Three Truths, One Story
In faith, dear friend, I can't make up
a name like Turnipseed, or that
I knew a man who went by such
a goodly name. Now, everything
I'm telling you is true. This man
had come from people who knew what they
were doing once, and why it mattered.
Do you know what you're doing? Do you
know something old? A turnipseed
is tiny, it's a little bit
of hardly anything. I guess
that's something old to know: you could hold
an itty bit of almost nothing
and know it's something still, and know
it's always been that way. Do you
like knowing things like that? I knew
a bunch of folks some years ago
whose name was Stonecypher, I kid
you not, and some of them were still
engaged with stones and had the hands
to prove it. They lived way out. Speaking
of out there places, my father told
me just the other day a tale
about his mother: Mama came
from Leatherwood, he said, Lord knows
what they were doing there, back then.
And that is true for sure; there's not
a living person left to say
what they were doing there. They had
a stripey mule, as Mama said
the stripes run crossed the ginny's flank
she told me once, but she is gone,
and missing her has gotten old.
There are words and there are deeds, and both
are dying out, dying away
from where they were and what they meant.
God save the man who has the heart
to think of anything more sad.
The Doctrine Of An Axe
Of all times, now is not the time,
given the world's old vague condition,
to hang in my mind the plumb-bob weight
of original sin and watch it twist
around like a tire at the end of a rope
looped over a tree branch. Once
my sister came within a hair
of getting bit by a snake asleep
in the tire she'd hooped around herself.
She was wearing a dress, my friend, just home
from church; her patent leather shoes
kicked at the air just twice before
she shed the tire and screamed. I chopped
the copperhead to pieces. What kind
of parents allow their child to play
with an axe? Well, mine, I suppose. I made
them proud that day. The sin was how
I let myself be proud, a pride
that wore like whitewash from a fence.
Now you might think I'm being stern
and unforgiving. After all,
I was only six and could not have known
about sin. But I did; I knew it like
a nursery rhyme, or the Now I Lay Me
bedtime prayer. I once got drunk
on a Sunday morning; I don't know
if that was sinful, but it proved
that nothingness is absolute,
a naked shameful nothing left
beneath the shade tree in my heart,
the rusted axehead long since stuck
and buried in its trunk, a bone
caught in its living throat, a wound
I made in its side and can't undo.
We should both be doing something good;
we should be kind to someone now.
A Psalm To Bring Remembrance
I had a friend when I was little;
he went to a different school because
he was a little slow. He lived
with a giant man and woman who weren't
his parents, and six or seven more
he called his sisters and brothers. He had
a dog named Sister. We played in the woods
and tinkered on our bicycles.
One day, an older girl took off
her shirt and told us we could touch.
He did. He waved his hands around
as if he were trying to catch a bird.
The older girl was a Catholic,
I believe; her name was Mary; I
was a Presbyterian, and he
was nothing. Another day, we broke
a woman's window with a rock.
He got the tar whipped out of him.
I mowed the banjo player's yard
all summer to pay my share. You God
up there who saw it all, I hope
his life got better, but I doubt
it did. If he is dead by now,
I hope he's resting in your bosom.
Do not be slow. Remember he
was poor and needy, more than me.
That I Abide With Thee In Case You Wondered
You must keep going you have to tell
yourself again and again I learn
from the tree the bird's one twirling song
is the simple truth I won't know God
except by signs like these I know
the signs are always there for me
the cloud-patch drifts with wisdom Lord
help thou my unbelief give me
the perfect patience of the rain
the word for stone is a word I need
to say you cause my mouth to say it
you make my heart to sing one day
you'll make me fly away for good
I won't remember any words
when I unspeaking flame into
the tree I'll be what I know now
I will not hurt it anymore
you know how hard I wait for then
you know I love the tree for what
it is with all my heart a tree
will you believe I'm praying all
the time when I'm asleep and when
I wake I think you will I'll tell
myself there isn't anything
okay there isn't anything
you see how all of this adds up
a zero with a God inside?