Shane Jones

My father could build anything and the burial ladders were his greatest creation. We entered the massive circular clearing of tree stumps with the ladders built into a more massive tipi like structure, about a third of it missing, which is where we walked into, looking up and into open rungs of wood and sky, nails and bolts and metal fasteners all holding it together for mother. She would have enjoyed the burial ladders. My father ascended one of the burial ladders holding a fistful of wildflowers mostly blue. I watched him climb as the ladder tilted over, seemingly balanced at the very top by the other burial ladders placed in a similar fashion. From a great distance above the structure appeared like a giant web in the shape of an igloo and I stood directly in the center of it, looking up at my father who placed the wildflowers on top of the dead wildflowers at the peak of the burial ladders where he had previously placed a flat square piece of wood painted black. After climbing back down he told me that after he was gone he would like to be buried up there. To carry his dead body over my shoulders up the ladder and place his naked body on the square flattened with wildflowers and it was my choice to watch the birds destroy his body or not. He said sky burial was the most spiritual way to end, that my mother would agree, she would have watched his body pecked apart by all things flying and she would have found it beautiful. My family is obsessed with having their bodies not touching the ground. Father in a lake with a dead cow, father in the air on the burial ladders, father on a horse, father on a bed, brother on the roof hand sweeping clouds, brother sleeping on a table for six months, brother living in the trees fighting sky law, brother and I as children living in the surrounding woods in tree forts. We wrapped every tree with planks of wood we ran over, built bridges, balconies, kissed boys, ran from house to house over the boards that gave and sank into the air, never cracking, never hurting, us not caring, just running through the woods over the brown forest floor with mudpuppies watching. Mother also disliked having her body touching the earth. She ate breakfast in the trees. I remember now, my mother in gown sitting perched on a plank of wood thirty feet off the ground, her hair cut short and wild around her head, laughing with us through the forest, father somewhere serious. Maybe mother opening her arms with a broken vase of flowers, leaving us, horse, the earth, was her way to never touch ground again, body ascending with the draining of blood over the wooden floor my father spent days scrubbing the color from. Those trails on the floor remain lighter now. Before my mother leaving the way she did, I believed my parents never thought they would die because they never talked about dying. If I mentioned one of them getting older they would say they didn't want to talk about it, leaving the room, mother riding the horse, father going to the lake, swimming under, bodies free from the earth that would one day hold them. Before working in an office I never thought of my death then I worked in an office. I remember mother running through the tree forts my brother and I created, some of the kids from rainbow farm also giving chase, her gown splitting into kites as she ran over sections of wood not railed by tree branches yet, the danger of running on these sections even too great for my brother who stopped and stood with others watching mother run through the woods, laughing, seemingly floating on air, never once thinking at any minute a wrong inch-over step would send her flailing below in brown blur. I asked her afterward if she was scared of falling, and she said no, why would that happen if what to do was to run the way she does. My mother was always fearless in this way, so when she took her own life, I don't think my father was too surprised, or me, or brother, everyone bottling up the emotion like this family does with everything, mother emptied out across the floor. Mother not second guessing the registering of pain from the glass zippering her arms, mother smashing the vase, mother stomping on the flowers, mother who said the day before, this coming back to me now that I'm back here on the farm after years, she was bored with everything walking. There's more from my mother in those final days I'm remembering, my childhood coming back to me under this massive web of burial ladders. Each rung of the ladders handmade by my father perfectly cut stretched ovals of knotted wood. The burial ladders would be his greatest achievement, even grander than the house filled with wood every section placed by his hands, and in his vision his body would be ripped open by birds at the peak of his creation, an image of perfection. He told me when the sun strikes two, which it was now, according to my father who was looking up at the sky, standing next to me under the wooden web of burial ladders, the sun hits perfectly on the wildflowers located on the black wood at the peak of the burial ladders, and sometimes, if it's warm enough, some of the wildflowers would go up in flames. I didn't believe him because sons no matter what year don't want to believe their fathers. He rolled up a sleeve to test the sun. He gave me the look. So I climbed. I climbed the huge burial ladder painted red, the walking burial ladder my father called it, the one he used to place the daily flowers. You shouldn't be scared of heights because it's only air. My father began working on missing rungs and measuring for the future burial ladders while I climbed up to the wildflowers to see if they would catch fire, thinking my mother wasn't scared of heights like I am now, looking down at my father getting smaller as I ascended toward the wildflowers piled high, the fresh on dead, ready to burn. The horse watched me, stomping in place, in wonder at what I was doing, climbing the red burial ladder only my father climbed. Would they burn? The sun felt warmer as I climbed. Mother enjoyed fires. It's coming back to me now. We had weekly bonfires near the lake where my father and I moved the dead floating cow earlier in the day, the sun like bright rust flaking off the sky as I drowned, bonfires, mother always looking forward to them, instructing my father to start the fire early and small so she could cook potatoes in a large iron pot placed in the fire. She'd peel potatoes for hours with my little body next to her, head level with the table, mother in flower print dress and hair crazy, face very serious while peeling potatoes all morning, not saying a word for hours until announcing she was done and filing the iron pot with water and walking outside, me running circles around her in the field as we walked to the lake, the small sparks of fire for the bonfire, mother smiling, the bottom of her flower print dress dragging through the weeds, the cast iron pot filled with water and perfectly peeled potatoes. At night the bonfire was larger than the reflection it threw across the lake. Everyone bigger than myself came over from rainbow farm and spoke in serious words, mother