Church was everywhere when I was
Growing up, and I lived inside the fear
Of ruining my life, as if life were a fruit
That couldn’t be rid of rot, a toy
That would never be the same after being
Dropped, a tree that once burned could not be
Unburned. People liked to say one sin
Is no more than another, so we all felt
Like seconds at a salvage store. No wonder
I couldn’t tell the difference between mischief
And trouble and always went straight
For the worst thing imaginable, my conscience
As blistered from stealing a cigarette lighter
From my friend’s mom as from torching woods
Along the creek. The only way to soothe it
Was to become someone even the ex-con
Who lived in a house on stilts by the river
Wouldn’t let in his house, to exhibit oneself
Like a Bosch painting, to become a true believer.
Like my grandmother, I sat for a long time
In the dark, the TV’s light a spell against its stories
About the most depraved parts of human nature.
Eventually, somehow, nihilism inspired compassion,
And seeing someone as a person meant knowing
They, too, would die, and I fell in love. It’s best
To stay outside, my grandmother’s mother said,
When I helped her tie tomato plants to a fence,
Collect eggs from the four or five haggard hens
She kept, rip weeds from rows of field peas.
Like her, I learned to stand beside a stream and hold
A fishing pole for hours, half-blind from the glare
On the water, to drink from that same stream,
To keep something growing year-round, to meld
My mind with my body with sweat. Late this morning,
I harvested mustard greens sprouted from seeds
That washed down the hill into the swamp
During a deluge right after I planted them.
The thought of the cottonmouth I hacked
To death last year didn’t frighten me. The heat
Of raw mustard sketched my body from the inside,
And my shadow fell around my feet like roots.
Jordan Sanderson’s work has appeared in several journals, including Phantom Drift, Better Magazine, Georgetown Review, Caketrain, and Redactions, and Jordan has published a couple chapbooks, Abattoir (Slash Pine Press) and The Formulas (ELJ Publications). Jordan has PhD from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi, and teaches at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.