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St. John the Theologian



The Icon


We crouched in the dirt behindIMG_8339
the empty church and watered

dry lumpy clods with our piss.
We laughed at the yellow jets
running between our feet, twin
rivulets rushing to meet
and flood a colony of ants.

Disaster, perhaps, on a miniature
scale, but not less damaging.
A neighbor saw us. At home,
we were spanked for blasphemy,
forced to kneel on kernels of corn.
We huddled together against
that first injustice—the sin
committed in plain view of the cross
paling before the battered
knees, the itchy bottoms.

We faced the wall, close
to the open stove with its pot
of boiling water, the fires of hell
already licking our backs.
The old man with the book
looked down on us from his
gilded frame on the wall.

We never mentioned the ants,
for even then, we knew that a life
held more value than desecrated
church grounds, and we saw
every Sunday during liturgy
the black broken bodies rising
from their puddles of froth,
floating upward, watching us,
ant-small and soon to be wiped
out from that book, whispering
to the man holding it what
we had done.


First published in saltfront: studies in human habit(at), issue 7, Winter 2019 (print edition only)

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