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.

He smiled.

"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,

And I,

So unholy,

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.


Again, louder.

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,

Heart first.

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,

Would it?

Sometimes I wonder

If that Yankee officer got any closer to Heaven,

By rope,

By hatred.

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


ellen abbott said...

oh Shay. such loathing, loneliness and longing.

Ami Mattison said...

Love, love your writing! This piece just spits and sighs. Utterly amazing and imaginative. You've certainly worked your magic on this one. I'll read it again now.

moondustwriter said...

What a tale Shay.
Dark as the picture
nothing to look back on that's alive

dustus said...

The speaker's thoughts about the circuit rider encompass a brutal, tornadic welter of emotions and social commentary, which begin to clear toward the end. The infusion of Sean's imagery is excellent. Love it

hedgewitch said...

At first this tale seems long, then each word starts to pass on its knife-sharp meaning, so that you see not one was unnecessary or without purpose in the whole. I love the comparison of the bible to a sleeping lion, and the total darkness of the raindrops that become instead of lifegiving, lifetaking. A terrifying journey into the dark heart of loss that never loses a frail and flickering humanity, especially in its wistful, lonely ending. "...But it wouldn't undo the storm/Would it?..."
"...we were thief and crucifier..."

Just a brilliant poem from beginning to end in every possible way.

Now who's raising the bar, woman?

Sherry Blue Sky said...

I am rushing, so have to come back and read this more slowly and reverently, and absorb it. It is so RICH. I really love your southern child voice. Such tales you weave! I will be back. Absolutely stellar writing.

Beachanny said...

Brilliant, poetic, moving. Bits of life, emotions, wound through pictures as you form a pulsing, breathing world more real than real, harder than diamonds, older than dirt. Your a magnificent talent. It's an honor to read your work.

Claudia said...

what a journey!
esp. loved the questions in this
..But it wouldn't undo the storm,
Would it?..

Mama Zen said...

What a gorgeous, gorgeous piece of writing. Every word. I particularly love these lines:

"What didn't burn, grew;
Some did both and smolder yet."

Susannah said...

I find your writing potent, unique and marvellous!

Lynn said...

Wow. This was amazing.

M.L. Gallagher said...

There is in this poem history and richness and deep dark soils clinging to boots and Bibles raised and voices hushed.

This poem is Amazing!

Louise G

Brian Miller said...

marvelous story telling shay...i think i heard him preach a time or two growing up...they still have yet to burn me...

LulĂș said...

A powerful piece! A movie could be made out of this one, my friend.

signed...bkm said...

Love this story, the blue eyes - the color of Yankee coats....wonderful story...this story needs to be longer...a short story...wonderful image...bkm

Joanna Jenkins said...

Wow Shay, that is seriously stunning....

"...In a night become flood and fire, I turned to stone,
Heart first."

I'm blown away. jj

Glynn said...

What a moving story you tell with this poem. And it ranges across all the colors and emotions of the photograph. Well done.

Anonymous said...

poignant to pain-filled. an amazing poem, Shay.

Anonymous said...

Shay, this was a rich tapestry of wordiness, hitting hard and fast. I loved it!

Deborah said...

You write in such a way that sweeps me up and takes me headlong into another world, umm just wonderful.

TALON said...

What a poem, Shay! Leaves me breathless.