INTRODUCTION + HAAG'S BIO
We were sitting on the porch, Pop Brawley and I, in the late summer in the sun, not doing much. He was just rocking and I was putting my needle in and out of a piece of needlepoint, not wearing my glasses. I'm nearsighted and never wear my glasses to read or stitch. A great big black fly kept landing first on him, then on me. At last, lazily, not brushing the fly away, Pop said:
"I believe it's a pregnant fly, Glory."
There was a long silence. I kept on stitching. Only Buck ever called me "Glory." I expected "Hallelujah," to ring in the still hot air soon after. But just the fly buzzed. Then it sat on the end of my nose. I shook it away. It went back to Pop.
"The maggots'll soon be after me." He turned his head and squinted at me.
I could tell it was a slow, slow painful gesture, even though I didn't look up, only perceived it through my lashes, only saw it through the veil of the summer haze.
"Send for Peter Good. If you don't want to finish me off yourself."
Then there was a long silence. Texas life is full of silences. Maybe all life is full of silences if you listen. There hadn't been much silence in California, but now days and nights were filled with the lack of sound. Maybe I just mean the lack of words. For there were other sounds, an actual thunder of winds and trees creaking, bugs buzzing, crickets, cicadas, you could hear the horses neigh, even the sound of the grass, rasping sometimes, brushing stalk against stalk, a pecan shell cracking. It depended on how quiet you could manage to be.
The old grow more and more toward silence, wordlessness. Some of them.
I had also met Mrs. Wheeler who came over once in a while to sit with Pop. She was ninety-six and she talked. Lord did she talk -- on and on and on. Her grandma had ridden up one of the cattle trails when she was young -- maybe it was the Chisholm -- one of the few women who ever did that.
"It may have been the year after it opened," she said, "Mom was conceived on that ride." You could see her seeing an endless and dusty trail. Then she'd hoot: "Out there under the winking, blinking stars! In the lap of a longhorn—just before a stampede. Just before the damnest stampede!" she'd shout and rock with laughter.
She'd been a school teacher when the Texas Rangers were still the main men riding around solving problems, mistook one for a Peeping Tom and "beaned him with a broomstick. . ." And again off she and Pop would go, high pitched, hee hee heeing. "He squawked like a bayonetted rooster!" She'd squawk, flapping her old flabby arms. You wondered if she'd run out of tales even in the grave.
But I'll leave you to imagine her repertoire while I sit with Pop on the shaded porch in the stillness of the heat.
Pop Brawley dropped dead right soon after the fly finished a walk down his nose. That's the long and the short of it. Just checked out on that hot summer day. Peacefully, some would say. Just "wore out," I think, might be my opinion.
But, being as how I'm the "widder" of a newspaper man, I suppose I owe you a blow by blow description of his passing. It's more than I want to tell, but I'll try. It was nothing spectacular. But maybe special, in its own subtle way. We were just sitting there, watching the pregnant fly. I was doing my needlepoint and Pop wasn't doing much of anything, except watching the fly, and studying the fields turning from green to gold. The way he stared and stared you'd think he could have told you the exact moment the molecules switched from green to gold. First there was green, then there was gold. First it was warm and summer, and then it was. . .
"Buck was born in 1918," he said rather loudly. Then he didn't say another word for maybe another five minutes. "I was back East, and Miz Brawley, she was all alone out here. Not too much here then, except Peter Good. He'd already been here a long time. So he was home, and I was back East when Buck came busting into the world. Then before I came home I was sent over to France."
He stopped talking for a long time again, and I kept thinking of blue, just the color blue, I don't know exactly why. Bluebonnets and Bluebutcher. Just almost like I could see a blue halo around him, around Pop Brawley. An aura, the California mystics call it. I swear I saw his aura, and it was blue.
"Sagalen came here then. She was a young squirt, and I convinced her to come take care of her sister," he said from the blue, staring at the gold and green.
"And young Buck?"
He flicked the fly off this right hand. "Do you love this land, Gloriana?"
