Equations

p
o
e
m
s

The calculation is simple enough;

he comes for you when you least expect,

when you are minding your own business

in the middle of a pecan grove, shells

at your feet, the sweet rot of overripe

fruit, birds feasting all about, and

suddenly, like light, he rests on you

and you think that all this dirt

you feel, all the lies you have told,

all the ways your body has gone,

breaking bones, pressing against

a woman harder than she wants it—

all that filth will fall away

if you wade out into the water;

and Jesus is the white man

at the end of the road where

the two roads cross; and he is

clean as anyone who has a bath

made for him every afternoon

at 3 o’clock with bath salts,

with a white towel, soft from

a well-water scrub. And he talks

to you, tells you to come follow,

and you follow because he has

you bound, tied up. And you work

for him, pick cotton for him,

plow the land for him, plant

seed for him, scare away crows

for him, and he promises you

that you won’t die, never die,

that you will always be whole

like this, that he will always feed

you, always give you a suit of clothes,

always anoint you with holy oil

in the sanctuary, and your cup

runneth over, and over, and over,

and all you have to do is pick

his cotton, clear his land, make

him shine. Eventually, you do

the calculation and you figure

two oughts are oughts, and you

figure that Jesus should be satisfied

now, that your bones are hurting

deep down now, that the clothes

you are wearing are worn out,

that heaven forever doesn’t look

like a good idea. A pot of liquor,

some rot gut, and you see the way

the world will end, and dying

is like sleeping, but better because

you don’t know; that is when you

curse Jesus and watch how his neck

pimples and turns all red, how he loses

his soft in his throat, and how

when he calls your name, it cuts

across the sky like lightning—

so you run, like any sensible nigger

will run, looking for the North Star,

leaving this piss-ass, God-forsaken

state behind, so you can get some rest.

Kwame Dawes is Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and Chancellor's Professor at the University of Nebraska. His latest collection, Wheels, appeared in 2011.

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