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To Dig a Grave

Honorable Mention – 2018 Poetry Contest

We dig our father’s grave with a post hole digger.
My younger brother jabs the double blade into the dark soil.
Across the creek, coyotes yowl to the dusk.
We’re not used to hearing them.
They weren’t around when we grew up near here.

My brother rests against the handles.
Listen, he says. They’re scrumping.
I pry the digger from him for a turn.
And drive the blades into the earth.
Coyote scrumping, he says. They’re having at it

He would know. He’s scrumped around Florida for twenty years.
Though, for the last two he’s been seeing the same woman.
For him, a record span. I don’t know her name.
He doesn’t talk about her. I only know because
I sometimes hear her voice in the background on our occasional calls.

We’re putting the grave in behind Mom’s old home place.
She picked the spot, in a patch of yellow lilies beneath bowed pines.
We figure we need to go down at least four feet.
The coons around the farm are notorious for unearthing anything.
Though, I wonder if there’s enough in this urn to interest them.

When Dad left for Vietnam he was six foot two and struggling to a smile.
Here’s what we got back in the six-inch urn:
A fragment of Air Force-issue sunglass lens.
A few chips of charred bone.
The partial denture that once completed his smile. 

We all gathered to look inside last night.
And that’s what we saw.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re thankful.
After thirty years lost, we’re fortunate we got that much.
War has swallowed many men whole.

It’s soon so dark we can’t tell if we’re getting anywhere.
It gets harder after we hit clay.
But we keep digging anyway.
Neither of us wants to stop.
Each pull of the digger now grasping for a finger of the earth.

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Nathan Pyles lives in Lake Mills and works in the health and fitness industry. His essays, op-eds, and letters have appeared in Christian Science Monitor, The Hill, Non-Proliferation Review, Wall Street Journal, and Wisconsin State Journal.

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