While the world ends, burns, drowns, starves, I remember
summers at the house my mother rented awhile
outside Tuscaloosa, a two-story log cabin built by a judge
for his wife, two sons, and two daughters: two wings,
with connecting bedrooms upstairs in each, divided
by a high-ceilinged room with a fieldstone fireplace
where we spent nights reading—Tolkien for me,
Sayers or Christie for Mom. Sometimes out of the hush
came a staccato click-click-click-click-click-click-click:
wood-boring beetles, working their way through the walls.
“Killer invasives, just like kudzu,” Mom said, but now I think
they’d always lived there. Late one autumn afternoon,
Mom came home to find the screen across the porch
slashed through, and shallow gashes in the doorframe:
a visit from one of the judge’s daughters, who drove
from her apartment a few towns over to remind anyone
that she had grown up there and it was always hers.
That first summer, Mom was tending her own grief,
for her mother, often shut herself in her bedroom all day
while I wandered the surrounding pine woods,
pines swaying in the hot breeze, their creaking and rustling
making my neck tingle, certain someone was following me,
grit getting in my shoes, irritating my toes.
I’d circle back to the enormous yard gone half-wild
yet half-recalling its old blackberry brambles
and weedy beds of rosemary, marjoram, sage—
names Mom taught me. Back inside, I’d sneak
a few vanilla wafers from the pantry, head upstairs
and re-read The Lord of the Rings. One morning,
I dreamed the elves came to wake me in my bed.
Spread between us on my rumpled bedclothes
lay their rings, all three: their gift. For me?
Really? There they shone. Yes, said the elves,
a little sadly, we’re done with them, you need them
more than we do, and they smiled somberly, watching
my hands rush through the sheets in whose furrows
the rings were lost as I woke, still searching.
Where do the worlds go we never held?
Maybe we’ll haunt whatever we can’t imagine
comes after us—me, for instance, emptying
my dehumidifier’s bucket in my garden
at dawn, picking basil to flavor my eggs.
Brad Richard reads “Then Again”
Brad Richard is the author of Habitations, Motion Studies, Butcher’s Sugar, and Parasite Kingdom. His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Laurel Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Green Mountains Review, and Xavier Review. After teaching talented young people for twenty-eight years, he now writes almost full-time, teaches in the Kenyon Review Summer Writers Workshop for Teachers, and is open to new opportunities.