SPOTLIGHT: ‘Webster County’ by Nick Hilbourn

Events at Kingfisher Road

There was a basement in West Virginia,
where he sawed off his right hand.
She must’ve heard him. I’ve read her journals –
she didn’t flinch. It wouldn’t have mattered if she had.
There was a Ziploc bag in the kitchen that she grabbed
to put his twitching claw in, telling my uncle to drive
because she’d never learned how. I may have imagined this,
but every time I tell myself this story
she’s the real protagonist: the house is her, the dirt road is hers
and my grandpa’s screaming is hers.
It was always called “Grandma’s House”.
There was a gun my grandpa lived with
and a basement he rented out trying to remake himself r.
My mother gave me her mother´s journals’ loose bowels
after she died. Loose papers undated and connected,
so someone could remake them. Okay. Let me try:
Their relationship was a napalm candle set to broil.
The house walled her in. She collected IGA calendars
and stacked them in a drawer underneath the sewing machine
and wrote stories to no one. She talked about a mole that she
met every spring named “Mortimer”.
She made a bifurcated list of the good and bad:
“Things that make me feel blessed” and
“Things that make me feel sad”
Litanies of dates punctuated by the small sleights
that made her write over and over.
She writes, “Who am I?”
and peppers the sheet with Bible verses.
On one page, she asks the same question,
but it’s blank.
The hand was not saved. No one knows where it went.
I have dreams of it buried on the hill
behind the house or under the basement floor
where its heartbeat thrums in a private joke. Sometimes,
there is a dream that she tosses it to the errant bear
that my grandpa once complained about eviscerating
his beehives. “Here,” she says. “Here ya go.”
Breath like car exhaust
and she tosses it at midnight and the bear bows.
She hobbles back inside
and never thinks of it again: the other way to get forgiven.

Biographical notes of my grandmother

My father let me carry his lunch pail
to get water from the town pump.
He let me carry his carbide lamp and fill it with carbide.
You could hear it fizz and smell the carbide.
He made paddles from wood to eat his lunch.
I got to keep them.
He carried me on his shoulders even when he was tired.
He took me to the doctor
and proudly told everyone he met that I was his baby.
I sat on his lap and was proud.
I got jealous of my friends when he held them.
He took me to church.
I stood on the pew so I could put my arm around his neck
and lean on him.
He bought me toys.
He bought me new dresses.
He took me along to greet the parishioners.
I gave him insulin shots.
I took him to my new home.
He died without me.


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