May 13, 2009 / Creative Writing
I watched Rebel Without a Cause on TV late one college night when I learned …
November 11, 2019
Oak pews hard as stone, plain walls, the clock ticking behind, where only the preacher could see. The preacher saying Every head is bowed every eye is closed, saying Now is the time, if you feel God moving in your heart, if you are ready to surrender, if you are ready for His peace. . . . My eyes closed, my head bowed, a hot stew of anxiety and confusion. What did I feel, what did I fear, what did I hear? If I raised my hand, if I walked to the front, what then? There would be questions, not unkind, but particular. What would I possibly say.
I was more scared of going forward than ready for salvation, more frightened of the preacher’s questions than of dying unsaved. And yet I was more scared of dying then, fifty years ago, than I am today. Kennedy was dead, Khrushchev was not. The missiles still trembled in their silos. The fields lay bare and black for months until the storms came, and then the snow blew like it meant to bury us all, ran for miles across the fields, assaulted the homesteads, an army with billions of tiny cold warriors. It piled between the buildings, blocked roads and driveways, white sand in all our gears.
The schools and the churches were full then, but it took more and more acres to make a living, the tractors and the feedlots kept getting bigger, the farm kids had begun already to head off to the church colleges and the state schools, come out as doctors and sociologists, nurses and lawyers and business executives, instead of farm wives and farmers.
Who wanted to be sitting in those hard pews at thirty, at sixty, at eighty, with the clock ticking down the seconds till your heart clutches and sighs and gives it up once for all? I wanted even then to keep my eyes open, to keep my head up. I wanted to look out of the pebbly windows, across the winter-bare plains, past the little huddled towns with their church spires and grain elevators, look out and to the long slow line of the horizon and the brilliant endless lens of the sky.
But then it was autumn, and dark. My head was bowed, my eyes were closed. The preacher’s voice was not harsh and not loud. He only asked that I fumble somehow into my deepest coverts, find and expose the soft creature there who had no desire to be examined or touched or interrogated, who wanted only to unfold like a night flower in its own time, to breathe quiet as grass in the dark, to find its way in solitude from what it was to something else.
Jeff Gundy has published eight books of poems, including Without a Plea and Abandoned Homeland from Bottom Dog Press and Somewhere Near Defiance from Anhinga, for which he was named Ohio Poet of the Year. His most recent prose book is Songs from an Empty Cage: Poetry, Mystery, Anabaptism, and Peace from Cascadia. Gundy’s essays and poems appear in Georgia Review, the Sun, Kenyon Review, Forklift, Ohio, the Christian Century,Image, Cincinnati Review, Terrain, and many other journals. A 2008 Fulbright lecturer at the University of Salzburg, he teaches writing and literature at Bluffton University in Ohio.