And sometimes it’s when you least expect it. The story and how the story ends. The night Matthew Malachi had a drink with Kenneth Dean was his last night in Texas. His ex-wife’s family reunion had been that last Sunday the Sunday after Labor Day. Not in their hometown (for Marion was their hometown now) but in the town where his ex-wife grew up just about an hour to the north a short drive from St. Louis. The interstate runs through it (Marion)—north to south—and the forest is south. The Shawnee National Forest. Sprinkled with lakes. Matthew counted one time on a map and eight lakes surrounded Marion. Like a missive postulate gone fishing. Things were slower down here. Everybody waited at a stop sign. Crime was low and the tragic hand of suicide was even lower. Contemporary Christian music blasted from a radio station on the town square where a tower clock was circled in a roundabout. The bars closed at midnight on weekdays. On Sundays they weren’t even open. A dry county the Wal-Mart and gas stations sold no beer or wine. Drive-thru liquor stores were less than churches on corners and crosses at street signs for as for me and my house… The college town was too the west (where his father and mother met) and The Garden of the Gods was to the east. If you took 148 North it led you to an Italian community a festival there over Memorial Day and a fine deli which sold Muffuletas and excellent sausages cooked with garlic and red peppers. 37 South took you to Lake of Egypt with houses by the water and the town of Goreville where his grandmother was born and raised under the maiden name of Hancock back roads leading to two state parks—Giant City and Ferne Clyffe—I mean back roads with names like Lick Creek and Happy Hollow dotted with wineries and pastures of baled hay. In town center on the other side of the railroad tracks just across from the county fairgrounds stood Small’s with its sign: Nobody Beats Our Meat—weekly ads posted on-line sales on T-Bones and ground chuck meat bundles for your deep freezer and pork steaks and ribs smoked daily. The VA sits on a patch of land off Main Street just down from the Pepsi headquarters on Old Route 13 and that’s where Matthew Malachi worked—a federal government employee that made him think of the days he spent growing up on Air Force bases and ROTC drills in New Orleans for here here the patients had stories veterans of war and we walk the trail to the waterfall soon October earth soon the fanfare of Homecoming pumpkins for Halloween the leaves are falling falling like whispers transcendent they let go from their height on mottled branches colored red and gold resting on the green moss of ancient rock Sugar Maples going first then the Oak treasured in glistening dust the verdant abundance which gives this place its name a place dark and cool a place of fragile light meek water to meditate alone in to share with family to let your dog loose the cats always wild silent whispering the air a hush before the snow buries all is before time and after it hinting in the hanging shadows where the sunlight appears… Shh… be still for everything floats here and not just the dying leaves the old men the veterans saying:

it does not destroy itself
yes but people want help to help themselves
you are a Christian who means well but…
Nature does not destroy itself even brute and basic it is…

born to be born the trail loops back without taking the same steps
the story the woods tell