They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them.
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.
Waiting on the stairs of The Mizpah Missionary Home on
Summit Avenue, the children of apostles played with
neighborhood kids and sometimes spread the gospel, warming
up for the prodigious conversions on another continent.
Prior to departure, one boy had brought a hand generator,
and we would all connect, hold the metal railing of
the steps, a human chain out to the light pole, to test
our conductivity and our resistance.
He’d wind the rotor, send out waves of electricity,
jolt us and knock us down like the Easter Morning soldiers.
And quieter, inside, his parents gave us
threads to wind around two fingers. Easy to break
a few encirclings. But impossible,
the repeated bindings. A lesson on bad habits,
still retained from Sundays with The Good Samaritan
and the even better candy in our hands.
And each six weeks the sermon changed,
the family was replaced. There was the girl,
for instance who made disciples of the boys. Who taught
a lesson to us girls on envy. She used her breasts,
pale and long. She lay with Huey Lally in the sun.
She had probably seen it done in Africa. A most simple
habit and routine. But seeing them lying in that state
in the public River Park, we the uninitiate and
unredeemed, were doubly shocked.
The boys strained their necks from the rock outcrop
we called “The Alamo” which overlooked The Harlem River.
The sun was strong that summer. There was no
lightning bolt to get her. Six weeks we went ignored.
After she had gone, Huey got his cough.
He went insulted up and down our neighborhood.
We called him “Marbles.” His voice had taken on
a sound like grinding glass. It was puberty,
we thought, this deepening that had come on with shaving.
We made him pay though she had brought it on, of course.
But then it progressed to where we couldn’t call it off,
to where he showed me from his bed, the new
air rifle from his father, his plans for it as hollow
as his eyes. Before I left he signed
my eighth grade autograph book, “Ashes to ashes,
dust to dust.” The next month he was dead.
And there it was, unmistakable, the connecting thread
from God who frowns on adolescent lust, who mistook
a desecration of his maiden, who
sent that boy a bolt we never wished him.
Not Nola Diaz and Kathy Smyth who loved him. Not I,
so crushed I wrote his mother something now forgotten,
that made her beg me to drop by,
to tell all the things she didn’t know about him,
to keep him alive, she said.