They took the boy’s aunt outside the house
on a surplus army cot to deliberate
the matter of her sanctified soul.
The congregation always believed
its special daughter should go under
river water in baptism before passing over.
The boy listened in the hallway, waited
for the deacons to start humming
a hymn in the yard. He clicked a lamp
in the empty bedroom and saw
a wheelchair folded up in the corner
and a host of china dolls peering out
like watchful guardians over the bureau.
He shifted to the window
and looked down into the cold night.
One man draped a white vestment
around her shoulders. She opened
her ghost mouth and wailed at the stars.
Flashlights beamed the dark.
When they buried her the next week,
the boy didn’t forget the procession
of the penitent believers as they moved
towards the creek with the covenant
daughter sitting upright on their shoulders.
Moonlight bowed low in the pines.
They were all changed.
The boy walks through pecan groves
to gather a bushel for his uncle to sell.
When he’s let back into the house,
the boy watches his uncle crack nuts
while reading from a testament.
If the boy nods off, the older man slips
his fingers between the pliers, sharp
as the beak of an owl and clamps down.
He wants to beat the man who plants
acres of bruises across his knuckles,
this crop that will not wither or wane.
With a Name Meaning God Has Heard
You stayed awake at night
unable to slip into the world
of dreams, bothered by sleep
as though it were the passing over
more than anything else,
the lack of control that kept you
awake into the long, riddled hours.
You remembered an old story
of heaven’s voice like a sword
tearing through the temple curtains,
that blessed song hissed over water,
saying, Samuel, Samuel, a sound
that any small boy could mistake
for a mere man or high priest,
who will send him back to listen
for the Lord’s prophetic whisper.
So you got up and walked alone
in the hallways of your father’s house
until your small feet found the bed
where your parents slept and you
whispered, Here I am, face anointed
in the shadow of the bathroom light.
Neither woke, and you wandered.
No light yet risen to measure silence,
you knelt and listened for the calling,
waiting to hear, awoken for answers.
P.S. Dean received an MFA in poetry from the University of Mississippi in 2013. A Mississippi native, he currently lives in New Orleans and is working on his first manuscript.