The dead man’s son was there
in the chapel when he got word
and drove home without really saying
goodbye. The rest of them sang songs, and
took communion, not really understanding God
on the morning a father died.
Another rock. Four, five, six…
A small trout flips from the water,
nips a bug, and dives back into
the shallow depths of the little camp lake.
There are only two types of fathers:
living and dead. Sure, there’s the drunkards,
the absent, the violent, the fill in the blank
but they’re a hollow existence in the eyes
of their children. It seems the good ones
die first, but find a way not to.
The dining hall bell rattles birds
from the trees, sharpness from morning’s chill.
The boy can hear the girls squawking–
small wonder the fish ever leapt at all.
He climbs to his feet, the dirt clinging
to his jeans, to his canvas shoes.
A small trail of pebbles plop
into the water. The boy
takes his time walking back
knowing a little more
than he understands.