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by Greg Brownderville
Prosimetrum 1: Assorted Heads
All the colors of the universe, wondrous clutter everywhere. Sister Law had conjured that rickety sanctum out of scrap lumber from her dead husband’s building business. Called it “The Upper Room.” You had to spider up a red-rung ladder to achieve the holy of holies. First time I entered, she made me climb first, gripping her bag of “leavings” and art supplies, and she was right behind me. Me and Sister Law in her highest outbuilding—a cross between a chapel and a toy shop, crazed with her sculptures. The room was her mind, and there we sat, two kids in the floor. She was eighty-five years old.
We prayed, we sang. She began to rig a boy up out of trash. She was a Oneness preacher. When I quoted Revelation, “Strengthen the things which remain,” all of a country sudden, the Holy Ghost possessed us. We spoke in other tongues. Just me and Ethel Leona Fitch Law. She was sitting there making a boy.
Sister Law said the Father, Son, and Spirit are three of many masks. My Sunday School teacher said no. One day, he took me out walking down a rock road, along a weedy bank. Small, unseen animals moving in the brush. He said the Trinity is like that. The brush itself is alive, but certain animals are in there, snapping twigs and rustling grass.
Me and Sister Law—we sang, we prayed, we spoke in tongues. She was Oneness. She was buds with heathens. She made spooky dolls that, little did I know, would later scare my niece and nephew. Keep them from wanting to sleep in Uncle Greg’s room. To me, the dolls were like speaking in tongues. To me, when you close your eyes, speaking in tongues looks like that scary snow dust in the hills, how it snake-swirls over pavement in your headlights. Unlike my niece and nephew, even at their age, I liked to be that kind of scared.
One time, me and Sister Law went to the turtle boil. Out at the hush harbor. People handled snakes and got possessed there, same as church but different. Mister Good Day used my body as a horse for better than three hours. Danced up on the women and even on the men.
Sometimes me and Sister Law would laugh in the Spirit—that was called the holy cackle. It was meant to get you good at laughing off your life.
She was sitting there making a boy. She painted him a shirt of picnic gingham, red and white. I think it was a boy, but the hips of the driftwood body rounded wide from a narrow waist. Sister Law painted on some blue jeans. She talked about nighttime on the inside. She said, “That outer darkness what they talk about—fact of business, it’s inward. I’ve wandered too far in. Pure-dee old dark, son. I’ve been by my lonesome. Not even the Devil to torment me.”
She glued on sycamore twigs for arms. Had trouble settling on a head. She had assorted orbs to choose from: a baseball smudged with green from the outfield grass, a coconut that looked like an otter’s head, a real otter’s head she’d taxidermied herself, a light bulb, a gourd, a shriveled apple that favored an Egyptian mummy I had seen at a museum in Memphis (Tennessee), and some I can’t remember.
I had given her the baseball. My coach presented it to me after my little league game the week before because I knocked the winning home run. Sister Law liked baseball. She thought the pinch-hitter rule had ruined the American League. I wasn’t sure what she was.
Light walked through the window of “The Upper Room.” Sister Law held up the baseball, dirty cream, and thumbed its bruised leather. Inspected it like a vegetable she might not use for supper. She squinted at me. Made some quick strokes on the ball with a red marker. Looked at me again. Made some marks. Glued the ball atop the torso and studied on it.
She took the ball off and set the otter’s head there instead. She studied on it. Tried the ball again. Tried the apple. I wondered if the glue’s grip was weakening. She made marks on the coconut and gave it a chance too.
They all looked soul-worthy, all of them. In the end she settled on that hurt, grass-stained, winning smile and called the doll Yeah Boy. Sister Law was a girl.
She gave me the boy for keeps.
I’m standing in the need of prayer.
Pilgrim, let me tell you—yesterday’s tornado
dropped the Double Portion Tabernacle
into the Twin Oaks Mall, and made my parents’ house get up
When that ugly cloud bore down
like a black Texas, Yeah Boy quaked
on top of my dresser. His head jarred free
and rumble-rolled across my bedroom floor.
When that ugly cloud bore down, it raptured
a culvert, and they played like
Slinky brothers. A woman on the news said, “I thought
I was gonna be blowed
off the globe
of the earth.”
But the wind laid down, and now I’m babbling,
I’m at large—feet bare among the burs.
There’s a Ronald McDonald statue perched in a beech,
and a Stratocaster lying
in the beechdrops underneath.
A white beekeeper’s suit slumbers manless
by the road, so I put it on and tromp
around and hit Mad Butcher Market.
I find a pack of matches and
a dark-chocolate bar. Matches
like pale lady hands with pink polish.
When I tap and brush them
against my candy bar, the fingertips catch fire.
They burn a yellow song
of who am I and why
across that small piano barcode.
My kin don’t know
about my wordness, all the languages
that swarm me. They know about my Holy Ghost
possessions, but I hide the rest: how Easy
Lee and Good Day get inside
me when the Mirror Saw divides me.
Shall you compare me to a McDonald’s drive-thru?
Growly guy voice
greets you, and you order a McRib. But then:
tinny girl voice (where’d she come from?)
offers you fries and a Coke.
I rove all over morning as The Beekeeper Spaceman. Yes,
I float across a meadow
past an abandoned game of marbles,
peer down, and dream it’s our magnificent solar system.
Too hot, I shed the bee suit in the cane
and kneel like a hart beside the water brook.
A twirly-bird roof vent drifts along. I nab it,
hold it high, atop my head: a baker’s hat.
I study myselves in the glassy babble.
Make a mud pie deluxe and stow it in my pocket.
Later on, I’ll climb said beech
and share my pie with Ronald.
What if Ronald McDonald
is Jimi Hendrix in captivity?
Before the magical baker was, I am
a multitude. The head was never
secure. Pilgrim, please
remember me in prayer.