"Sure, Pop," I said under my breath, nodding, stitching.
"You'd have to be crazy not to," I said loud enough to be sure he heard.
"Buck wasn't crazy."
"He didn't leave because he didn't love the land."
"I know," he muttered. "I know. . ."
You could hear the buzz of the crickets, you could smell the sun on the grass, you could hear the wind in the cottonwoods. The rockers on my chair creaked. We were suspended in time, rocking, watching the world turn from green to gold, and a blue mist rise all around us as if the sky were coming up from the ground. Then the old man, who looked like a bison, tipped over in his chair and died. He died just like that, sitting in his rocking chair, with his wheelchair sitting next to him. Sagalen and I had shifted him right after lunch. He said he felt at home in that old rocking chair. I bet it had been on the porch for the better part of a hundred years. It had lately lost its left arm. Pop tipped like some shaggy beast right toward that missing arm and would have thudded right out onto the porch except that there were two of the tiny (in comparison to him) spindles still sticking up that had held the old, curved Queen Anne arm in place.
They held the beast in, and I went on needlepointing in my nearsighted way. I was quite aware that he had tipped, maybe even aware that he had convinced his last person, and now confronted death, who needed no convincing. He tipped over and died there, braced by the spindles, and I went on stitching.
I was too weary to think what I had to do if he died, so I did nothing. I went on stitching. Thinking of his buffalo hump of pure white lard, and his last injunction to me to go fight those devils in the East if they challenged his leaving everything to me. I didn't even have the energy to get out of the chair, so I just kept on stitching.
Out in the golden field where the bluebonnets used to be, I saw Sagalen walk across the field, going slow, swinging her arms, maybe she was even singing as she took a slanting course down toward the creek. For I thought I heard some kind of sound that wasn't the sound of crickets, wasn't the sound of the land.
Some time later, I guess it was a long time later, for the sun was coming at a slant that gilded everything with silver light, Peter Good and Sagalen came strolling, slanting back up over the low rolling ridge that screened the creek from view from where I sat on the porch. In the heat haze they seemed to be floating.
Peter Good was marching in a hieratic way, and I heard some clacking, faint and rhythmic. Very faint. Hardly more than a whisper above silence. Then growing louder. But not too loud. He stopped a ways off, under the cottonwoods. Now I could see he was doing something with his hands. That's where the clacking was coming from. He was playing "the bones."
I didn't have to be told what he was doing, even though I had never heard the bones before. I just knew he was playing the bones. The sound was rhythmical but not very musical. Just basic plain, clack clack clack, clackity clack. He sped it up and then he slowed it down: clackity clackity clack, a basic, plain clackity clack sound.
I put down my stitching and closed my eyes. I'd had some good men in my life, is the only thought that passed through my brain. Then quite slowly and quite deliberately, I put away my yarn and my needlework. I said silently, but moving my lips: "Goodnight, Pop," like I said maybe five hundred times in the last two years. Then I got up and went into the house.
By the time Dr. Bluebutcher arrived Sagalen and Peter Good had laid Pop out all proper in the parlor. Dr. Bluebutcher pronounced him dead and wrote out a death certificate. All the while he was telling me we should have a wake, and I was telling him I wasn't going to.
"Sagalen," he said, "can hold the wake then."
"Gloriana, you'll be sorry if you don't sometimes give to people what people expect."
"I did it most of my life."
"Give it one more week."
When Houston got home that night from his hunting trip, he agreed, we needed to have a wake.
"Let the shoe pinch and holler as you walk," said Sagalen and went back to her kitchen.
So we had one helleva old-fashioned wingding. I mean enough liquor flowed to float Pop's embalmed body down the creek and out to join the Guadalupe, to send it through the magical confluence of the great rivers of Texas out into the Gulf where, I suppose, it would be eaten by the fishes. Funny I should connect Pop Brawley with the sea. But for some reason I did. I remember distinctly doing it that night, that first night of the wake, thinking about him floating in the sea, though it was only later that I learned he used a little sea imagery himself. Maybe I knew he had shipped out as a doughboy on one of the big troop ships over to Europe. Maybe I knew that already, knew it had been a high point in his life. Just as the Second World War had been a high point in Buck's life.
