My father-in-law and I begin gutting the kitchen: the bird's-beak molding that borders the ceiling, the paneling, the trim around the windows and doors, the baseboard, the three-step staircase that leads to the living room, the ancient brick hearth. He uses a claw hammer for the paneling, a wrecking tool called a Wonder Bar for the trimwork, and for the steps and other stubborn woodwork, I use a piece of iron I find in the basement. It is four-feet long, very heavy, tapered at both ends and bowed in the middle. I wonder if it might have been a spring for a carriage seat? My father-in-law pauses, looks. Gets back to the job.

Physical work disheartens me. It is a weakness of character. My grandfather earned his living as a welder. My father did construction during the summer to pay for college. I can’t outwork my father-in-law, who grew up on a farm and goes about hard jobs steadily, stern as a man killing possums.

Work in heaven means something needs to be done. Thus, eternity lengthens by the infinite energy of imperfection. My father-in-law will work forever and be content with God.

Jesus, all I want to do is watch tv.

With the kitchen walls increasingly bare, the room becomes filled with the noise of creaking nails being leveraged out of oak and the high jangle of wood on wood as we toss scrap into a pile in the middle of the floor. When a piece of lumber snaps in two, the sound in the room is as sharp as a Derringer shot in an empty theater. Soot collects for eternity, and it cascades down when delivered from behind the paneling and the trim. It hangs corrosively in the room; it makes the air gritty. It covers the windows so the daylight coming through looks gauzy and eclipsed. It collects in the lines on my forehead and darkens my eye sockets.

After a time, I tell my father-in-law I’m done and leave him to it. We have no less days than when we’d first begun. I observe the sullen, shell-shocked me in the bathroom mirror. My ears ring. My lungs ache. The kitchen looks beyond repair. I miss my wife and children.

I take a hot shower and let rivulets of black water leap off my forearms like panicked herds from a cliff. I think of a couple I once watched on This Old House, can-do types remodeling their Victorian home. The husband, my age back then, never quite got over the square-headed nails that held the lathe to the ceiling beams.

I may never be happy.

In heaven I'll think of trials so long ago that now it’s the fact of their detachment from me that makes me cover my face to not cry. My children leaving home, one by one by one, and the silence in the house that made my chest hurt I missed them so much. A late August morning in Pennfield, Michigan, the last week of summer vacation, and Joel Newhouser brings honeycomb from his grandfather’s beehives. The air is hot already, and though we can still ignore it, school waits like a daytime moon. We stand in his driveway, chewing the honeycomb like wax teeth candy.

Savior, Savior. Hear my humble cry: while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.

Bird Report

Warm day for mid-February. All but the deepest drifts have melted. The rest remain around the yard like science fair glaciers. A mourning dove—one—sitting judgy-ly on the vent ridge of my roof.

If you’ve got something to say, man, say it.