The summer after her father died,
my neighbor brought home his picnic table.
Dry-rotted, termite-drilled, it sank like a shipwreck
into shade grass in her back yard. I couldn’t see
a single board of lumber worth saving, but she saw
a middle brace, horizontal cross pieces. She hired
a man from her past, a barfly who mitered new
seasoned wood into top and benches, drilled
them into all she’d saved. She placed the table
beside her firepit, surrounding it with couches and love
seats, end table vases spilling soft Liriope
beneath the roof of a sturdy oak.
The man from her past life left, but returned
in July. His left toes taken
by diabetes, he’d signed over his own house’s deed
to a daughter while yet alive, assuring she’d never need
to fight probate. The daughter made him pray
and not drink. She repeated the true story of Lot
at Sodom, living licentiously in his house. She cast him out
to a church shelter whose welcome sign read, “God
is the only regulation you need.” The man needed
morning shade, enough aluminum cans to recycle
into cash that would last an afternoon
at the Town Pub down the road.
The true story, my neighbor said, is that her father
sat all his children around his table
like olives hung from a vine. Before he lost his mind
to dementia, he remembered to teach her God
loves those who know loss, and how to guard a broken soul
against those who’d break it again.
My neighbor gave the man a place
at the table, brought him pearlescent garbage bags
filled with empty aluminum cans he crushed
with his good foot, syncopating with cicadas’ muscular rhythms
until he’d earned enough
to limp the road to the pub.
There he sidled up to the bar with other old men
who dreamed of daughters
gifted in prophesy and forgiveness.
newest book is Second Shift: Essays (Del Sol Press). She is the author of In the Garden of Stone (Hub City Press), winner of the South Carolina Novel Prize and a Gold IPPY Award. She’s also published two short-story collections: Savage Pilgrims (Serving House Books) and My Mother’s War Stories (Winnow Press), the latter of which received the 2004 Winnow Press fiction prize. Her web chapbook, Wash Day, appears in the Web Del Sol International Chapbook Series.
Her nonfiction, short stories, and essays have appeared in journals such as Denver Quarterly, The Georgia Review, The Louisville Review, Puerto del Sol, New Letters, and Shenandoah. Selections from her photo essay, “White Blossoms,” appeared in Earth Hymn (Volume 6 of the KYSO Flash Anthology), with the full essay published online in Issue 12 of KYSO Flash.
Ms. Tekulve has received scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She teaches in the BFA and MFA writing programs at Converse University.
Author’s website: https://susantekulve.com/