Anthony Butts

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POETRY

Rainbow Soldier

—Composed on World Pi Day of the Century

From dark numerals,
in the LED display of the Texas Instruments
scientific calculator I begged my parents to purchase

as a junior high student,

to incalculable faith found
along God’s Way:
the ground laying graveled,

the journey full of turns,

a heavenly multiplicity fills the hemisphere
of my mind with light both refracting and reflecting
through raindrops—a rainbow every day

I pray, a prayer answered

for each day of the first ten weeks
I’ve spent here in Winston-Salem. Of wisdom and love,
I arrived still seeking clarification to the answer

I had divined at age six

concerning my mission on earth;
well within the water droplet prism
of a lifetime of strife, I decided as a child

that I had volunteered for this mission

and had not been forced. I had imagined (then)
all the souls lined up and awaiting
our births into the bodies we’d wear

as camouflage. The rainbow

projecting from my wet body
anyway, I then moved through life
determined to outperform:

to not just somehow survive

but to thrive. The first grader
who moved throughout that room
of wooden desks—with bewildered children sitting

as they tried to cast magic spells,

to somehow find correct answers
to the mathematical problems
before them—made numbers jump

off the page for others like black rain

in reverse, to have black ink springing
into striated light: right answers popping up into rainbows
all over the room as he moved in catawampus fashion

from row to wooded row, helping them to learn

because Jesus was leading his heart.
They placed me in classes
for the mentally challenged

and impossible to control,

a six-year sentence to only glow
on my own from grades two through eight.
At four in the morning, the sky chilled

and black as liquorice spirits, I saw it

as God made me think it:
that we are all on the same page
of the same book
—letters no longer dark.

Letters no longer crooked,

like strange guns in the hands
of aliens, I viewed a book of life opened
across the sky as I began to breathe.

Four decades

to see it, no hierarchy to belief—
for God’s reason my mind a kaleidoscope,
with conflict churned into the opposite of chaos

within the lights behind my eyelids.

I closed them on that frozen morning,
while opening my heart: the refrigerator door
of my chest no longer efficient

as winter air turned Siberian

around me—my body warmer
as ice cubes of grief dissipated. Grief cracked
like cheap Zirconia in the end. The Coke bottle

lenses of my youth were stronger,

as unbreakable as the spirit of my soul had been in wanting
to make over the world. When I feel safe, ignorance is still
the victim—my being now unlike a Swiss watch ticking,

prayerful wisdom and love driving a perpetual motion of belief.


How God Raised the Alarm

—Composed on the birthday of my father

Large founts of light
fill each of four
windows. Surrounding each set of panes,

strings of more yellow:

illuminated blow-up vinyl
nativity scenes
laid out on the lawn

as if for Christmas

instead of COVID-19.
I feel timely
amidst prophecy.

I am not the man

for whom lessons
of history lay
like burning cellophane

on his rambling brain.

I could still bellow
like a ghetto pharaoh,
poised in gold

before glamour girls

lining the way to this day’s
sarcophagus. My inverted
pyramid ran from age six down

to this: dual apocalypse,

both internal and external—
to be finally made
human only

(amidst the ruins).


The Victory

—How can metaphor follow miracle?

Crinkled autumnal leaves
atop artificial turf in the mental health detox
courtyard, like God atop science

or like my spine atop history,

Jesus brought me victory! As misshapen
as the “C” in Charlotte, the Lord straightened my back
first in Winston-Salem (then more so at a rehab in Louisiana).

Corn starch on my body parts

in the days before the Milwaukee brace
left me with a thirty-five degree curve,
in the days before Faith entered my life,

too meek to wish to see

the cloud of Belief encircling me—
my Holy Spirit released me
from a future of wheelchair wayfaring,

a lifetime of wandering and wondering abated.

Eleven eleven in my dream before waking
to eleven eleven in red numerals on the coffeemaker
in the night, my spine just as straight,

my Lord urging me to complete

the poem I’ve longed to write
for three years. Begun on a sunny
autumn day in the hospital

and finished as six inches

of snow lay scattered about the city,
I contemplate the meaning of poetic metaphor
in this group home knowing God’s Grace

is greater. Symbol over simile:

dreams over caffeine: four decades in the making;
the toughest poems contain simple truths.
The six-year-old seeing into the future

saw light.


Anthony Butts is the author of Little Low Heaven (New Issues 2003), Winner of the Poetry Society of America’s 2004 William Carlos William’s Award for best book. He is also the nephew of Florence Ballard—former member of The Supremes singing group before her suicide in 1976.


Photo credit: “TI-89 calculator” by FutUndBeidl, Flickr.com (modified by Veronica McDonald).

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