You’re inviting in a deposed ruler of Labrador who’d as soon steal your child as lick your open hand. Conscious of the governor’s age & arthritis, you surrender your bed but nonetheless lay down some ground rules: No criticizing my cooking; No barring the door when I want to go out; No nosing through the trash without my express permission. After a few days he’s learned to avert his eyes in the appropriate manner, so you run to the store for some liver & gizzards, returning (arms full) to an empty house. Through the back door, you glimpse your diapered toddler astride the governor’s back, digging in fleshy spurs, the pair bounding away.
Martin Luther in the waiting room with tonsillitis—sola scriptura meets applied medicine. His self-care manual has the Ts torn out. Who’s left to indulge him? In Rome the faithful, having universal care, queue for the booth. Once inside, they unhinge their jaws and prepare for inspection. Be thou comforted, little dog, croaks the Reformer. Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.
You should know that my son is suddenly fixated on death, & worms, though he hasn’t yet made the connection. After a rain he rescues nightcrawlers exposed & slithering across sidewalks, places them in a holding cell & forgets they’re there. Days later he brings them to me flat & brittle, wondering if they’re real—that is, alive. It’s a real quandary. I tell him yes, they’re real; he doesn’t believe me. Who knows why he asks, but ask he does. Later, reading a Bible story, he asks whether people ever come back to life. I reply, Not usually.
Sowing vegetable seeds in the churchyard, marking my crops with headstones. Inside the sanctuary, a young woman moves through rows of pitcher plants, fly traps, swaying as she sprinkles them with rainwater. A sign on the wall reads
ALL MATERIAL TOXIC
—the Gnostics are it again. Through the roof, a skylight reveals the passage of clouds, & every so often, a patch of stars.
On his thirteenth birthday, you embark on what you call a father/son survival trip—a Land Rover ride across a mudbaked plain. The first hour, no scenery but a few twisted trees, no sound but the motor’s growl. Stopping at a disembodied pair of enormous white fangs, you glance at the boy. Nothing. You reach over to tousle his hair, but halfway there your hand retracts. The waterskin’s full enough to last him a few days, but then… You mumble an excuse to hop out, slam the door & walk a few steps, squinting. You turn in time to see the kid slide across the leather seat, grip the wheel & hit the gas.
received his MFA from the University of Wyoming. His manuscript Terra Australis was a finalist in Black Lawrence Press’s Fall 2010 chapbook competition, and his poems have appeared in Thick With Conviction and North Central Review. He teaches and tutors at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, where he lives with his wife and children.