Anyway for two days and three nights Sagalen told ranch stories. Mrs. Wheeler told Comal County stories. Dr. Bluebutcher and Colonel Steadlow told Austin and San Antonio stories. Houston told stories about the family, ones I hadn't heard before, about being a kid with Buck, learning to drive, learning to fly, settin' out spells in jail for brawling; about Pop Brawley, and the old scoundrel -- Pop Brawley's dad -- Old Man Brawley. Him catching the longhorns, killing the buffaloes, chasing away the ghosts, hiding out and hiding others so's not to have to defend slavery in the Civil War.
And the other hundred people I haven't mentioned, many of whom I didn't even know by name, told their versions of Pop stories and their own personal stories, too. You'd think those Texans hadn't had a party since 1918.
People wore dark clothes and sported a fair amount of jewelry. I think they were remembering the old days of formal parties, and solemn celebrations. But slowly at first, then faster through the hours that followed, the jewels came off, sleeves were pushed up on the dark clothes, someone turned on a radio and they started two stepping, dancing all over the hall and the porch and the parlor. Some had even been smart enough to have a pair of jeans, just in case, in the back of their cars. So pretty soon we looked like the down home migrants we really were. The laughter floated high and wide over the hills, I bet you could hear it all the way to Austin. Down to San Antonio, too.
Pies and baked hams appeared. Loaves of round bread, and buns. O those light buns. Salads. And Salsa. Pico de Gallo. Chips. Tamales. If you haven't tasted Tex-Mex food out of the Hill Country, you haven't tasted anything fit to eat yet. Sausages from New Braunfels and from over Frederickburg way. And barbecue. Buck wouldn't have had barbecue if he'd been alive, but he was dead and "ain't no ranch," as Bluebutcher put it, "have a wake without barbecue."
And there were preserves and cakes and ice cream. Home made ice cream. And cream right out of cows thick enough to slice right onto the strawberries that came frozen out of the deep freeze and cooled off everyone at the right moment, toward the weary afternoon of the second day. And music! Mandolins manifested and guitars and banjos.
Old Peter Good tuned up his fiddle and all the old ones got up like so many lurching spirits and danced way past midnight. Polkas and square dances. A Virginia Reel. A Shottische. Some Ooom Pah Pah from the New Braunfels band. I swear Pop's coffin began to quake, and I do believe his body would have jumped right up to join us if we hadn't had the lid closed down and drinks set on top.
People hadn't had a real occasion to commiserate about Buck. So they took the opportunity to do that, too. Not many of them knew me much, because Buck and I spent less than two years on the ranch before we went off to No Palms. Fortunately Texans don't ask direct questions. Nobody asks you what you used to do, or where you come from, or why? They don't ask if your husband got murdered, or by who, or how. I don't think it's any lack of curiosity. It comes out of a long tradition, my guess is, of The Lone Star State being an asylum, a place where people fled to for a variety of reasons. Back then if you asked a probing question you might get an answer, or you might get lynched.
There were more rare old stories about Pop Brawley, bawdy tales of when they had flapper parties over in what was now Houston's house. "William Randolph Hearst come to one of them," Houston said, "brought the stars and half the starlets from Hollywood. Didn't need no steers!" His audience whooped, peels of laughter echoing along the porch, in through the open windows of the parlor, dusting around the edges of the coffin like a feather boa. "They come down on the railroad, via the old Southern Pacific. Shipped his fancy cars here, too, to drive to the ranch. Me and Buck was just colts then, but I didn't mind being rocked on a starlet's knee."
