The things we no longer need can be disposed of in a few ways. I see this in my family.
Often they’re burned— in a bonfire, or rusted oil-barrel in Red’s yard. Some of the older relatives stand around it, the rural version of a water-cooler.
They look out across fields, shoulders tensed to the neck, with spare phrases about weather, and sometimes the past. I watched my uncle check the barrel for plastic or aerosol canisters, things that could let off fumes or combust in a fire.
In the evenings people gather around the cast-iron of living room fire, stoked by newspaper and kindling that Younger had gathered.
With burning, the only time we move closer to our refuse—
worn bodies drawn
I told them about the kid who burned loose threads from his t-shirts while wearing them.
in coils— strings singed
or sometimes wildflowers.
He came to school weeks later lifting his shirt, the skin of his torso like webbing. He had put on a shadow, uneven— wilted across his chest.
If they aren’t burned, most things are discarded, left somewhere slightly out of the way. This is done in a manner that seems to want everything out— everything within sight, as if each thing could become handy or relevant again in a moment.
By this process the space of each basement, shed, or attic is a cluttered archive of old tools, almanacs, mementos. In off-balanced piles they gather varying sheets— dust-decades, sometimes imprinted with hands that moved them last.
In Red's attic, I found a loose-leaf notebook from 1928, with the name “Earl” written in spinning cursive through the margins. In another box, a photo of a young girl wrapped in a blanket, staring back at the camera flash. I haven’t asked anyone who this girl is, but I found the blanket, hung over a couch in the living room.
In this way, I think we love our traces,
of past lives,
kept only to furnish a memory, gone from the thing itself.
Much of what is left out is a reminder of former purpose. The yards of all nearby houses are scattered with worn or outdated farm machinery, cars, furniture, and spare parts, left leaning on trees or up against barns.
There’s a grain silo behind Red’s house that’s been left for so long it's become toxic inside. Someone tried to clean it out years ago, and got pneumonia from the fumes. Now the family just warns people not to open it.
Right behind that silo sits Younger’s trailer, at the edge of the woods and just out of view from Red’s house. When they found his body there, they left the trailer, unable to move or sort through it.
inside, he had a chimney
some hand tools.
Across the yard from the trailer, there’s a shed with an old-school bicycle screwed to the tin-panel roof. It’s placed at the very edge facing the cornfields, as if ready to take off.
Rarely, if not burned, or discarded, things will be buried out in the woods. I’m not sure why, but when something is buried, it’s done quietly and by one person alone.
My Mom told me she buried Younger’s pillow and bedspread out in the woods. She took me to see the place, so I’d know how to find it, beneath the remnants of a deer-stand her father had built.
It was made into a sort of monument, tucked between trees—
a pile of rotting branches, built up and pointed, a mossy,
Jack McMillin is a Creative Writing student at Oberlin College, and an editorial assistant for Away Journal. He is from Oberlin, Ohio.