Bruce Smith

Devotion: Al Green

I rode the Greyhound watching the twitchy things of the North give way
to the sticky, bloodshot things of the South. No ground so burnt
there’s not a church where I heard the Reverend amplify, rarefy,
and glorify the word so that we were all in some state of sweating July.
The ashy black man and the white bail bondsman held each other
until they were blue. I heard the Reverend take the hymn of my mama
and the whore’s perfume and mix them. Downhome/downtown.
His voice in Arkansas behind the plow. His voice in Michigan stoop sitting.
His voice in a satin cheap tuxedo as he drew back from the microphone
and in the air the tea olive bloomed – formal, miraculous pockets of sweetness
I turned to. . . Now, his voice soars over the devil in falsetto, finding the register
that floats me over the sugar hill and the narrow path. I’m falling into the hands
of a man who vows never to let go as he lowers me (his breath on my face)
into the river – Reverend, I will not throw the scalding grits in your face.
I just want the blush from your stubble, and here I am Baby
to be kindled by your body.

Bruce Smith
“Devotion: Al Green” is from Devotions (University of Chicago Press, 2011).