Brent Hendricks reads from his memoir, A Long Day at the End of the World: A Story of Desecration and Revelation in the Deep South, published in March by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Because a picture is a sort of dream, the big moon circles the whirling earth that follows our little burning star, and my father hasn’t entered the third state. He’s not stretched out here in the backwoods of nowhere, becoming the ground. All the stars are flying away, the universe emptying out, my father emptied by the moon’s glare until he’s all shadow and light, beautiful almost, so overexposed he could be a young man in a photograph.
Light-seconds above, orbiting Hubble aims its lens—always backward into the night that was. Clicks a portrait of the artist as a young bomb.
We measure the future by measuring the past.
So where did he go? Where did the light go that was his body, the blood that cycled his veins, the too-bright picture of him with his sweetheart (my mother in her saddle oxfords and he in his jeans), their white shirts fused into the stone of an Oklahoma high school? Six years later he’d be flying out of a SAC base in Topeka, up to the North Pole and back, heavy with a single bomb.
And the other things: I know he dreamed of a wife and two kids, of a tall house inside the spiraling cloud of Georgia suburbs. I know he dreamed of moon travel, weekends, and the art of amateur photography. What about the pictures never taken of his sunken farm and flooded fields? And where did the light go that was his last smile as he slept and shivered in the empty air?
We’ve seen the end, having dreamed it—a cosmological sadness leaving no one left to mea sure the last gesture of the last thinking subject when the lights go out in the stars.
He lies in state. I consider this. And now somewhere in the far pines a mockingbird splits a strange tune—maybe Charlie Parker edged into Bob Wills—and it’s 1954 all over again: my father on leave and fallen three sheets to the wind, lying in his new suit under a hurtling sky.
Just beyond, and in all known directions, the animals move upon the earth at night.
Reprinted with permission by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, from A Long Day at the End of the World: A Story of Desecration and Revelation in the Deep South by Brent Hendricks. Copyright © 2013 by Brent Hendricks.