When it rained the pink roads turned red as if split to blood, stratified capillaries ruptured by a pummeling June deluge, a bloodletting between silken ripe pastures. Puddles, too, bleeding their leak of radon
. — born between 1950 and 1963 —
statistically too many, in a small county, early dead of rare cancers stemming, perhaps, maybe
. — who will know for sure, who will tell —
from radioactive strip mines and water and roads, and radioactive fallout that swept northeast in currents from the American Southwest where atom bombs blew skyhigh their strontium-shit while we
. — all five children —
were womb-bound and then youngsters under a windy sky and rain littered with chemical decay.]
What was dust, now mud: molecules bound tight to each other, and to us. When we went tromping roads in black galoshes the clay clung to the rubber and then exponentially upon itself until our feet felt encased in concrete and a single step forward turned Sisyphean.
Still, we trundled, scraping the clay off with sticks when the task of trudging became near impossible. We ascended hills, sometimes crawling on all fours, because always beyond the crest lay a moment beyond average: checkerboard snake snoozing on the shoulder; a ten-point buck leaping its height over a fence, without grunt or huff — all elegant silence; or a waddling possum caught unawares as we crested, and so falling faint, the possum, playing possum, dead but not dead in the middle of the road, and one of us, each of us, me, I recall, pressing a finger against the stiff fake corpse to feel the hardness of pretend death.
Later, at night, unable to sleep for the stifling heat of the house and my whirligig brain, I’d turn on my side and bare my teeth and pop my eyes wide and go rigid head to toe to see if I could fake my way out of whatever predators lay in wait, crouched in the sticky dark future of my untethered imagination.
Until I remembered buzzards.
They’re vultures, really, those carrion feeders — turkey vultures — but we called them buzzards. Everyone did. The cattle farmers and pig farmers losing livestock, now and then, here and there, through a hole in a fence or broken gate, and the cow or pig dying lost in the woods or sunk in some muck in the low fields and dying then, too. Putrefying.
Buzzards circle the dead. Remind us: It’s getting late, kids! It’ll be dark soon!
Back then they were things of beauty. Wide-winged birds that lived off what didn’t live. Black silhouettes against bright blue. And when they swung low, their silver underwings glinted like scimitars swinging over our heads.
Nothing preyed on buzzards but pickups speeding down two-lane highways. The birds entranced stupid by the delectable dead, caught blind to their own demise. And the guys driving those pickups? Hotheaded farm boys speeding in for the kill, racking up points against life’s inequities, hesitation and haste, bad choices pushed off to the side of their one-lane road.
In the dusk behind my father’s sunken glance, buzzards circle the dying: It’s getting late. It’ll be dark soon.
He’s 94. Body tormented and wheelchair bound. Skull caving round a failing brain. His children forgotten. His nurses pinched. I hear he watches old videos of himself walking the fields of a farm no longer his and asks, “Who’s that man there?” Then pauses. Asks, “Who’s those buzzards?”