sitting close to the fire and starring at it, father telling her not to burn herself, mother not listening to him. Two men from rainbow farm had children my age who said my mother always looked sad, that her eyes were always wet, and they were right, which is maybe why she always loved the bonfires so much. If my mother could have, she would have walked straight into that bonfire with her perfectly cooked potatoes instead of using the vase of wildflowers to peel open her arms inside the loneliness of a bedroom. The adults played this game called 'what are you' where they asked questions like 'what are you going to do before you die' and 'what are you guilty of' and 'what are you scared of,' this last one the question I remember because even though the children weren't allowed to play, cooking rabbit on sticks placed in the bonfire, our faces warm, I blurted out I was scared of mudpuppies and my brother shoved me down. One of the adults from rainbow farm said he was scared of the government, of men in suits with blurry faces, like office workers, coming to his farm for his plants, and the other man from rainbow farm said he was scared of winter lasting longer than winter should last, his crops forced to stay down. My father said he was scared of something, anything, happening to his family. He ate a potato and said he had a nightmare several times of the house disappearing, that is, waking up in a bed but the house gone around him and everyone in it, me, brother, mother, vanished. My mother kept sitting on top of the bonfire, starring into it, her hands on her thighs, so mesmerized by fire, but we were all looking at her. My brother said he was scared of forest monsters destroying the tree forts. I think I was expecting my mother to say something about her horse, that she would be most scared of losing the horse, because back then, childhood me, always heard my father making jokes about how she loved the horse more than him, but she didn't say anything about the horse when it came her turn to answer in the game 'what are you scared of' because what she said was 'ground.' She sat with her feet up, barefoot, getting warm, almost too close to the fire for skin, and no one said anything at all to her answer, ground, just the next adult from rainbow farm saying he was scared of nothing because it didn't make sense to be scared because it didn't do anything for a person in their current life. People who say they are scared of nothing are scared of everything. Now I'm scared of ritual, an office, whitewashed walls and furniture. I'm scared that my current life is my future life. When I reached the top of the red burial ladder and poked my fingers into the bed of wildflowers placed on the black wood, it felt hot. My father, from far below, carried long planks of wood as the horse walked directly in front of him, nearly tripping him. He dropped a piece of wood and started screaming at the horse, his arm sweeping the air above him, which was so far below me. As I stepped backward down the ladder I heard a gunshot from within the woods and the horse took off toward the woods in the opposite direction, my father following. I stumbled stepping backward and looked up at the wildflowers which I couldn't believe were on fire. I climbed back up the ladder and admired the fire caused by the sun at the peak of the burial ladders, this crazed wooden dome created by my father, cage of worship. Another gun shot went off. Ground, she said. I walked backwards again down the ladder and headed toward the woods where the gunshots went off, where the horse and my father entered. All the trees were dark yellow, like the inside of the house, my mother said ground, she said ground. Another gunshot scrambling the trees, I ran toward the dark shapes of my father and the horse ahead of him, all of us running, my mother said ground, she was scared of the ground, then she made the decision to ascend into the clouds, her lonely footsteps up the steps to the bedroom after another dinner of her silence, perfect potatoes cooked on the white stove, destroyed wood everywhere being replaced by new wood from my father always with a project, always needing to fix or improve a floor or a wall, her limbs going up up up the stairs, I may have thought something was wrong, I wonder what went through her head, her mind, before she entered the bedroom with the killing vase, and she closed the door, she said ground, she walked into the bedroom where she would smash the vase, flowers pin-wheeling, she said ground, she said ground, what went through her mind in those last minutes, maybe it was a buzzing, a blurring leading up to the glass becoming part of her body to extract the insides, the dark matter, so much of this I had pushed away, myself of the farm scrubbed away by an office job, but now back on this farm, this life of wood, all coming back, she said ground. As I ran through the woods after my father and horse I wished for my brother. I wished to be in the trees and to be a child again. My energy days are behind me. I think these woods once had more color. As I ran, my father and the horse got further and further away, deep into the forest, how was that possible, more gunshots going off, me screaming for them to stop, dad I saw the flowers burning you were right, dad you saved me from the lake, thank you, dad I'll help my brother, dad why did mom do what she did, stop running so fast. I ran until I couldn't see them and no more gunshots went off. I walked back to the burial ladders which I could see above the trees, the sound of hammers coming from. When I entered the massive clearing of tree stumps once again, the burial ladders a wooden web in the shape of a turned over dish, the horse was there drinking from a metal pot, the one my mother used for potatoes in the bonfires, and my father was sitting on the horse. He said he was doubling up on the worship for mother, meaning being at the burial ladders and the horse sitting for extended days. I asked him about running through the forest and he had no idea what I was talking about, that he had heard the gunshots, but that was regular, hunting season is year round out here, son, don't you remember the life out here. He said I was tired, that he had seen me dart into the woods and told me to stop, but I just kept running, no father ahead, no horse, no mother, only deepening sun deepening with yellow, he said I was shaking, that I still was, and when I looked down, he was right, my arms and hands and legs and my body was trembling. It was only when I looked at my shaking body, every inch of me convulsing, that my shaking body stopped. My father said it was time to go. He climbed up the red burial ladder where the wildflowers were still on fire and I saw him mumble something and I saw him draw the triangle in the sky and I saw him blow the fire out like candles on a cake and I saw a small bullet hole of light in the center of his back near where his heart used to be. 










As a child I built a tree fort with my friends that grew so large we had to get a building permit because the neighbors complained. I feel that tree fort in this story.