648 Readings

Psalm 137

for my grandfathers

Where now are the old men of my childhood
who laughed, swore, jawed plugs of tobacco
and spat the red-brown swill into the dust
while their wives lined pews and threw their bodies
on the altar, wailing, I will cling to the old rugged cross
and exchange it someday for a crown
Where are the men who pressed through briars
and barbed wire, scoured close-grown pine woods
for winter calves, heaved the bleating beasts
onto their shoulders and trudged through frost
as hot piss trickled down their backs?
Where are the young men who, elbow deep in grease,
leaned, blackened, into the shells of Internationals,
knuckles bloodied, and tooled the cast-iron carcasses to life?
Where are the boys who strung up two-point bucks
by kerosene light, sliced the creatures throat to groin,
and flushed out the steaming viscera?
Where are the children who squatted by creeks
in dark pine thickets, hovered over the waters,
dragged their fingers through loose silt,
feeling for the delicate forms of crawdads and tadpoles—
who tore through briars with wild abandon
and sprang forth bleeding, laughing, swatting mosquitoes
from their necks and picking burrs from their hair—
who, bodies light and scrubbed red, dozed through hymns
and sermons on thick-aired church days and woke
to the sobs of old women while the organ droned?
Where, O Lord, is the home I only almost had—
mythic, bloody as a psalm in the mouths
of old and dying men who will take it
with them wholly when they go?
Posted 08/28/12
"Psalm 137" was originally published in Hayden's Ferry Review, vol. 50.
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