The first thing you notice are his hands;
mottled like the trunk of a sycamore tree, tanned brown
by the southern sun with patches of cottonmouth white
around the knuckles and the palms.
They wave in the moist and pregnant air
like leaves before a thunderstorm,
pale and luminous against a dark, vermilion sky.
They fall through forest shadows to rest on the thin
pages of a black-backed Bible,
trembling there like two fiddleback spiders who with
Lenten vigilance await the Lord’s Supper,
until another gust of oral wind sends them flying up again.
I, a teen among several gathered in this dark pavilion
for morning devotions, listen not so much to the gentle
words of the preacher, but more so to the stirring sermon
spoken so eloquently by his haunting hands.
They alight once more, this time upon the battered plastic
of a borrowed cassette player sitting beside the Bible on
the gray stone stoop of the fireplace. Music sends the leaves
dancing away again and I am left with The Beatles and Eleanor Rigby.
Ah look at all the lonely people. Where do they all come from?
Ah look at all the lonely people. Where do they all belong?
I cannot decide who I am, the priest or the parishioner.
All I know is that the hole filling up with a coffin and the rain
lies somewhere in me and it is as deep and empty as ever.
The Cajun girl eying me from across the room could go a long
way toward making the grave go away. Later tonight in this same
pavilion, under the pretence of seeking a lost Bible, she will introduce me to my first French kiss.
I look up into the preacher’s eyes, blue like the ocean off the
Louisiana Gulf Coast, edged at the corners by the spidery prints of
gulls who have skirted the fringes of the surf.
They spark like sunlight on saltwater, twinkling with secret
knowledge hidden in depths I am just beginning to dive into.
He knows my longings, offers me grace and hope that my lonely
thirst will someday be satiated, and gives me the courage to wait for
that which will truly take the edge off my hunger.
I have eaten.
I have drank of the cup.
I have kissed the vitiligic bark of these fingers as the cracker was placed on my tongue.
I have tasted the salt of a blessed soul and
now the moving of these memories is my only communion.
October 12, 1996