MY LOVER MAN don’t understand my sadness. He cuts a hole through wall between the rooms we sleep. He does this long ago. Puts a frame up on his side because he says I look pretty when I come into view. I love him I swear I do. Sometimes I watch him do his mumblings before bed. The walls still stand and we still sleep with one between us.
His head is there in the morning when I wake.
God says we all created in his image, he says. He spits a wad of chew through the hole into a bucket in my room. I think this makes us all beautiful, he says. Surefire as starlight, he says. I feel you getting heavy some nights. I think you should think of all of this. Don’t it make you joyful?
He puts a hand and an arm through the hole as if to make it wider. I am too tired to rise and reach for fruit. I let it hang there before it goes away.
I am the O Holy Night of all these ratty mornings. A man must suck my breasts before he speaks to me. My lover man has done this but has done it too soft. I want to feel his god nibbling on my skin. I follow him to his church some days to touch myself. I sit in the back where I feel the trees leaning through the windows and watch him read from books. When the people rise to say hallelujah I bring myself to come. Hallelujah, don’t it make me feel good.
I am told what to say by the lord, he says. I am the vessel for his arrival and he is the vessel for my departure. When the time comes, I want you here with me.
I do not say anything. I think: when you say you love me, does that mean the lord does, too?
We are all sinners, he says. It is only through him we find our glory.
When he brings himself into me, my lover man, I whisper hallelujah. I whisper joy to the lord. There is all this talk of blood and wine. I want him to bite me so I can see if my blood turns.
He has been at this screen door boarding home for two years. See the track where the train goes running racket round the river. I go down there and scream as it explodes by, all night, until I lose my voice. Then I bend to drink from river water. I dig under for the mud and rub it into skin. I pray to different gods.
River god, I say, bless me with your dirty business.
My voice is harsh like a blister formed.
Steel god, I say, bless me with your heat.
If you put your ears to the track you can feel the train’s heat and sound long-coming from miles away. It works always.
Bird god, I say, bless me with your song.
Tree god, I say, bless me with your shade.
Mother is gone and father too and I am alone. This is my boarding home now, when it once was mother’s. Lover man is my only boarder. He pays me sometimes and sometimes I do not remind him. Sometimes he says I will be paid by the good grace of god. I love trees and I love birds and I love the wet the morning grass leaves my feet. Will the good grace of god fix the hole in my bedroom wall?
Lover man did the service for my mother and father and made it something beautiful. I wonder sometimes if their death was beautiful. Father coming up and lacing his fingers through the weather holes of the screen door. This is how I imagine it. He says to mother I know what I want and what I want is you. Mother says your rent is past due. I can feel my father’s blood turn to something boiled. I can feel the trees leaning over all of us, their shade so keen at hearing. Father says I brought you something special. Mother says I did too. And there is that shiny gun-skin ablaze through the patch of screen. And that shiny shot and that shiny red on my father’s chest and the door all smoking and mother too in that moment before she turned the gun on herself while all along that train whistle moaned.
Lover man said he’d put up for one plot for both of them if I put him up for a night or two. At the church he said only god knows all our shortcomings. I wonder if his god knows more than my trees do. Mother always said if only trees could talk and then she trailed off.
This morning I wash my lover man’s dishes without the soap I do not have. I scrub them coarse with steel wool until my palm burns red. I tell him I am pregnant with his son but he says no, each morning and this one, too. He says no a thousand times. My belly swells underneath a sweater. I can feel my lover child growing when I walk between the trees with my sweater rolled to let my child breathe. The trees swipe at it to say hello. Each morning this happens and each morning my child is one day older and one day bigger inside me. Each morning I am one less morning left to live.
This morning lover man and I walk into town, where some must know my name and his. They must think we are in one long confession, sprawled out past the doors of the church. They must think my sins are long and worth the telling. So long, they need a walk. And steps to come between his lessons for forgiveness.
This afternoon lover man scratches his balls and watches me grow. I ask what for who or how I should name my child. He says who. Before he leaves to preside the vigil he says here. It is some old book named BIBLE. Lover man says read and I imagine when he stands in front of the people they see him bigger than he is. Like some sort of animal. I see his arms like wind in the trees, I see his voice like rain on metal, I see his eyes like a train widening as it come come comes a coming. When I read GENESIS I see GENITALS. When I read EXODUS I see SEXOFUS. When I read of Moses I do not care. It is only Jochebed I am thinking of. Where does she go when the baby is gone? Does she find a tree to hum her humming through? Dear Jochebed, what does it feel like to disappear?
This nighttime dark my lover man returns and asks what did I learn. He says the lord does wonderful things. He says the lord is here right now, among our bodies gathered. I say are there three and he says two. I ask whatever happened to Jochebed. He says not important. He says what is important is what can be done with the forever goodness of the lord. The sea, I think, is parting like legs.
This nighttime dark I call my lover man’s shadow body Moses, and he parts me through the salt that films the water and how deep he goes a swim swim swimming. And how in sleep he curls curly from my cue of leg and toes to go resting in the pocket of the corner before rising for the prayers. Jochebed is out there somewhere, wandering, I think. If only trees could talk. Before they become the page. Those trees bending by the Nile. Those trees catching wind and long skirts and the whisper of what I pray to them. Those trees that became the tracks and those tracks that rattled as they became song and that song I sing alone when my lover man is gone to the son he does not believe he has.
When my water break, lover man watch through the hole in my bedroom wall. When my boy’s head break the salt of wound and skin, lover man watch through the hole in my bedroom wall. He will not take him to be baptized into no good grace of a name. When lover man leave to pray, I watch him through my screen door hole. I am holding this thing of my own. I take my baby under trees. I have been at this screen door boarding home for too long. It has been empty for too long. A list of things I do not have: soap, pepper for the eggs. Lover man has been here for two years. He who buried my good mother, my indecent father. He who watched me through the hole in my bedroom wall. He and I are in one long confession. It was he who put this baby in me and it was I who brought it out. I take my son to the tracks and we scream as the train come come comes a singing by. I take my son to the water. I bless him with my river god. I rub the river mud on his river face. I say bless us with this dirty business. I take my son between the trees I walk through every day. The trees that blow with wind and go humming all my sadness. The trees that understand. I dig a hole with hands and it takes goddamn long. My baby sits and stares. When the hole is deep and the mud is in my nails and I am so blessed in it, I put my baby in. I cannot hide him no longer. I have trees that will watch over him. Each morning I will talk to them. I have a lover man returning soon. He will say the good lord is here among the two of us. I will ask whatever happened to Jochebed. It is important to me, I will say.
Devin Kelly earned his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is a co-host of the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in NYC. His chapbook with Melissa Smyth, This Cup of Absence, was published by Anchor & Plume Press, and his work has been featured in The Millions, Drunken Boat, Post Road, Gigantic Sequins, and more. He has been nominated for both the Pushcart and Best of the Net prizes. He works as a college advisor in Queens, teaches poetry at Bronx Community College, and lives in Harlem.