May Day Sermon
in response to James Dickey
"Listen O daughters turn turn"
No, not May.
Not hot enough for fiery conversions.
It was late July.
The smell of chicken houses drifting through the open windows,
the church piano, strings stressed atonal,
popsicle stick advertising fans flapping off beat
one side Christ night cooled in the shade of Gethsemane
the other side the new porch at Ingram's funeral parlor.
It was a Friday, and I was just days short of sixteen.
His name was Bobby, and he would leave in another year
off to engineering school his mind always full of pure science
but tonight, his curiosity had excited my mama into believing
that there might finally be a good Christian boy in my future.
It would only be a matter of weeks before a future film student
would come back from Texas, the summer with his father,
full of mystery beyond anything I'd found in church,
complete with his jazz shoes that made everybody think he was gay.
I would choose him over Bobby for my homecoming date
and his car would break down, and we wouldn't get our photo made at the dance
and after I drove him home in my mother's car he would ask if I wanted to fool
and I would say no. A few years later, we'd have the same conversation,
and he would show me his journal where he wrote that he dreamed I was on fire
and the entry would be on the same date my ex-husband doused me with
and again I would say no.
So, here I was with Bobby in a whitewashed, clapboard, country church
during summer revival, and the three preachers had been at it for hours
and everyone was singing:
Just as I am without one plea
and the preacher was waving his arms in the air and bellowing,
Come, sinner, come home.
and that's when it happened.
Wanda, a church matron, spied Bobby and made a bee-line for him.
Boy, do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your eternal savior?
Bobby glanced over his shoulder at me and I tried to say,
The next thing I knew he was up front, down on his knees,
and I couldn't get near him because there was a circle of folks praying over him.
All I could think was get me out of here. I wanted to scream,
He's a Unitarian.
But I choked on an old time silence.
All I could feel was my own baptism,
in the mossy concrete pool out back of the church
filled every summer by the local fire department
Brother Morgan pushing me under,
my dress pinned between my legs so it wouldn't float up.
Then the preacher hollered at Bobby,
Give your heart over to the Lord, son.
Eventually, they gave up when Bobby couldn't see what they wanted him to see
and when we drove home, he laughed, but I just wanted to cry.
We fooled around for a few weeks, but it never got past third,
and then I dumped him out of pure shame.
Brother Jim, you know damn well there ain't any women preachers in
and even if there were, they wouldn't have to warn young women about lust and
and riding off into the night, naked on a motorcycle, man between their knees.
Because that night late in July during my sixteenth year, I was just one county over
just a few years past my own drowning and the new dry dress for the photos
and I could tell you then what I know for sure now
you don't need your daddy to string you up in a barn to beat the sin out of you
because the sin swirls like a spring tornado from the moment you gasp into this
and the only thing that separates men and women is that the women know
that neither love nor God can save you from some things.