fall 2018 / Poetry 2018 / volume 49

Nothing but the Blood—Mary Ann Honaker

In church as a child, where the Pledged pews
force spines into unpleasant uprightness,
(by sermon’s end I’d be drooping carpetward,)

he’d sing: round little man, lumpy as a dog’s bed,
crooning coffeehouse acoustic, eyes closed
or unfocused off to the left somewhere, gone,

then he’d return, stooping a bit under applause,
plump cheeks tucked upward in embarrassment,
while the pastor thanked him for his message in song.

He’d remember my name and always greet me.
He’d stand at service’s end to deliver the news: men’s
brunch on Saturday, and remember the family

of long-on-the-prayer-list-name. I don’t know
what mad dog grabbed his washed-whiter-than-snow
in its teeth and shook and shook.

It looked real, didn’t it, under the definite,
decorated lamps, in such direct light,
Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night?

It was real. Every cup of Welch’s grape juice,
solemnly swallowed. Head bowed, sweat
glistening at the edge of receding hair line.

This too is real: the singer’s mug shot
in the Sunday news, the story of his secret sin.
Smudged from dew, left

under my parents’ mailbox. Real:
the empty pew, the backlit blue baptism-tank.
He molested a child. There it is, in type:

how the Band-Aid of grace did nothing
for him, even less for his victim; it’s peeled off
and the wound won’t scab, just bleeds.

*

The Orthodox Presbyterians believe
that while some of us are predestined

to be saved, others are predestined
to be damned.

*

So I too bleed from my wound: the dream
wherein you, mid-sentence, lean in
to kiss me, and I lean too, and I fall

headfirst into bewilderment and awe.
What mad dog is this, opening
Tiamat’s maw to savage our fences,

allowing such a collision? a god
to be worshiped? a devil to be choked?
The singing man said:

I have always been attracted
to young children.

He is not twisted, to be untwisted;
he is not dirty, to be cleaned;
he is an arrow shot from birth

that cannot, by a million tiny cups
tipped in reverence, in belief,
be knocked astray. So are we all

shot into our unfathomable distances:
he to wound a child; I to wound you;
you to wound me.

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