Drilling for Jesus

The dentist spoke of Jesus today as she drilled a hole
in one of my molars, how she was reading Genesis
and how difficult it was to get the Bible from all that
Sodom and Gomorrah sex and blood to a guy walking
on water and raising the dead because he loved us all.
Numbed and nervous, I squirmed through the sound
of torture—the high-speed whir, the suck and gurgle
of a water hose, the agonizing tremolo of smooth jazz
on Sirius radio—and a stench of pain in isopropyl air.
Feeling a twinge of despair and the desire to appear
brave, I shared my pretend knowledge of theology
using a thought delivered to me a priori since I suffered
neither recent sex nor death and forgot in my epiphany
my mouth was filled with cotton. “Hezeus uss who he
ussent.” “What?” she said, and the conversation left
us both with a vague existential dread as the truth
misunderstood often will. Jesus was who he wasn’t.
We learn as children to discount the real and believe
a lie if it serves us better. Forget Jesus for a minute.
Think Santa Claus and how easy it was for mom
to get your compliance in the month of December.
My friend Bill quit school in ‘66 to join the Marines.
He was a child, neither good nor bad, full of self-doubt
and a sense of duty. Like many of us in those days
that followed the days when our fathers had saved
the world, he wanted to prove worthy of their deeds.
The posters hung on the walls in the courthouse read
—The Marines Are Looking for a Few Good Men—
and if you remember the Vietnam War, I think you can
guess where this is going. Billy stumbled on a land mine
with his left foot probably. No one knows for sure
because it was one of Billy’s pieces we never found.
Getting back to Jesus and the hole in my tooth, I said
“This isn’t the first time that tooth’s been filled
with something and it always falls apart.”

Writer’s Block

Waiting months,
crippled by the dusk of my life,
for a vision veiled in a raindrop

as it burst across my forehead,
I strained to explain the words of a tree
and the melody in a storm cloud.

Once, dandelions were more than weeds
and wolves felt more than hunger.
But all that sacred insight escaped me.

What I thought I should feel was not
what I thought I felt, as if the head
might free the heart and not the opposite.

Then, my car roared along Route10
past a battered truck that smoked
and snorted in the lane beside me.

Painted on the truck door in florid green,
a sign read “stump grinding”
and I could think only of Barbara Ann

dancing as a stripper in some crummy bar
not far from the Ohio River.
I was eighteen and drinking beer there

served illegally through virtue of my fake I.D.
I fell in love, dizzy with vertigo in the height
of my delusion and the sight of her nipples.

She pleaded softly, “buy me some champagne.”
The sway of her body sad and hypnotic
like the sway of the old truck, and there it was

called inspiration by those who have never touched it
braided into the stench of wood shavings, diesel fuel,
cheap perfume, and the taste of stale beer.

St. Louis Cemetery # 1

In New Orleans
the dead don’t get buried
They live above ground with the rest of us
in houses of white stone guarded by gargoyles
and frozen angels

                                      We are told
by urban planners that this has to do

with the sea                          how it rises
                                      above the earth
and creates a wet grave

But, I think the barely dead prefer
the company of the barely living
—the tourists and hucksters
the waiters and strippers
the gangsters and addicts
the cashiers and clerks
the car dealers and pimps—
who prey upon their neighbors
and are preyed upon by them

                                      The dead
prefer beignets and blues even rain
to the silence of soil and the company of worms

It has to do with dismembered memories

                                      bones and buttons
                                      ashes and dust
                                      a bag full of shadows

a desire for voices to be more than echoes

Manifest Destiny

In platoon formation every morning
Lee Jara marched beside me
at Little Creek with more Marines who
waited out their discharge after months
of war for a cause that, by then, escaped me
and I’m not sure Lee ever knew.

He was a friend, Navaho, reservation-raised,
who granted me absolution for being white.
I didn’t understand his kindness then, or what
it had to do with irony. Young men like me
born into a color of privilege hear the song
of history and create our own melody.

We had invaded Vietnam and dispatched
its people with the same righteous indignation
my ancestors displayed destroying Lee’s.
Destiny gets manifested through murder.
I’m seventy now and I have no idea
if Lee’s still alive. There are very few

old Indians on reservations anymore. If so,
I hope he’s not here to witness failure. I hope
they buried his Silver Star and Purple Hearts
beside the bones of his brothers, slaughtered
and sacrificed in shallow graves to make the U.S.
what it never was, to Make America Great Again.