“Strawberries” read by Brendan Rowland.
The bottom bulb of my electric cross
flickers, intermittent fluorescence smearing
up Christ’s raisin face—oil on oak—like a boy
mortifying his sleepover friends with a flashlight
igniting his chin. I quarter a strawberry and place three
in the tank beneath. My river turtle sinks his hooked snout
into the consubstantial flesh and I run three fingers along
the chipping varnish of the graven image. I cower before
the nail holes, but the florid grace of His vertical
fingers beckons me. The gospel condenses to
a gesture. Redemption is a kiss. My turtle
flutters his flippers against a pebble,
trying to seduce it, hoping
against hope it’s alive.
“Elihu” read by Brendan Rowland.
Setting: moonshadow, south side.
A roulette sign spins, neon and distant.
These men insert themselves in his pain.
I clear my throat, spit off the fire escape.
“All your babble, still the dogs lick his wounds.
I am full of words—the Spirit constrains me.”
I hand Job a shard of glazed pottery,
facsimile Greek: naked heroes with
frisbees and buried names.
I am likewise pinched clay
sporting five o’clock shadow.
“I won’t flatter or be partial.
If so, damn me. Now: my turn.”
These three would reason with fortune’s
wheel. How can the Justifier be justified?
I peel black paint off the railing, freeing rust.
“The wanton gods kill us flies for sport, no?
I am young, yes, but in four generations
I will never have been.”
These three will be erased sooner.
I loosen my burgundy tie, light a Winston.
“We determine divine verdict
by its ripples. Some get crucified.
Be humble, be uncertain.”
The moon sets.
My Apple stocks are down.
“Faith” read by Brendan Rowland.
I stray from the just dictates David delights
in, like a German Shepherd straining against
her tether, orbiting the galvanized eyehook
screwed in the cement, reluctant as Pluto.
And I cherish Lady Julian for her reverence,
so I again resolve to inhabit simple piety
like a beehive hut, a stone igloo cramping
limbs like the perimeters of mystery, nodding
at three in one. And while I resist religious
affections or scholasticism’s analytics, I believe,
tugging the quilt of adjectives to my jugular:
immortal, invisible, omnibenevolent, wise.
And I believe William Blake conversed with
angels in his sparse Lambeth kitchen littered
with copper plates. But justice divorces good
and evil, so when the Lamb with clots in his
wool cracks the shrink-wrap of that encyclopedia
with billions of blurbs, let him read I surrendered
all. Direct my reason and passion, I’d be content
with a bleacher seat in the celestial stadium, with
an aluminum foil-clothed hotdog at the church’s
wedding reception. I believe, Lord, wrangle my
unbelief, and render these clanging lines a plainsong.
Brendan Rowland, studying modern literature, lives in Westford, Massachusetts, several lots down from Edgar Allan Poe’s brief residence. While writing, he sports black denim, cream-colored cat hair, and Sennheiser headphones blasting rock ‘n’ roll. He will begin a master’s at the University of Glasgow in Fall, 2023.
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Image by Gergely Meszárcsek from Pixabay.