Jeremy Byars


His arm dangled over the edge of the couch,
the can of Natural Ice spilled on the knock-off
Asian rug he'd bought at the rent-to-own store.
His undershirt stained yellow from sweat, his belt
hung halfway off his grease-stained jeans, and sawdust
flaked his bristly hair and dense eyebrows.
I sopped up the beer with kitchen towels,
replaced his can with a new one from the fridge,
and scraped spaghetti off the skillet, careful
not to knock it up against the sink.  He slept
through dinner, Monday Night Football—unmoved.
While I studied long division in the loveseat,
my math book slid from my lap and banged against
the coffee table—my father never stirred.
Worried, I poked at him, pulled on his ear.
Giggling, I stretched the corners of his mouth
in a mock smile, but he was lifeless as the oaks
felled to swell his company’s stacks of lumber.
I shook him, saying, "Wake up, Daddy, wake up!"—
he didn't make a sound or move an inch.
I thought of calling 911—but didn't.

I imagined Nanny praying for my father
at the Pentecostal Church some Sunday morning,
could hear her lament her years apart from him
and pray her multifaceted God might turn
celestial cheek—spare her youngest child,
his troubled soul.  I failed to consider what
my father’s sudden death on the couch meant—
the dozen mandatory weekends
I spent with him, throwing Styrofoam footballs
at each other like neon javelins, driving
souped-up go-carts through the next-door-neighbors' yard,
carpet wrestling in swimming trunks and tanks.
I picked up my father's beer, hearing Nanny
condemn his vice of alcohol—which leads
to holes punched through storm doors and mothers' fears
their sons won't make it home.  She'd predicted this
for decades, mourned his death before he died.
I couldn't stand for her to be right, for her
to know she was right.  "Gimme that," I heard
my father say drowsily, restored to life.
Raising himself up off the couch and swigging
the hot beer, he staggered down the hall, collapsing
into the bathroom—the door slamming behind.
The rest of the night I lay awake in bed
dreaming what life was almost like without him.


From the bed of Grandpa's Dodge truck,
I hand Amy garbage bags filled
with clothes from 1975
or 6, Mom's bellbottom jeans
and Uncle Scotty's baby tees.
While Amy lobs the plastic bags
into the open dumpster below,
a sixty, maybe seventy year
old man walks over to us.  He’s dressed
in faded overalls, UT cap,
and paint-spattered boots. He says,
"You gettin’ ridda' that ol' thing?"
and points at the table propped up
along the dumpster's edge—moments
away from one conclusive shove.
Amy looks at me and shrugs;
"Sure, it's yours," I say to him,
"A little dinged up, though."  "Looks fine
t' me," he says. He lifts the small
fiberboard table—its top sporadic
patterns of drink rings; scuff marks
from boots and shoes; and nicks from knives,
forks, and falling objects.  He lugs
it over to the office porch
and bangs it down beside a tall
back rocking chair.  He brings a band
radio from inside, and drags
an orange extension cord behind.
The man sits down, fiddles the knob
until he finds a gospel station,
then sets the radio beside him
on the table and rocks himself, eyes closed,
to the rhythm of "Old Rugged Cross"—
disregarding the two of us
discarding old furniture, clothes,
and outdated electronics.

Jeremy Byars has recent or forthcoming publications in such journals as Gihon River Review, Poetry Midwest, storySouth, Ariel, I-70 Review, and New Madrid. The first ever graduate of the MFA program at Murray State University, Byars now works at a book company while completing his first poetry collection and an annotated bibliography of the Towneley plays.



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