Upon Revisiting the Birthplace of the Preacher Billy Sunday

Eric Rawson

If I have sinned the rain falls more blackly

               On the corn fieldsthe river crests and floods

And the sparrow tucks under a wet wing

               I must have believed it once when I came

                           Here to be hidden behind the treatment


Plant before the dealerships bought up all

               The bottomland except this far corner


Even wet the acorns clack as they fall   


From the yellow branches to the pavement

               Stained with the tannins of half a century

                           Maybe more some shed some crib or storehouse


Stood here sheltering equipment records

               Against the horde of winter sweeping down

                           From Canadaand there’s the rusted ruin


Of the old car a Chevrolet I think

               Though it’s hard to see under the sumac                           

                           And huckleberries and saplings pushing


Through the rotted seats and sticking out through


The broken windows—what a mess of blood-

               Root and cockleburrs—I kick through it


Crunching acorns looking for the old marks


I drag my bag of sins behind me pale

               Ones the rotten crabs and dark ones the burned


Wings heavy heavier every year—

               But I’m too selfish to give them away

                           The little dears and the scary mothers


Drag my bag through the city where I live


Picking up sins at the farmers’ market

               Where I trample the sour disgusting old


Women licking the radishes picking

               Up sins on the boulevard as I crack

                           The skinny fingers held out for a buck


Gathering sins while I’m rolling on the floor

               Of the Largo chewing the waitresses’


Skirts like a dog—toss them all in my bag


And stagger on through the beautiful world

               Leaving a trail of black oil behind me


I’m lazy lazy all day and the next


I’ve hardly shaken off the night’s dander

               Before it’s time to lean into the arms

                           Of afternoon—the years have hung the weight


Of luxury on me—I can’t bear it—

               Here I am trying to live again with-


Out all the fat all the cheesy richness—

               O stupid youth rooted in the wind—I


Know now why I sat on those hard pews when

               All I believed in was sliced beef on rye

                           And a girl’s new hips flaring in the grass


And I know now why I went the long way


Through snow or stood in the rain on the steps

               Of the library for hours I know why


My head ached with algebra and why I

               Hungered for the sight of ice-hung branches

                           But refused to let my dreams inform me—


There’s hardly anyone alive today

               Who remembers the wide use of manure


The smell of it on the fields or the smell

               Of dung in the towns who knows what coffee

                           Smelled like at Wilshire & Vermont at eight


O’clock in the morning one-hundred years


Ago—hardly anyone remembers

               The smell of the canvas tabernacles

                           Or fresh sawdust on floors and what about


The smell of kerosene which no one knows

   Anymore and the smell of castile soap


The smell of the Bronze Age the goats and figs

               Or the smell of Gettysburg with its ten

                           Thousand rotting horses and smoking trees


There’s no one alive who knows the smell of


Teepees by the Mississippi River

               And no one who knows the smell of my own


History except me—the smell of the bed

               The smell beneath the juniper the smell

                           Of pears of frog-water the smell inside


A trombone case and of the gray paint on

               The bleachers the smell of wet newspaper


That belongs to only one life among

               The many and keeps the gate of memory

                           Open the smell of the first day of it


Of a ditch of a wet red dog the mud—


Kneeling knees soaked ankles soaked hair dripping

               I shake with the cold but not only that


Out here in the weeds in the greasy rain

               Out here in the presbyterian autumn                           

                           Pouring down its dark flumes of clouds and flocks


Of migratory fowl—let the wind blow through


My bones and hollow me out like a shell

               Tear down my pride and hide me in the grave


Of your love dear God—I don’t want to live

               Another day without your fingers wrapped

                           Around my heart—save me from history


The fat-lipped ghost is resting his head on

               My shoulder and muttering in my ear

                           He’s squeezing my neck and poking my ribs


With his big hands—he keeps insisting that

               I understand about acorns—he thinks


There is a lesson listen he mutters

               I know you don’t like me—he spits it out

                           I don’t like you—you don’t have to like me


To learn to serve to let a squirrel plant


You in the cold muck to be a kernel

               Cut from the tree—you don’t have to like it


But I’m going to spit into your ear—you

               Will be yourself in giving everything


To the world—it does not matter that you

               Lose your goddamn sins—you know this is true—


Over the dealerships the floodlights bloom


Whitely and a tractor-trailer gears up


The incline on the highway into town

               All across the Midwest the sober psalm

                           Of October repeats in the mouths of


Crows and the whispering grass winter

               Has begun draining the blood from the land





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