Everybody Always Talking About Jesus




I got a girl up the attic

the summer I turned ten. Her shirt went damp

and we played a game where I’d strip and she’d slap


my calves with my dead grandma’s cane.

One afternoon she took my clothes

and left me up with the heat and dust, mothballs


fermenting like apples. I was nailed in.

She had lunch or baked bread, played nurse with her dolls

or something. I could hear my mother,


her vacuum scowl. I saw the sunlight snatch the shadows,

heard my father slam the door. After the third hour the girl rose

with my clothes and a switch from her yard.


I was so happy, I took it all; her arms sweating

like horses. My father and sister never knew

but in that house noise always dried like palm.




Sis and I purge his boxes of books,

finding a faded Polaroid of a red-head

that was not my mother:


Garters cling to her thighs and her ass

is wide and rosy as if slapped

or left out in the December snow.


I guess I always knew my dad was not

a pious man. It’s sick, my sister says,

but my eyes stay on the woman,


recognizing her from the back row

of graduation and high school plays.

My sister sticks the photo between parched papers


and I think about dozens of times I saw the make

of dad’s car parked down side roads but never checked

the plates. I was the good boy. The one he wanted.




I’m still up in the attic, going red with the girl,

the color of my hair lapsing. And I feel so naked

in Dad’s house with my sister, I walk around modest


like my balls are tucked into a loincloth. And, at night,

in the old house – the house he willed to her –

I keep thinking about Jesus, about all the talk


and how they all say to obey. We don’t know

if he was an alcoholic or kept a mistress. We don’t know

how badly he wanted to be on that cross. But the house,


I keep thinking, I could use that scratch. These days

Rosie wants pregnant so bad I barely touch her. So,

before Sis goes to bed I tell her, we can split everything –


Dad left me the car, you can have half the car. But no,

she says, the car’s seen too many stations

she doesn’t want to think about. She spits


her toothpaste and I watch

the light beneath her door

till it’s gone.


First published in Northwords Now (2008) and revised for  Tomorrow, We Will Live Here, 2010.