Wise Poets – Wayne Miller – Parable of Childhood

Wayne Miller

When the dog finally died, dad dug a hole beside the fence and buried her in a boot box. 
She’s gone, but she had a good life,mom said. It’s OK to be sad.
              
Next day, the boy came into the kitchen holding the box in front of him. She’s not gone. She’s still in there, he said. Look.
Mom lifted the lid. Sweetie, when things die, we give them back to the earth.
And then we forget them there?
Yes—and no, dad replied. He put the box in the hole and covered it over. Together, they walked back to the house.
              

In the morning, the box was on the kitchen counter. I couldn’t sleep, the boy said. She was all alone out there.
Maybe that’s how she wants it to be, dad replied.
No. She doesn’t want anything, the boy said. She’s dead. But her box was full of air inside the earth. That wasn’t right.
They filled the box with dirt and placed it inside the hole.
              
What does it mean to die? the boy asked. 
Dad thought of his own father, who’d died a year before the boy was born. A long suffering—until at last his body had filled with snow.
No one knows what death is,dad said. I wish I had a better answer for you.
              

Four days passed before the box, heavy with dirt and rot, arrived again inside the house. Why is this here? dad asked.
No one knows what death is, the boy said. I wanted to find out.
Jesus, dad said and went out to the garage.
Mom said gently, No. When things die, they’re gone. So we return them to the earth.
              __
The dog was gone—that was clear.
But the dog was also right there, just below the surface, packed in darkness. The boy could bring her back inside whenever he wanted—
no matter what his parents said.