[encore] 559: Parable of Childhood

[encore] 559: Parable of Childhood

[encore] 559: Parable of Childhood

This episode was originally released on December 3, 2021.


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Even though I was raised as an atheist, I was always fascinated by the idea of resurrection. It seemed to make absolute sense that someone could die and then return. Why wouldn’t you roll back the stone once in a while and come back to the land of the living? It was hard for me to understand, and perhaps it still is, that someone could just be gone forever.

And even if I could grasp the death of the body, I could never comprehend the death of the soul, or whatever it is that makes us who we are. And so, here I am, an adult woman who believes in ghosts, who believes that the veil is thin between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

To be clear, it’s not that I see ghosts everywhere, it’s just that I think resurrection is more complicated than the scriptures. Couldn’t resurrection mean bringing someone back into the mind, into the heart, and therefore into the room? I heard it once said that writing can be an act of resurrection.

In today’s wonder of a poem by Wayne Miller, we witness a child try to comprehend what death is, and how odd it is to realize that he is both powerless and powerful when it comes to burying and unburying what he loves.

Parable of Childhood
by Wayne Miller

When the dog finally died, dad dug a hole beside the fence and buried her in a boot box. 

She's gone, but she had a good life, mom said. It's OK to be sad.


Next day, the boy came into the kitchen holding the box in front of him. She's not gone. She's still in there, he said. Look.

Mom lifted the lid. Sweetie, when things die, we give them back to the earth.

And then we forget them there?

Yes—and no, dad replied. He put the box in the hole and covered it over. Together, they walked back to the house.


In the morning, the box was on the kitchen counter. I couldn't sleep, the boy said. She was all alone out there.

Maybe that's how she wants it to be, dad replied.

No. She doesn't want anything, the boy said. She's dead. But her box was full of air inside the earth. That wasn't right.

They filled the box with dirt and placed it inside the hole.


What does it mean to die? the boy asked. 

Dad thought of his own father, who'd died a year before the boy was born. A long suffering—until at last his body had filled with snow.

No one knows what death is, dad said. I wish I had a better answer for you.


Four days passed before the box, heavy with dirt and rot, arrived again inside the house. Why is this here? dad asked.

No one knows what death is, the boy said. I wanted to find out.

Jesus, dad said and went out to the garage.

Mom said gently, No. When things die, they're gone. So we return them to the earth.


The dog was gone—that was clear.

But the dog was also right there, just below the surface, packed in darkness. The boy could bring her back inside whenever he wanted—

no matter what his parents said.

"Parable of Childhood" by Wayne Miller, from WE THE JURY by Wayne Miller, copyright © 2021 Wayne Miller. Used by permission of Milkweed Editions.