by Terry Leigh Deal

He taught me to love snakes, possums, and the gators
who lived under sprawling log bridges that joined the riverbanks.
I pulled myself across on hands and knees watching long tendrils of Spanish Moss fade into the dark current beneath.
We listened for tree frogs, chased water striders, and tried our best to catch bream or shiners.
I stood small and fearless, barefoot in the mud.

I was tiny when I swam across the lake.
He followed in the Jon Boat®; but I swam it alone,
fearless in my kindergarten skin.
When he threw me off the end of the dock
fully clothed in jeans, socks, and boots,
I heard, “This is how you learn to be drown proof.”
I tried to stay afloat.

Dressed in a silver-scaled fish costume,
I fearlessly climbed the ten-foot diving tower,
my toes turned in on the edge of the platform.
Music played; adults cheered while they watched a skinny girl
dive into a gasoline-lit pool of fire and swim to the other side.

When he took us children camping,
he flipped pancakes over a cookstove.
We peed in a blue metal pot at the foot of the plywood bed
where together we slept with the man.
There, his heavy hands made my terrified body sink in the slithery darkness.



Neighbors cry the alarm, as rattled as the juncos at my feeder.
April snow, a killing frost.
Beneath pear blossoms falling like translucent tears,
I pick every yellow daffodil, jonquil, narcissus in my yard
and fill blue Ball® jars with sunshine and sky.

There are so many varieties of sorrow.
How much harder is it to grieve a life poorly lived than a death?
In his final years, my father built mirrored altars to himself,
and lived and died with the only person he ever loved.

Terry Leigh Deal is a naturalist and environmental educator who has taught in both private and public schools in the Asheville area for over thirty years. She is a mother of three and a grandmother to two children, all of whom are Asheville natives. Terry has a Bachelor of Arts and Teaching Certification from the University of Florida and a Master of Science in Educational Studies and Environmental Education from the University of Utah. Her writing passions include creative nonfiction as well as poetry.