January 26, 2009

Paul Dickey

WHEAT STATE SALVATION

And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou,
bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said,
Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship,
he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
—Matthew 14:28, 29 (King James Version)

In vacant lots in Kansas, we walk on
wheat-colored weeds, not water;
taste dust kicked up from shoes; cough up
            a child’s guilt that stuck in the throat

like popcorn husks. Dad preached: To the world,
we are just an old movie to go see every time
it comes to town, but under our canvas tonight,
            the Lord is present. Mosquitoes preyed.

Flies buzzed, circled overhead on bare light bulbs,
settled on the light, old ladies with flowered,
hand fans. The tribulations of Job, not
            ecstasies of apostles, inflated our faith.

Dad and Mom worked the aisles, talked
to brothers and sisters from churches
across the state. I did not dare miss one word
            of grown-up talk of how much I’d grown.

Uncle Fred’s headlights surrounded the tent,
shining the spotlight. There is room at the cross.
The Holy Ghost is moving. I pledged fifty cents
            a month—half a week’s allowance—

for the work of God. Teenage cousins dedicated
their lives to Christ. Going home, I’d fall asleep
memorizing scriptures, with a vision for sinners
            being forgiven, hearing my words.

Dad’s church now is all weeds, thirty years of dust.
Tonight in a lot across town where last week
cousins sold firecrackers, folks still come
            to the altar—just as I am.

I hear a voice that sounds so like my own,
it must be Someone Else. It calls me out,
this time to be the cripple and throw away
            the crutches on which I learned to walk.

from Rattle #29, Summer 2008