Nestled in the arm of the woods embracing its backside, the old barn housed his tools and gave him space to tinker. His hammers and nails, saws and drills still there, Nineteen years after he turned his face to the light of a hospital window, taking three breaths into himself before leaving us.
Forty years have passed since children played beneath the tin roof covering the bean sheller and the steps that lead into the place where he shaped baby cribs and picnic tables. Near the end, he made small crosses.
Young children spent hot summer days twirling broken pine needles or dried twigs in the sand funnels near the barn door, calling out the ant lions with singsong lyrics. “Doodle Bug, Doodle Bug, come for your supper,” “Doodle Bug, Doodle Bug, your house is on fire.” We believed the tiny, dirt-colored, backwards-moving larva wouldn’t come if we didn’t sing.
When it finally came, we wouldn’t see him right away; he pretended to be dead and looked like the dirt he hid in. We stopped twirling and stared until a tiny pebble shape twitched a little, scuttling backwards into the earth. “There he is! He came.”
Outside the children played with sticks and bug-calling songs; Inside the man made memories of benches and playful toys. A wooden button on a string will twirl, sing for hours when hands pump in and out, like the wings of a butterfly before its first flight. A child is told to be careful, not to let the string slip: someone too close could be hurt from flying wooden buttons.
Leaving wooden buttons, benches, children calling ant lions, his spirit seemed to lift through a narrow hospital window. Perhaps he heard a lilting call above the earth funnels, “Minton, Minton, come for your supper.”
*2007 winner of The John Robert Doyle, Jr. Prize, South Carolina Poetry Society