Words are Made for Ministration

by Peter Grandbois

He hates walking his dog after rain. It’s not the puddles or toweling off his dog after. Or even that his dog licks the dew off each blade of grass instead of peeing so he’s late for work. It’s the earthworms. They’re everywhere. He can’t think about anything except where to step. It’s inevitable he’ll step on one. Take this morning. He let his guard down. The tiniest fraction. Thinking of his father, the fact that he didn’t pass the memory test at the doctor’s the other day. “He blew it,” his mother had said. He’d noticed his father forgetting things, losing track of the conversation, then starting up a “new” conversation about something they’d talked about the day before. He’d been fearing this moment. Both his father’s parents had suffered horribly from Alzheimer’s. So, he knew it was a matter of time. Last night, he’d gotten angry with his father. “You’ve told me that story three times in the last week, Dad!” His father got quiet after that, and there was nothing he could do to salvage the moment.

He stepped on the earthworm just as he recalled that conversation. A big one. Eighteen inches long and as thick as his finger. It wrapped around his foot the second he stepped on it. He kicked it off, sending it to the edge of the road near the grass, where it writhed uncontrollably. His dog lurched for it, but he held him back, his dog pulling at the leash, trying to get at it, whimpering. But he didn’t leave. He couldn’t stop staring at it. The way it twisted and turned, flipped and flopped, as if an alarm inside had sounded and now wouldn’t turn off. How it couldn’t stop even after the middle of it had been squashed, making of escape its torture. He wanted to ask forgiveness. He didn’t know where the impulse came from, and yet he couldn’t do it. The best he could do was stand there and watch.

The problem is it wouldn’t quit, as if it didn’t know what had happened, didn’t understand. It kept trying to move, trying to go about its journey across the road to some drier patch of land. And the best he could do was wait for the word he knew wouldn’t come, and then another word and another still to be invented, the word that might take back what seemed promised, the word that might redeem everything. But the longer he stood there wishing for that word and then another, the more he wondered if the word was real or only dreamed of.

Peter Grandbois is the author of thirteen books. His work has appeared in over one hundred journals. His plays have been performed in St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, and New York. He is poetry editor at Boulevard and teaches at Denison University in Ohio. You can find him at www.petergrandbois.com.