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Bones in Jacksonville, Maryland

Caitlin Andrews

I. Graves

Cow femurs mingle with eggshells in the compost

at the bottom of the yard

next to the moldboard plow, blades deadened with the passing seasons,

conquered by rust.

Pop’s dogs are buried under the oak tree with the rope swing.

On the afternoons where the shadows stretch long,

I spin, plastic yellow flaking on my palms,

and think of the beagles, mutts, shepherds.

Pop’s hunting dogs, my uncles’ first friends,

asleep in their little mounds, next to the tree, frocked in stones.

The wrath of summer weather bears forth old death

like a banner.

Fish ribs in the mulch are lithe, spiny flowers.

Some raccoon’s mandible comes up with a July monsoon,

fertilizing the doomed tomato plants.

Five generations of Hannibals, living

on a land where nothing can grow, but everything is


II. Excavation

Next to the cucumbers and eggplants and rickety string bean poles

Dad breaks from his bandsaw to overturn the earth with a shovel,

a mountain of fresh dirt, crumbling clay,

his pink arms glistening.

The sun tightens my neck red as I work.

I am an archaeologist in the dessert, I am Dr. Ellie Sattler,

raking through the dirt with my bare fingers

looking for a serrated tooth, a velociraptor claw.

Paint brushes scatter, bristles browned from the earth.

I refuse Mom’s call for lunch—real adventurers don’t stop

for pickle slices and grilled cheese.

But I ask for the colander, this is great for sifting.

There—! Emerges a stegosaurus spike, slate grey and big as my hand

Then another—a whole row of spikes. This is my big break.

I don’t realize dinosaurs are supposed to exist in three dimensions

Dad mounts my bones on a two-by-four with superglue, like some schematic

I push down that knowing feeling, the way Dad looks at me like I’m a child

I keep digging,

Searching for the full story, the skeleton.

III. Making History

On a break from badminton, Daniel finds a small iron ball

in dewy grass

cradles it like he would a baby bird.

We ask Nana, Mom, and Pop—speculations swirl about this heavy little thing,

the orb that smells like pennies.

Could it be a Civil War bullet? I ask, but my mind is made up.

Union soldiers dart through my mind, peeking from behind trees, firing

on the Confederacy, ambiguously evil,

unseen in the Christmas tree farm that surrounds our house.

I envy my brother’s claim on this treasure, our link to the greater story.

Dad suggests we take it to antique shop to have it dated,

but we never do.

Once Pop shot himself in the leg, hunting in Gunpowder Falls state park.

Unlike the movies, the wound didn’t bleed at all—

he didn’t realize he’d been hit at first.

Somehow he made it to the hospital. Somehow he’d missed the artery.

Turns out, a lot of misfires happened in and around the farm.

The Civil War Bullet sits in Daniel’s room in an old jam jar, wrapped in wilted tissues.

The fiction, protected.

IV. To Ashes

Springtime: the corn needs planting.

Weeds sprout from between the garden rows, beaten down

from layers of harsh snow.

Pop had been unearthing the tractor from the shed when he collapsed.

Dad got to him first—he happened to see from the living room window

over morning coffee.

Pop was in the denim jacket, even though the day was bright.

Mere minutes must have passed since his heart stopped seizing.

He was still warm.

This is all in the call Mom gets as she and I are dipping

into the Venetian Pool a thousand miles away,

an indulgent detour for our calloused toes

after my college visit.

Mom nearly drops the phone—Daddy’s dead—

We have to get back, to circle the wagons,

Back to our land

that caught Pop when his heart gave out,

where it calls all living things

at the end.

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