He could never be normal boy
for he was born a gravedigger’s son
and he had been an apprentice
to the business of death
since he was ten years old
when his brother died stillborn
and he helped his father
dig the grave

he remembered it was late summer
the air was thick and heavy
but there were no clouds
and the wind was strangely idle on the
weathervane
but his father said he was worried of a storm
and he TOLD his mother he took the boy
out of need rather than for company
but the boy knew better
for he had already become accustomed to the ghosts
he had heard the footsteps
late at night when everyone else was sleeping
the dead following the dirt on his father’s boots
climbing the stairs to his room
carefully
as not to make a sound
like something stepping over
broken glass

he remembered that first morning like yesterday
that morning when his father called
and they went together
to the field
behind the barn
where the hay lay fresh cut
followed the hedgerow
to the place that his mother chose
a break at the edge of the woods
where the wild roses and the honeysuckle
climbed the stone
to catch the sun

the boy remembered that first grave
the grave of his brother
it was a small grave but
it was no small work
he remembered how
the shovel bent
how the earth held on with the
weight of iron
and kept the shape of the spade
as it lay there on the grass
as if it knew the purpose
of their work and wanted no part
but in the end the dirt relented as always
and made space for what was surely need
and they lay the tiny body of his brother
barely the size of a loaf of bread
in the dark space at the bottom of the hole

when they finished they stood there in silence
waiting for a moment as if something was being said
but there were no words spoken or words to say
and the first sound the boy heard was the sound of his father’s shovel
as he lifted the dirt and it fell back into the hole
shush shush shush
that whispering sound shush
that gentle hush

he remembered that was the first time he heard that sound
the sound he heard many times after
one of the sounds only the gravedigger hears
the sounds his father kept and never shared with his mother
the things that made his father gray
the sleepless nights
the faint voices he heard beneath the dirt but never spoke of
the solitary conversations
the apparitions

when he died
some of this the boy buried with him
but the rest he took on reluctantly as his own
this unwanted inheritance
this role of ghostly confidant
this burden of the gravedigger’s son

Gould, a native of Gladstone, is a member of the Frenchtown Poetry Group, the New Hope Beat Poets, and the Front Porch Poetry Group. He is the author of three chap books of poetry. His fourth book, “Last Rites for the Lion Tamer,” will be released in summer, 2018.

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