And there were tough, practical stories of how OMB and Pop, together, had turned the ranch from a wide open roll of land into a paying proposition. I'd tell you some of these tales, some true and some Texas, but I got other things to tell and don't want to take up the space. Besides a Brawley wake is like sex. You can't say much about it, you just got to experience it. I mean people could appear six hours late, knowing full well they'd missed nothing, knowing there was more to come, a lot more. When people got tired they started wandering into the dust-sheeted closed-up north and south wings, napping on the sofas, resting on the beds. "I hadn't thought to make it a formal stay-over," Sagalen apologized, bringing out blankets, her cheeks pink from the effort and the embarrassment. It was like it was the first thing she'd ever forgot in the whole century.
I went to bed on the morning of the third day. I don't know when the "official" part of the wake ended, or even when I woke up. But I know I didn't get up. I didn't get up for I don't know how long. Days. I just watched the curtains blow, the flies produce their maggots.
I could hear the phone ringing. Sagalen answered it. Some time on one of those days, Pop Brawley's body was cremated. Dr. Bluebutcher saw to that, and he brought the urn to the house. Sagalen took it and didn't call me.
Then one day I got up in my peignoir, that's what Pop Brawley called it. He kind of loved that old word. I suspect he got ahold of it in France during the war and just never let go. First I walked around in my room, kind of slow and dizzy because I'd spent so many days in bed, or maybe I still had a hangover. I don't rightly know. Then I went across the hall and down toward the back of the house, down three steps to where Pop Brawley had always lived, the old part of the house. Old flowered paper hung on the walls. On one wall, the one at the top of the back set of steps, there was one of those paintings from a very long time ago that an itinerant painter had painted. It showed two kids playing in the bluebonnets, and a house set way back and kind of on a rise. This house. Pop Brawley's house when it was a new house and not nearly so large. Two huge oaks stood in the foreground framing the whole idyllic scene. The kids were two boys, one big and one small, maybe they were Pop and his Baby Brother, for it was Pop's father who'd built the first version of this house. The picture was a little stiff, but nicely done. Weather and age do good things to almost any work of art, though they didn't do much for all the trinkets, the things in the house so Gawd-awful looking, I couldn't imagine what they were for.
I didn't know why I was going to Pop Brawley's room. I had never been in there but once or twice all the time he'd lived. Buck and I had sat there one night, on the black horsehair sofa in the sitting parlor, talking about moving to California. There was a desk and a couple of chairs and a big rocker, and beyond, just a cubicle of a room for his narrow bed. I'd offered a million times to help Pop, to take care of him. I'd said I'd come up to sit with him any night, but he said Sagalen was used to it. He said, "Not 'til she goes do you need to worry about it." He got on perfectly fine, he said, and what he couldn't do, she did, this old sister-in-law of his who must have been maybe four years younger than he was if she was a day. Ninety-two, that is, maybe ninety-three.
Now you may think that's gotta be old, but Sagalen didn't act much older than I do. She was thin, spry as a kitten, strong. Her face glowed, she walked like a girl. White haired, sure, but so am I, mostly. Buck acted hardly older than me either. Brawley blood, or Brawley living seemed to be like a preservative, one of those preservatives like BHA, or sulphur dioxide like in prunes. Sagalen looked a little bit like a prune, but not too much. Pretty still -- especially when you saw her going up to Pop's room with some hot milk in the unlit house in the gathering dusk of a Hill Country twilight.
I sat down on the horsehair sofa. It was smooth and black, and ugly with the hairs. Stiff and prickly, you could feel them if you leaned back, if you didn't sit perfectly still, if you sat too heavily—or maybe not heavily enough. If I'd weighed 250 pounds like Buck, maybe I wouldn't have noticed them either. As it was, I was gaining -- from the wake, from my sedentary life. My breasts were getting heavy.
I looked around. There was the urn, sitting right in the middle of the mantle piece. "Hi, Pop," I muttered. "I suppose I have to hear a reading of your will," I said, and added as an afterthought: "Soon -- hear my karma coming down."
