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Jimmy, Jesus and the Japanese Beetles

ISSUE:  Winter 2004

The five kids, their parents, the grandmother
and Jesus sit down to dinner. Pink, dry flakes
of canned salmon lie on the plastic plates
like eczema. New burns, from the day’s ironing
rise like small roses on the grandmother’s wrists.

Because they have never seen Jesus eat, they’ve stopped
setting his place. He always wears the same outfit,
the one showing his heart all wrapped in barbed wire.
Jimmy, who has just turned eleven thinks it looks
like liver wrapped in bacon and says so.

His father slaps him across the face then sends him
out to the darkest part of the yard to say Hail Marys
and Our Fathers. Sometimes all he has to do is ask
for the bread. Or decorate his mashed potatoes with peas.
And he’s smacked, shoved off into the dark,

to undergo penance, he’s come to think, for hunger itself.
He doesn’t mind the yard though. Tonight it’s quiet.
Once in awhile a stray dog runs down the alley.
By street lamp light he notices that Japanese beetles
have nearly chewed away the leaves of his mother’s roses

and that greenery all gone to rotten lace fills him again
with a desperate, small sadness. He will not be allowed
back in to finish his dinner. He thinks of Jesus,
his beautiful long brown hair, his kind eyes,
his body that is a body. And Jimmy wonders

if the point isn’t that Jesus has come to the table
every night wanting someone to remove the thorns
from his heart and offer him a full plate
of lamb chops, gravy, peas and potatoes.
Wanting someone to see him for who he really is.

And then Jimmy slips his thin hand into his pants
and touches himself and that pleasure is the only prayer
he has to offer because for a little while, he is really there,
like Jesus with a healed heart, like small weeds
trying to fill the empty yard with any kind of green.


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