On Being Asked to Pray for a Van and Snapper

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On Being Asked to Pray for a Van and Snapper

by Michael Chitwood
Southern Cultures, Vol. 15, No. 2: Summer 2009

"It's a kind of monster, cobbled from parts of other creatures—"

On Being Asked to Pray for a Van
My evangelical brethren have let me know,
via the quarterly fundraising letter,
that they can’t get the gospel around
because their van has given up the ghost.
God in the machine, help them.
I lift up their carburetor and their transaxle.
Bless them with meshed gears and a greased cam shaft.
Free their lifters.
Deliver their differential
and anoint their valves and their pistons.
Unblock their engine block
and give them deep treaded tires.
Their brakes cry out to You. Hear them, O Lord.
Drive out the demons from their steering column
and come in to the transmission
that they may know the peace of passing.
Minister even unto the turn indicator.
Creator Spirit, Holy Maker of the Universe,
give them gas.

It’s a kind of monster,
cobbled from parts of other creatures
beak of a raptor,
clawed feet of a burrowing animal,
tail of a croc.
Its armor medieval, breast plate and back plate,
the smeared heraldry praises mud and bottom muck.
You’re lucky just to see one.
His father recalled only the brown streak,
the plume it was leaving in the clear water,
when he pulled the boat along side
and thrust his thoughtless hand into the water
and was suddenly more alive, electric,
holding it by its knobbed tail.
It dangled and hissed and stank like rot,
fifty pounds of bottom dweller,
that clamped on the handle of an oar
and dented the hard wood.

Legend lives in a snapper, weir-walker
at home in the cold, dark depths,
the labyrinths of sunken logs and snags.
When they rise, ducklings disappear,
snatched from underneath.
Frogs seem swallowed by the mud itself.
The quick neck strikes with terrible speed
and the hooked-vise mouth is like a wrecking tool.
The old one says
when that mouth seizes it releases only
when it thunders.

And then, according to an uncle’s old recipe,
they were going to eat that thing,
taste its white meat,
his father assured them the meat in the beast bomb canister
would be white, white as a wafer.
His father staked it in the yard
with an old horseshoe spike and a length of chain.
He had to check with an old-timer
on the best way to crack that shell.
The dog snarled, fake-charged
then hid under the porch.
Some crows talked mob talk but kept their distance.
It lay still and the mud dried to gray.

Such dreamsswimming in the cool water
and then the grab, the stab of pain, being pulled under.
It did not belong in the yard all night.
They needed it back in the water;
They needed it out there unseen to keep them watching,
to keep them thrilled. They needed it gone
and in the morning, spike, chain and all, it was.

Ed. Note: At our request poetry editor Michael Chitwood was kind enough to provide these two poems from Spill, which won the 2008 Roanoke-Chowan Award from the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.