Old Colonel Steadlow, Pop Brawley's lawyer since the First World War, was waiting to come by, Sagalen had said, as soon as I gave him a call. He was going to tell me this was all mine: every stick of furniture and gew-gaw, every inch and cricket and cottonwood tree, every blade of grass with every angel whispering for it to grow. I thought for a moment about Johnnie Beaudeauin -- his fifteenth century Florentine pieces. Texas Pine isn't Florentine, but it has its market.
I had known all this would be mine soon -- sooner than later I mean. It was clear for a long time that Pop Brawley wasn't champing to outlive his sons by too many more years. I mean I've only mentioned it once or twice, telling you these stories, but Pop Brawley was real clear.
I now had about thirteen thousand acres and it was worth about thirteen million dollars. Houston didn't need it, and Austin was dead. And for some reason Pop Brawley had been inordinately fond of me. Maybe because I was fond of him. Not too many as grand as that old man. If I'd lived a generation or two before I might have loved him instead of Buck.
I haven't said much about Austin, Pop's other dead son, because I didn't really know him. I think I only met him half a dozen times before he killed himself on a horse, over on Houston's land. Pop wasn't ranching any more and Austin had some notion about being a cowboy. Then he changed his mind and wanted to come up to California once we got there. Buck said he couldn't come unless he turned vegetarian.
"Now if that weren't an amazing thing to tell a Texas kid!" Pop Brawley used to say. And he'd say it again: "Now if that weren't an amazing thing to tell a Texas kid!"
I mean he didn't disagree. He agreed. He agreed with Buck and me. But he could see a lot of points of view. Old Pop Brawley could see all sorts of points of view. And I think Austin's death hurt him -- I don't know if it's possible -- but it may have hurt him even more than Buck's. Because you see Austin was a whole lot younger. I mean Buck was seventy-three when the coyotes tore him apart, but Austin was only thirty-eight when he broke his neck by falling off a horse.
Houston had come driving up in that white pickup and carried Austin's body up the front steps, and Pop Brawley took him in his arms. Pop sat down right there in the old rocker and rocked his youngest son. Awkward as hell. It may have been then that the old curved arm was knocked loose. There was Pop, still strong as a buffalo, rocking that full grown kid in his lap. Buck's little kid brother. Buck with his hand over his face. You could hear him breathing like Boreas himself. I put my arm around his waist to stop him shaking.
And Sagalen said, ". . . wasn't nothing but a cherub for the rock cutters."
Pop Brawley's young second wife bore Austin and they raised him starting when Pop was older than I am. So Austin was always a little bit like a grandson, indulged, loved more just for being than any son ever is, a firstborn son especially, "who," as Pop said, "you're nervous about, because you've got to train him up right so he'll be able to carry on whatever things need to be carried on."
Austin died in September, and we left in January. Sylvia Louise, his mother, had died, too, maybe a year, maybe two, before I met Buck. No one ever spoke of her much, but I think she was quiet and much loved, even by Sagalen, or maybe especially by Sagalen. Then I came back a widow.
You can see why the old man probably wanted out more than he ever said. I mean it's all very fine to brag that you're ninety-two or ninety-six, but it usually means outliving everyone in your family, and almost certainly your friends.
But Pop's white devil baby brother, as he called him, was also younger than Pop, by quite a bit. I had never met him so I didn't have any real impression, but I think maybe they were separated by eight or ten years. In fact, when I thought about it, I guessed the brother wasn't all that much older than Buck. I hoped quite fervently I'd never have to find out or engage in the fight that Pop thought to warn me of.
I went over to Pop's desk and sat down. There was a big rectangular blotter on it and an old-fashioned inkwell. It was still full of ink. In his drawer was a fountain pen. He must have had it and used it now for forty or fifty years because you probably can't even buy a fountain pen today. I picked it up and made a few strokes on a piece of scratch paper Pop had left on the desk. It had a broad nib, and a nice, fat, roundness. It was heavy, hefty. It made you feel substantial just to write "Gloriana Brawley" with it. I wrote it half a dozen times. I wrote Edward Manchester Menecieus Brawley, too, for that had been Pop's name. I knew it, and I knew Buck's real name, too. Edward Buckingham Brawley. His mama had been Josephine Buckingham Belue. I wrote Pop's name again, but I didn't write Buck's again. I didn't want to think about how grand it would have been to live on this land, now our land, with Buck.
