Garden Road

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The year turns again, just as in lost days when I waited in our farmhouse for the heater to kick on, less aware than my adult incarnation of the changes taking place in the grove and across the road at Richardson Cemetery, named after my great-great-great-great-grandfather.

In our playroom now, a velociraptor with a gash across its abdomen slowly dies. Once vicious, it releases stunted roars that sound like a cat just before it vomits. The cry seems intentional, in that it occurs exactly three seconds apart. The monster’s creator must have anticipated this end. It is an alarm clock that tells the raptor when to fall asleep.

The dinosaur is our opposite. Its body remains intact, except for a few playful scratches, the cries stop as a screwdriver pops out the life panel, and the old batteries are released before they corrode. All the creature needed was a few new watch batteries, silver and round.

It has been a year since my father died of cancer. I carried him to his resting place. The ceremony convinced my son Wes he did not like guns, as blank Garand rounds were fired above our farmhouse that could only come to life in late autumn. That was the only time it breathed on its own—by furnace—without the assistance of windows and a summer breeze.

On his urn was painted an American flag. My father fought on principal throughout his life, to a fault. An extremely intelligent man, he often let his emotions overwhelm his better nature. I am my father’s son. As the millennium turned from the 20th century, I dreamed of being shot at by machinegun fire, as the VA forced my father to write about a war that conditioned him to rise early and not easily trust. I was no warrior-poet, but I accepted my inheritance, and wrote a sermon I believed one day would provide my father his Purple Heart. It was called “Commandment,” but was originally named “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” It had the Quaker spirit toward an inevitable event. Its sister poem ended, “Who are you to fear a man who will die? Worms will eat him like wool, but God’s salvation is eternal.” My father liked that one better, and he kept it folded in his wallet. He showed it to his friends, who wondered why a son of Wes Selby would stoop to poetry.

We walked a fencerow that fall hunting pheasants, both of us carrying a shotgun, his weapon of choice. The next year, he bagged a deer with a .44 Magnum. That is one of the photographs on his funeral CD, mixed by Billy Thomas and his crew. A few summers ago, on the way home from Lineville, I bagged a deer with my 2006 Kia Optima. It could not be avoided.

My father was an old-fashioned hunter, in that he loved what he killed. When he was a kid, he owned a pet squirrel that crawled up his pantlegs. When I was young, he shot gray squirrels we ate for supper. One Christmas, he trapped and hunted raccoons to sell their hides to provide his children with gifts. Later, we bottle-fed a baby raccoon named Candy, who held the milk to succor with human-like paws. My father shot possums as pests. When a young one of this species fell from a tree in our front yard, we raised it like a cat until it turned feral and left us one fall night to find the constellation Osiris, in the dimly-lit machine shed, fed well but following its instinct to wander across the road to get lost in our hayfield.

My mother swears I cannot possibly have been old enough to remember, but I recall vividly the pain of chicken pox. We were in public, with many people gathered, perhaps at the county fair. It felt like bees had stung me all over my skin. That was my entire consciousness—I was waking up from birth, learning the human language, and much of my life at that point was this pain. I must have wondered why I had been wakened if this was the primary sensation I would experience. For all I knew, the suffering would never end.

Some natives of America and Africa prayed for the spirits of the animals they speared and shot with arrows before the fire, before the animal fell to their cunning, which kept their families from starving to death. They worshipped what they hunted. They buried their ancestors in mounds shaped like the animals they consumed.

I have been warned about men who would try to take the shape of my father. In Tennessee, the soldiers of Charlie Company told me never to trust professional storytellers, who would sound genuine, but are only masks of something human, with long ratty hair and holstering handguns for no other reason than they are mentally, physically and spiritually weak. These parasites switch bodies. When I carried my father to his mound, which has sunken in one year to level, I was bearing something real. There was no pretension. You could turn to leave the burial mound of your ancestors and not get shot in the back.