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Observations From a Hillside Stairway on the Day of Atonement, Just Before My Wife and Daughters Break Their Fast


ISSUE:  Spring 2015

Under the hanging lights in a pool hall
at nineteen I read the table after the break
and followed a map in my head
to take beer money from older men
while, eight thousand miles under my feet,
boys I knew from high school,
some of them, learned to pray.
Now, at a table in Vegas,
holding maybe a rag and an ace,
my son is reading a voice, a glance,
and running probabilities
in his head. Sons of other men
are bivouacked at dawn in a desert
where Abraham’s father worshipped
Babylonian gods. Everything wobbles
and spins. Here, in the little woods
a block from Erwin Methodist Church,
bottles drunken boys have shattered
over the brick steps flash
in wobbling streaks of sunlight.
Two hundred years ago, James Erwin
at the end of boyhood left his father’s house,
and walked into the local wilderness
to preach. Wolves appeared at dusk, 
and the boy with a Bible sang.
He shouted God’s praise into the sky.
Here, the fox grapes hang from a guy wire
over the edge of the trees where a doe
and two fawns stand in poison ivy
to the hip. I never did learn
to pray or carry a tune, but I say
these words into my cupped palm
quietly, not to spook the deer.

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