Then I opened another drawer. Letters. Some of mine, some of Buck's. I didn't want to see my dead husband's handwriting, touch what he had touched. I didn't want to miss him anew, I might start missing Pop, too. So I shut that drawer and opened another.
There was paper in it that announced in sepia across the top: "Brawley, Texas." Underneath there was a picture of the ranch gates framing the space where you would date the paper and begin your letter. I had got a lot of those letters up in No Palms, some of which I had showed to Buck, and some of which would have only made him mad. I took out the whole clump of unused paper, I wondered if I would ever use it.
Would I write letters -- to who? -- on Brawley stationary? Probably not. I used the computer in the downstairs study for most of my correspondence, and probably always would. I was, after all, if a little older than most, still a product of the new age. And once you've known the use of a computer, woe to you if you try to step back into history.
Under the half inch of paper were a couple of envelopes. One was a regular manila envelope, quite old and rather brittle. I glanced in it and saw that it held about a half dozen sheets of paper, old, fragile and foxed, nicked, too, in places along the top edges that I could see by just looking down into the envelope, before I ever thought of taking them out, before I ever thought of reading them.
The other, smaller envelop held a couple of photographs. I looked at them first. One was the picture of a young, huge, craggy man wearing the buttoned-up-high uniform of a World War I soldier. I looked at it closely, squinting in the not perfect light. It looked a bit like Buck. But of course it was Pop. Huge old Buffalo Brawley as a young man. God he was tall, and next to him stood a very tiny person, a middle-aged woman in a long white dress. I turned the photograph over, it said: "Captain Edward Brawley with Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Amherst."
The other picture I had seen before. Copies of it. It was a picture of Josephine, Buck's mother. She was holding the infant Buck in her arms. She was sitting on the porch of the house which really looked just like the porch of the house today, because she was sitting in the very rocker that Pop had just died in, its arms intact. She had Buck's huge eyes, that I am sure must have been blue-brown, and his sweet smile, his sweet, shy smile that he had reserved mostly just for me.
Carefully I put both of the photographs back in the little envelope and took the papers out of the big one. The top piece of paper was quite new, not foxed like the others, and folded. I opened it. It was a copy of McDonald Observatory, the poem I'd had Buck copy from the kitchen at the director's house when we had visited McDonald. But this copy had a big familiar scrawl across the upper right corner.
"For Pop," it said, "What it all adds up to," and it was signed "Buck, 1985."
Buck? I looked for the E.B. at the bottom, it wasn't there. Buck? Edward Brawley. Had Buck written the poem? He'd never once mentioned it. It was like someone had just knocked all the wind out of me.
I read it slowly through again. Hearing anew Buck's voice. He had read it to me at the observatory because I asked him to.
He had read it very well, with a fine intensity in his resonant voice. But he had never mentioned one word about writing it, writing poetry. Not a word. Just the stories he had burned, that's all I knew about. I closed my eyes, searching my memory for a clear image of his face while he read the poem. I wanted to see if that special cat-eating-cream look had come over his face when I said how much I liked it, when I had asked him to get it copied for me. But I couldn't remember. I simply couldn't remember. "Buck," I whispered, wanting so much to tell him of my appreciation, my admiration. But there was only a flickering image of him in my mind. No substance. No warmth. He was gone. I would never be able to tell him that I had discovered one of his secrets. I would never again see that gentle look of restrained pleasure that lit up his whole being when he was pleased. I folded the page and put it beneath the others.
The top piece of the old foxed sheets was dated March, 1918. (Buck was born in July.) It was also a poem. The name and the first stanza were on the first sheet of the aged paper, then each subsequent stanza was on a separate piece of paper, each number circled in red. The handwriting was very large:
mind is imperfectly trained.
