Sunday, February 6, 2011
The Circuit Rider
The land was dry that summer,
Dotted with papery stalks like widows alone in the big house fields
Under a merciless sky that sent no visitors.
I was the first to see him, you know.
We were thief and crucifier,
One standing, the other leaning from his horse.
"Good afternoon, Miss," he said, and serpents wound around me as if I were a caduceus driven into the sick earth,
And he the surgeon.
"Sir," I replied and dipped in what might have been a lazy curtsy
Or my usual faint disrespect.
He wore black,
With that Roman spot of white at his throat, as if doves might fly out when he spoke,
And in his hand a bible.
I stared at its closed pages thinking how like a sleeping lion it seemed,
Would stand no chance once he opened it--
So I wept,
There on the dusty flat,
My tears the only moisture given it in weeks.
I have never touched My Love;
Not as the hawk or the barn owl touch--
Not the way I want to.
Her eyes are the same dark blue as the coat our Daddies stripped off that Yankee officer
Just before they let him sway,
Strung like an empty seed pod over the dirt five feet beneath his boot soles.
The church does with lay preachers most Sundays,
But for when the circuit rider comes.
This was a new one, and we all went silent when he raised his hand with the scripture above his head.
I wanted to hold My Love's fingers in mine, beneath our skirts on the hard pew,
So that I would not drown when he began to speak,
But my cowardice doomed me.
He cleared his throat.
Then the thunder came, from a clear night sky,
The lightning turning the walls blue, then red as the tinderbox prairie caught.
Last summer the cattle came down with a pox.
At first, only one or two died, and that's how it was when the first fat drops fell on the church roof.
I couldn't catch my breath.
The preacher began with his text and his message.
I recalled the cattle, how more and more of them suffered and failed. Daddy had to use the horse team to drag all the carcasses far enough away to burn them.
I remember the big dark poisonous cloud across Heaven.
I looked over and saw My Love's eyes on fire--
The preacher's voice got louder and the storm raged.
Everybody shouted, spoke in tongues, rolled on the floor.
In a night become flood and fire, I turned to stone,
In the days after,
What didn't burn, grew;
Some did both and smolder yet.
The circuit rider set his gotten treasure on his horse
And I watched two sets of eyes look back at me as they rode away,
One blank, one deep blue.
Maybe I will follow the circuit,
Become a whiskey whore
Or go stupid with laudanum, passing out on the horsehair sofa all afternoon.
Maybe I will find him and cut his throat like cleaning a dove,
But it wouldn't undo the storm,
Sometimes I wonder
If that Yankee officer got any closer to Heaven,
I wonder if his spirit could teach a snakebit southern girl
Whether life goes on
After the heart beat stops?
for One Shoot Sunday
top photograph by Sean McCormick
bottom photograph by Metin Demiralay