Delmarva Review: Pentecost By James Keegan

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Editor Notes: In the latest addition of the Spy’s partnership with the Delmarva Review, we share James Keegan’s poem “Pentecost.” The Pushcart Board of Contributing Editors recently nominated the poem for The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses 2018 edition.

Pentecost for G.S.

They had eaten their breakfast with him
in an old diner car up on blocks beside the tracks
it used to run on— that is not historically accurate
but it is true.

It was winter, a patchy ice lacing
the corners, darkening with soot, clouds level and hard.
The coffee was strong and hot, the eggs greasy,
over easy, delicious.
They ate what they could afford and smoked and listened to
him dismantle their lives— he tore them down
like abandoned buildings, he tore them down like tenements
and raised wildflowers in the rubble of their hearts.

He told them everything
the world told them was important
was wedded to the death of what they could be.
He told them that forever from then
their lives would be hard and their voices heard,
believed, resented, silenced,
spread and twisted and commandeered.
He told them the hardest truth:
that it is not now, that it is not
tomorrow, that it is not ever too late to
become what you have learned to teach
yourself you cannot be.

Outside the diner
the January wind howled down the cinder block
canyons, foreshadowing the emptied kingdoms
of their hearts, foretelling the grief and loneliness,
the salt despair of his absence, the ice morning
of the future when they would shake themselves
awake, step onto the cold floorboards of their heartbeats,
shrug on the tattered hats and Goodwill overcoats of their souls
and try to imagine themselves back into life,
when all those griddle hot words that wafted
around them like coffee steaming and the coarse bite
of home-rolled smokes, when all the words that had been
like saying grace at Thanksgiving around a loaded
farmhouse board, when all those words had flown
like gray doves before the winds of winter, or huddled
like lost hobos and boozers under some blasted trestle,
aching for enough trash to burn into a bad lie of warmth,
enough bourbon to spark the blood or bury the brain.

They would dig their hands down in their hopeless pockets,
wrap their coats tight around their blasted ribs, duck
their hat brims to the skid of slicing snow and shuffle in their
sorry shoes to the same diner, where the white letters on a
red scream of sign would tell them they could not go anywhere
but on—that what they needed was not there.

They will stand, they know it, in the grainy light
and find themselves somehow together again, and somehow
whole and able-bodied. They will not know what they know
already then, they will not foresee what is beginning. One
will hand out smokes he had reserved for himself. Another
will cup his lighter flame fluttering but holding as other
hands join to feel and protect it. One
by one they will light themselves into communion. One
will blow out a stream of smoke that will be
whisked away down the deserted street and he
will look at them all and he will say first,
“Remember.”

And it is pain. And it is relief
from pain. And it is the start of a pain they
had never imagined possible, despite what
they had lost, despite what each of them had seen with his own
eyes.

James Keegan is a writer, teacher and actor. Published in the current Delmarva Review, his writing has also appeared in Poet Lore, Southern Poetry Review, The Gettysburg Review, and The Best of Small Fictions of 2015. He is associate professor of English and theater at the University of Delaware.

Delmarva Review publishes compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. In its eleventh year, the nonprofit literary journal is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information and copies, visit here

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