Thomas Bates The 2River View, 6.2 (Winter 2002)

After the Messiah Came and Went

There were no more horses to live by
heart pine barns my grandfather built
on the dead earth of East Colorado.
It was winter. Snowflakes fell and melted
on tongues of Gringo children like manna,
their mothers hollering breakfast from stone
buildings white with hoarfrost. Jim Cartwright
held the county seat, and nobody seemed
to know the difference. The air in our house
was sweet Wednesday mornings, hallelujah,
the weekly Bellevue Baptist praise meeting
come again to our kitchen with country hymns,
hash browns, hominy. My father kept tempo
with the fat Cuban heels of his cowboy boots
so you could feel it on the porch as you walked in,
throw up a quick hoot, Amen, and ask your pleasure.
This was the treasure none of them knew about:
the tobacco-black chitin of a horse fly
I kept hidden in an empty cigar tube I carried in my pocket,
the last of its kind. Its eyes were a strange lime,
and every time I looked I started to believe
my young body was only happening. I once showed it
to Bill Jenkins’ boy, the one who drowned in Pawnee creek
last summer, said it was terrible dead, I don't remember.
I found him laid out on a low shelf in his daddy’s barn,
naked, his skin was beautiful, I couldn’t even tell,
his body in the hard shape of a cross so when I lifted
myself on top of him, arms outstretched, shins folded,
it was a double crucifixion. I remember how the thing was soft
and there were murmurs and I thought I heard God move
in the frictionless air. But it was the distant song of the morning crowd
lifted in prayer, pulled from a kitchen with down home
smells of poached eggs and pepper bacon, Jesus, Jesus
there was some other noise, a dull buzz
just beyond the boy’s slow mouth, green eyes
full of death and singing. I am the last of my species.

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2River All is well.