What I speak does not fit into the mold
Of forms originated by others.
Generations and generations have gone before,
Thought thoughts of high commendation,
Thoughts other than mine.
Integrity is a negative quality,
A will imperfectly trained.
I speak with a voice half suggested by language,
Half borrowed from brine and the sea
Expressing dark urges brought up from the ooze
Impulses primordial as the ocean,
Imperfectly understood as the sea:
Half rhythm, half image, half thee
Gone with the going of me
I catch a rhythm from the air,
It says its truth without my aid
And rests within its. . . (this line was crossed out)
And rests upon its paper grave.
Except for the one line crossed out and the other inserted in #4, which was done in a different color ink and, I would guess, much later, there were no corrections. Beneath the poem's pages were two lines of prose, each on a separate sheet:
"The mind searches for meaning like an emu on the horizon, an ostrich with its head in the sand."
"Will the ostrich get to China? Will the emu penetrate deep space?"
All the pages had been written in Pop Brawley's firm clear hand, firmer and clearer and "younger" than I had ever seen it and, if not by the pen I had just put down, at least one very much like it.
I think the Emily to whom the fragments were dedicated, as strange as it may seem, must have been Emily Dickinson. Who by then, 1918, had been dead for—she died in 1886—32 years. And who was not, if I recall my Early American Lit, that famous at that time. Had he known the Dickinson family?
Pop Brawley had been to college in the East. I think he spent a year or two at Harvard, but never graduated. He had gone to war. It opened a whole new dimension to me to think of Pop as an incipient poet, dedicated to Emily, that fragile wren with the left-over-sherry eyes, eyes, if her picture is to be believed, not unlike the eyes of Josephine, nor of Buck himself, huge, mysterious and hooded.
I felt funny holding the papers of the father and the son. Had Pop Brawley wanted to be a poet when he was a kid going off to War, to "the war to end all wars?" Which would mean that Buck came by his ambition to write quite honestly. And Buck? 1985 meant he was writing poetry just before I met him. These strange old Buffalos, I thought. What had they not concealed beneath their shaggy manes. I put the papers, including Buck's poem, back in the envelope, and both envelopes back in the drawer.
In the deep bottom drawer, wrapped in a piece of soft flannel, the kind of soft flannel you wrap silverware in -- and which I now unwrapped carefully -- I found four bones, small rounded bones, unbleached bones that looked amazingly familiar. One, two, three, four, I counted them. Then one, two, three, four, I counted them again as laughter began to rise in me.
I walked down the hall, up the stairs, and through the hall to my own room. I opened the drawer in my bureau. I took out my ice-cream bar box and opened its lid and nudged aside the tissue paper. Sure enough, only six bones lay in my box. The radius, the ulna, the fragment that may or may not have been a finger, but not all of the wrist bones were there. Four of them were in my hand.
That sly old fox. The air jumped out of my lungs again, but this time with a chuckle, a cough. I suppose he knew just about everything I did day and night. No doubt he'd wanted a little of his eldest son, too. Pop Brawley, you were certainly old enough to be a bone collector. What on earth are they going to do with you in heaven, I wondered. What are they going to do? But then the image of Buck's mangled body shot across my vision.
I laid the wrist bones, wrapped again in the flannel -- to keep them warm -- down beside the other skeletal remains of my love. Sometime soon, I thought, I'll give the whole collection to Peter Good. Buck'll have a great big laugh having his bones played out on the Texas hills. Let them rattle and shake. Let them call up the spirits or call down the rains, whatever the bones were played for, let them be Buck's bones, I thought, that chatter at the heavens. I even fancied I'd have liked his skull to make a cup of -- drink my wine from the skull of a man who'd been big enough to walk heavily upon the earth.
Jan Haag may be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Former Website address was: http://weber.u.washington.edu/~jhaag
Complete novel, approximately 80,000 words
Jan Haag is a novelist, poet, painter, textile artist, and former Director of National Production Programs for the American Film Institute.
INTRODUCTION + HAAG'S BIO