WHAT RELIGION MEANS TO ME
Religion is why
Kristi broke up with me my senior year in high school
in Holier-Than-Y’all, Alabama.
All the girls spent spring break at church camp,
came home and dumped their boyfriends
because of our ungodly desires
or theirs. Kristi ended us, then washed
my car in her driveway
to pay off a friendly wager
her words had rendered irrelevant
and to show she meant me no ill will.
I drove home down the longest country road I knew,
trailing a rooster-tail plume of white dust,
stopping to taste sweet dark wild fruit on the roadside.
I thought I understood something about the path through heartbreak,
how its shoulders were choked with kudzu
and purple-bruised blossoms smelling of homemade grape wine.
My friends all worshiped
at the First Church of Our Steeple Is Taller Than the Methodists’
and once after I visited, three men came to witness to my family
and tell my mother they were sorry
she didn’t care about her children
as she didn’t send us to church.
My twelfth-grade English teacher told us
which translations of the Bible would get us to heaven.
The vice principal argued theology
with Robyn, the only out-and-proud atheist I knew,
who wore her faithlessness like a gaudy blouse with shoes to match.
(I’m afraid I idolized Robyn; she floated in a different realm.)
Mr. Carter thought to trump her by asking:
How can a brown cow eat green grass and make white milk
if not by the hand of God?
The worst part is, when Kristi sat me down and asked
was I a Christian
I looked deep into her tawny lion-eyes and by god I lied.
Purer, simpler faith has never existed
than mine at that moment, nor any martyr felt more forsaken
than when she said she was breaking things off anyway
though she was happy to know I, too, would be in heaven.
I withstood this test. I still believe
the pale taste of sweat on the skin of the breast of the woman I adore,
stain of blackberries on the fingers,
hot whisper against the throat—a prayer
to be loved that only the devout can hear.
—from Rattle #34, Winter 2010