Melissa Morphew

Land of Milk and Honey

Like something Biblical, though he is short
and bald and repairs watches in the back room
of Starshine Jewelers—at least he knows how often
time can be askew, broken, stopped dead—

he spends his Sabbath at the Split Silk Baptist Church,
a dry rot ruin circa 1843, the only worshippers
to dart its doors in the last thirty years
brown-gold honeybees. They’ve built their amber-treacled hive
in the hollows of the pulpit.

And he sits in the back on the last sturdy pew,
eating bread and butter, humming “Green Sleeves, ”
lauding his brethren, his sisters, with a saucer
of Ovaltine and tinned molasses.

Sometimes he sleeps
and the bees hover his hair, land on his eyelids
as if he were some exotic hyssop. He welcomes
their strange kisses into his dreams—

dreams filled with the pungent sweetness
of rotting gardenias, odd nostalgia for the name “Split Silk, ”
sounding like spilt milk, or lavender petticoats—muddied,
torn, abandoned on the bank of Jericho creek, where
a Peruvian-lily girl, named Margaret Claire, bends down
to wash mulberry-stains from the curve of her thighs,
the cracked-heels of her feet.

The bees brush his mouth with their rice-paper wings.

When he wakes, a bitter taste of marigold stains his lips.
Sunlight gilds the room in sepia and saffron, as if
he is trapped in a photograph one hundred years
too late, and he has no shadow of strength solid
as the scent of lavender, no miracles up his sleeve.

Submitted: Thursday, March 27, 2008

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