Author: JS Absher
Location: Durham, North Carolina
JS Absher (jsabsher.bluedomino.com)
has been an offset printer, missionary, bank teller, janitor and consultant; sold mutual funds and surveyed scrub timberland; and taught Freshman English in North Carolina, hospital reimbursement in Taiwan, and a course on folk and literary ballads in Belize. He currently works in records management in Durham, North Carolina. His chapbook, The Burial of Anyce Shepherd,
was published in 2006 by Main Street Rag Press, and his work has appeared in Visions International, Free Lunch, Terminus,
The Judgment of Saint Peter
I chew my tobacco and I spit my juice.
I love my own daughter but it ain't no use.
—Uncle Dave Macon, Sail Away, Ladies
“It could’ve been me born dead when Mama
was down with measles and pneumonia,” I say,
“could’ve been me buried under the lamb
sleeping on its vertical stone pasture.
Or I could’ve been kicked by a mule, bit
by a rattler. Could’ve jumped too late
when the log truck’s brakes gave out.”
Peter listens and raises his head, as heavy
with all he knows as a hod full of bricks.
“I’d run from Daddy, but couldn’t stay
away. Joined the navy when I was 16, but
he pulled me from the boat the day it sailed
for New Guinea. Then I worked farms and ranches
out west, but back I’d come, broke, like that boy
in the joke who walks in circles ‘cause his foot’s
nailed to the floor. After the army, I married
an orphan back home, seventeen to my
twenty-four. She was untouched by any man.
“Had four young’uns in eight years, saw days
and nights repoing cars from no-count trash
and deals gone bad and bills and bankruptcy—
all made me long for my army days
when I roamed free, ice-fishing above
Fairbanks, the baseball at midnight
leaving the pitcher’s hand like a falling star,
and I called to whores out the bus window,
‘Just call me Pee-Pee, honey, I’m all your’n.’
"Our daughters all wanted to be ballerinas.
Mine could arch her head backwards to rest
in the arches of her raised feet, while I
could just see those little breasts kissing
her leotards. ‘Show me how you dance,’
I’d say, and she’d grin and twirl in her pink tights
and tutu, a cherry bloom with upturned arms.
I imagined the skin shimmering over her ribs,
the hollow below them waiting to be filled.
“I’d wake at an odd hour, walk to and fro
while bats were chasing bugs around the moon,
till I couldn’t stand it. I’d stand at her door. I’d slip
inside her room. ‘You were whimpering in
your sleep,’ I’d say, and lie beside her.
Or lay her on my belly.” And what did you think,
asks Peter, when she became in that house
of hardheaded boys the only one by day
fierce enough to defy your will?
“Her grades all went to D’s and F’s. Not that
she was stupid, she wouldn’t try. ‘Read,’ I’d say,
‘Now tell me what it says.’ ‘No, goddamit,’
I’d say, ‘that’s not what it says. Read it again,’
and I’d lay on the belt. The day the reverend
preached on Lot and his daughters, the girl turned
on me with burning eyes, and in her room
she wept, If you touch me again, I’ll die.
I’ll die if ever you do it again.
And I didn’t.”
says Saint Peter, come on in and sit,
but you’ll have to sit in silence till you
can sum up all you’ve done—each angry touch
disguised as love, what it cost your sons to see
you beat their sister, what it cost her mother
to contrive denial, then add what your girl
did to herself, and if you can own the whole
while a feather falls from your lips to the floor,
you may ask permission to beg forgiveness.