Something Brighter

When the local fire department
set the Royal house ablaze,
grey confining smoke billowed up
over the woods of Cemetery Rd

The home had rested in a barren field
with its barn only yards away
and a tiny shed standing like its sentry nearby.
The barn’s paint had been washed out
but you could still make out
streaks of royal blue and red and a faint rusted orange.

If the sun from the west
was shining on the chubby apple tree
something brighter would quickly catch your eye.
Parked along the rear of the barn
was an old chevy truck
painted construction cone orange,
its polished chrome headlights and rusted grill
peeking out as if to let some passer by know
that life still abounded around that barn.

If you knocked,
feet would shuffle inside the home,
a space eclipsed
by a local college dorm.
A gentle man would open the door,
his long hair graying to white,
wearing a faded college t-shirt
and the presumed uniform of a farmer.
He would greet you
with a smile, lips turned up five degrees,
“Phillip Royal, but folks just call me Royal,”
he would say,
“been Royal all my life
so long ‘s I’ve lived here.”

On his land, no dirt had been turned
for the sake of crops,
no corn stalks were weeping in the wind,
or rows of garden
burrowing beneath themselves.
What life had Royal abandoned –
on the river, on the run –
for this retreat here?

The paper ran a story about a new public park –
the old fireworks factory was moving –
There would be a missing link between old park and new.
Thus the Royals negotiated a sale
as a tradeoff
for a town’s need for green.

Where would they go? Was there a “they”?
With a care center located minutes from their door,
would you drive by the entrance one dawn
and find a homemade sign,
Happy 100th Phillip Royal – King of Cemetery Rd?

The firefighters had left only straw
to cover the footprints of the three Royal plots.
At last sight, on that ground
stacks of trees that would never be climbed
sat in piles with a sign marked “dump”
holding the damage from the latest wind storm.

A spotted owl had migrated here,
one street over from where its giant oak had split.
And a man with two kayaks atop his truck
gazed through his binoculars
at a soaring skeleton of a tree, seeking the owl,
or waiting for Philip
to offer wisdom from this noble land.

Annette Januzzi Wick Manley

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