The wood of the front deck steps was rotted to the point of being almost unrecognizable as wood. The lefthand post had decomposed straight through up and down. The paint itself provided the shape of the thing, a thin case for the salad inside. We pulled it apart without tools, taking handfuls of pulpy wet once-wood. If you squeezed hard enough, water ran down your wrist. Picture a two-by-four. Picture the fresh healthy trunk of tree. Imagine squeezing so hard water comes out. When we got lower, prying apart the first step and the skirt that rose up each side of the stairs, we met the ants, fat black ants who emerged into the sunlight from their wood tunnels. They grabbed their eggsacks and made a run for safer ground. At the top of the stairs, where the skirt met the side of the house, it was held together by a spiderweb.
I had a dream last night that I walked into a bar and on the floor was a man dissolving, his guts, his whole core, a pool of pale flesh colored liquid, thick and shiny. His face was thin, and his pals spoke to him from their barstools. Short puffed sections of intestine lay nearby, the color of ticks swollen with blood. The wood, the disintegration, had infected my dreams. Or maybe it was the news these last weeks, what’s going on in the world, which feels like a bigger burden than usual, and harder to hold in the head all at once. It’s a small thing to say, but when the sickness and violence and fear and mind-bending injustice and the dark things of this human world rise at once, building a new set of steps, eradicating the rot with fresh cedar balusters and railings of strong fir is, again and again, a powerful antidote against the chaos, internal and external. When things look grimmest, when the ants are everywhere and the wood is crumbling in our hands and dissolving against the press of a pry bar, M. often says, with a chanty super-hero sort of conviction, “We can rebuild it!” And so we find small kernels of comfort, and hope.