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Parenthood as Bad Theology

I am becoming the sermon I promised
           I would not deliver, a sackclothed shadow,

caricature wielding the finger of admonishment.
           Smoky entreaties, curly wisps of logic
no cartographer could unwind because they could not

be drawn on dirt or cut through trees and stone
           flow from my mouth until words vanish,

leaving only the empty bubbles cartoonists draw
           above the heads of their characters before
they give them something funny to say.

To lose the religion of punch line and caption,
           I need to remember no one crossed the walked-thin

carpet of my childhood church believing
           in instant salvation a second time. Instead I see
scars the savage mill blade left on the pews

where I sat, feel the weight of thin-leafed hymnals,
           how easy it was to believe in unmoving eternity

in a room where time seemed to kneel and never rise.
           The stained glass windows never showed us
the weather, their depictions of saints and apostles,

of Jesus cradling the lamb as off-kilter and unrealistic
           as the cartoons I still read each morning.

She won't need my testimony to know I fevered
           on Sundays, hoping my parents might
decide to skip church that day. She already understands

the arbitrary laws of families. A few more years
           of watching me wave my arms and babble

like a drunken cartoon character, empty circles
           of air floating from my mouth, and she will know
exactly the words she does not want to say.

Al Maginnes

Birmingham Poetry Review

Spring 2012

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