Father Mercy, Mother Tongue - Poem by Linda Gregerson
If the English language was good enough for Jesus
the governor of our then-most-populous
state, It is good enough for the schoolchildren
Which is why, said the man at the piano, I
will always love America: the pure
of the Reformation go a little crazy here.
of dust, correct us, we
are here on sufferance every one.
In 1935 the very earth rose up
against us, neither
tub-soaked sheets nor purer thoughts could keep it
out. Doorsills, floorboards, nostrils,
tongue. The sugarbowl
was red with it, the very words we spoke
There must have been something
to do, said my youngest one once (this
away and after the fact).
We hoped for rain.
We harvested thistle to feed the cows.
We dug up soapweed. Then
we watched the cows and pigs and chickens die. Red
And found ourselves as nameless as
those poor souls up from Mexico
and just about as welcome as the dust.
Pity the traveler
camping by a drainage ditch in someone else’s
beanfield, picking someone else’s bean crop who is here
where all that parsing of the Latin led: plain Eunice
in her later years refused
to set foot in a purpose-
built church (a cross
may be an idol so
washed wall may be one too), preferring to trust
a makeshift circle of chairs in the parlor
the heart in its simplicity),
I watched a man in Nacogdoches calling
all of the people to quit
their old lives, there were screens
within screens: the one
above his pulpit (so huge
was the crowd), the one I worked
with my remote. Then turn . . .
And something like the vastness of the parking lot
they must have come (so
to be on offer, something
shimmered like the tarmac on an August day.
the promised solvent (some were
weeping, they were black and white)?
so broad and shallow (flee), so rinsed
of all particulars (flee Babel,
said the preacher) that translation’s
moot. The tarmac
keeps the dust down, you must give it
that. The earth this time will have to scrape us off.
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