The coal-hauling train car said Hi Loretta, Jesus Saves in white-chalk, ardent letters.
So do the bathroom stalls and bumper stickers riding their diesels up Highway 81
and the letters Nate’s mom sends in the blue envelopes she adores
because they are sacred—they are great—they are from The Christ Store of Baltimore.
I used to think it was boredom; I believe I thought the paperback Jesus of the droopy eyes
came to those who had nobody to love but the good-times Jesus of the afterlife picnic,
but it’s a prayer, isn’t it, Loretta? It’s what we want instead of what we’ve got—
not the dead little boy in the dining room with his heart and lungs pierced by a kitchen
not the mother face weeping while opening the drawer
or the mother face drafting the suicide note while the not-dead-yet little boy
wondered where was the yogurt or tried to strap his tongue around the nouns
that say a world of bees and bananas unfurled in the grass to eat and toss.
Don’t cry, maybe he said before it was too late, but she was too busy killing him
to hear anything but the hurricane of killing him and by then anyway
there was not-rain everywhere and a kind of humming he couldn’t name
and somewhere low down, Loretta, not rage or pain, but wonder that he was going to be
a plume instead of a boy and waft around his beautiful haunt-mother in a perpetual mew
like this blue-eyed, billboard Jesus—this hot potato, Bumfuck Jesus—
saving who, Loretta, who?
“Jesus Saves” first appeared in 88: A Journal of Contemporary American Poetry, Issue 4.