Excerpt of Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos
(Page 6 of 9)
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Several of them are plein air painters. Being submerged in the landscape
has given them a new appreciation for it. Their awareness of color
is deeper and more refined; after all, they themselves provide at least
some of those colors: the robust burgundy of milo seed heads, the eerily
dense green of emerging soybeans. Many are engaged in ongoing scientific
experiments. Others are linguists.
To label their pursuits as hobbies would be misleading. The dead
fathers of Emlyn Springs are not dilettantes. They work long and hard.
They postulate formulas and equations with assiduity and then set about
the long, slow, solitary business of proof. This makes them very happy.
Meet some of them. Observe their labors. Tread lightly.
Mr. Merle Funk, farmer (18741930), is preoccupied with subtle differences
in grasshopper physiology. Waldo Closs, insurance salesman
(19301962), studies the fragile nervous system of the four-leaf clover.
Obediah Purdy, pharmacist and bicycle enthusiast (18261899), transcribes
dialectical variations in bee-speak. And leading the landscape
artists is Dr. Gerallt Williams (19022000), family physician and specialty
When it comes to the animal kingdom, their studies are focused exclusively
on native birds. Theyre done with cattle and hogs. Theyre fed
up with chickens. Ezra the Egg King Krivosha (18881982)who put
Emlyn Springs on the map by promoting it as the Fancy Egg capital of
the worldno longer cares one whit about the inner lives of exotic laying
hens, but hes fascinated by the social interactions of snow geese. And
since his death a hundred years ago, Fritz Bybee, Esq., has been recording
the genealogical history of a single family of pied-billed grebes.
Other dead fathers are engaged in researching the impact of weather
upon the underbelly of the Nebraska landscapeand, by extension,
upon all remains that are there interred: Mr. Roy Klump, owner of Roys
Roofing (19301998), records the varying sound waves produced by
different sizes of hail and notes their effect upon postmortem hair
growth. Myron Mutter (18981982), pastor, observes the way that electrical
currents passing through the earth in advance of a thunderstorm
affect hearing loss. And Mr. Ellis Cockeram, podiatrist and choirmaster
(19031979), is devising a means of measuring tornado-force
winds by observing the escalating sensations that occur in his left fourth
The dead are just as certain as the living that a storm is on its way
today, and soonnot by observing the sky, but through a particular
chemical agitation in the soil, along with various corresponding skeletal
anxieties. (Thankfully, Mr. Cockerams toes are unaffected.) Their
softer remains are growing incrementally more acidic, and the earthworms,
preferring a sweeter cuisine, are burrowing away.
Dead fathers dont ask for much: solitude and quiet and detachment
from the emotional vicissitudes of the living. They dont thrill to demonstrative
mourners. They cant abide recklessness. And nothing upsets
them more than willful stupidity.
Ergo, as far as theyre concerned, Llewellyn Jones deserves whatever
he gets for behaving with such reckless disregard for the rules of storm
safety, rules that each and every one of them can tick off in their sleep.
And now the mayor is at the country club, parking his 89 Marquis
next to Bud Humphries 84 F-150, shouldering his bag and heading
directly for the first hole tee-off.
What the hell is he thinking?
Decoding the motivating forces behind human behavior is the academic
province of dead mothers. In contrast to their male counterparts
(those curmudgeons, digging in their fleshless heels, barking out rules
with a catechismal self-importance), dead mothersah!they travel.
Excerpted from Sing Them Home
by Stephanie Kallos. Copyright © 2009 by Stephanie Kallos.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.