J.V. Sumpter

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POETRY

My Umbrella Shot Three Stories into the Air

Maybe the Rapture just happened,
and the only part of God’s creation found
worthy on this college street
was my umbrella,
sucked straight up to heaven

while I’m left with arms raised,
hands empty,
a street-corner prophet
desolate in vindication.

Maybe I should have held on.

Maybe I’m supposed to follow, run
across this squelching grass,
this flooding street, dodge
this car—and that one—
ignore the blaring horns and jump/
skid onto the sidewalk just in time

to see my umbrella cartwheel
over a Walgreens roof
and fall off the edge of my world.

Maybe it’s meant to lead me to you,
hero of my daydreams, man
of a thousand faces, all blurred
yet bright as headlights
streaking through a puddle.

I always knew we’d meet
like this: me rounding
the corner and crashing
into you, no unromantic
hassle of intention
to find you, but a meet-cute
adorably awkward.

And I know you’ll love me
how I deserve to be loved:
with all my quirks,
my bad behavior,

and unconscious psychological
self-sabotage my therapist says
will keep me from forming real
relationships if I don’t change.

But you’ll love my every flaw—
all the more because
you’ll have none of your own.

And here is the corner,
and a grocery bag snagged
on a sun-bleached brick
sticking out of the side of the building.

And here is my umbrella,
sad and wet and crumpled,
a drunk passed-out
in the dirty pool gurgling
from curb to gutter.

And here I am, profoundly
unsurprised to find no rapture,
and no hot, mystery man
to scoop me up and carry me away
from my predictable life,
and the only portal whooshing open for me,
Walgreens’ automatic door.

Might as well go in.
Might as well get Cheetos.


American Study Abroad Students Attend Church at Harlaxton, England

They play “America the Beautiful”
and smile as we file into empty pews
which sadly never fill.

The locals, old, and we, the young,
are far outnumbered by the ghosts
whose bodies we step on each time
we walk the aisle.

The floor and walls are tiled with tombs
that hold a family each,
and I prefer that audience—they’re hushed
as I climb lectern steps and read Psalm 102.

They do not cough or blink at me
unlike the living crowd, yet they,
being dead, advance the psalm.
Perhaps we’re doing wrong at home
to keep our dead in garden beds
and not let them in church,
where they would preach
without a word.

Yet what strikes me most is not the ghosts
but the familiar scent
of welcome coffee dripped on bulletins
that read, Please, come again; our services
are at eight and ten.

The whitehaired Englishmen and -women here
would blend right in at home,
in Tulsa, Evansville, and everywhere
the church is dying off. They lost their sons
and come for us; their eyes, their lust, arrests
the young. They ask, How did we lose them?


The World Ends This Sunday at Midnight, But

the church is far from full.

At 5 AM I put on
my makeup out of habit
but as soon as I arrived at church
I found the bathroom,
washed it off.
All the morning service I keep
touching my face.

I don’t hear the sermon.
I’m trying to remember
if I’m saved.

When I was eleven, I was saved and they threw me
a party. They threw me a party
so I must be saved.
I only remember the party.

The year my mother died I came to her at night
crying ‘cause I wasn’t sure again,
but she smoothed my hair and then … and then …

Now it’s noon. We’re eating donuts in Fellowship Hall
and I drink three cups of watery church coffee
then remember I don’t drink coffee.

The worship band is playing in the corner.
Some young people are going round and lifting
people’s hands into the air but I
am kneeling by a chair, flipping through a Bible
and I cannot read.

And now it’s 10 PM I’m in a pew again
and the pastor’s talking about love. The word
feels like cotton in my chest.
Have I ever loved?

At 11:51 the pastor tells us it’s time. Get out your white,
white robes, put them on—
but I’ve already got mine on,
plus a spare I took.

A woman gasps,
runs out the door, and someone goes out after her,
and someone grabs that someone by the sleeve,
says, “Don’t go after her!”

I press my lips together,
finger my two robes’ sleeves.


J.V. Sumpter recently earned her BFA from the University of Evansville. She is an assistant editor for Kelsay Books, Thera Books, and freelance clients. She received 2020 Virginia Grabill Awards in Poetry and Nonfiction, and her most recent publications are in Leading Edge Magazine, Not Deer Magazine, and New Welsh Review. Visit her on Twitter @JVSReads.


Photo by Thgusstavo Santana on Pexels.com.


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