When I told my father about my boyfriend and his boy,
he screamed at me in some seraph-soaked tongue,
his teeth live coals, his mouth a furnace firing Babel bricks,
his tongue the fourth man in the furnace, the unbound shadow,
like a son of the gods. (No flames ever licked my untouched,
my unclean, my limp lukewarm lips. When I was a child,
I tried to slip a glimpse of my father’s cock, prayed he would cast down
that staff into a serpent that would swallow up my own. When I was a child,
my father stood behind as a man pressed his sweaty trembling
palm to my clammy forehead, praying that I be baptized in boiling bitumen.
Not a syllable of sibylline babble could anoint my cottonmouth tongue.
I let my legs go limp, tried to drop, tried my play slain. My father held me up.
The man pressed harder, pressed, pressed deeper, his tongue swollen and spewing
the language of God—a dead language, resurrected, but come back
babbled apart, missing limbs. Imagine Lazarus, four days dead:
a bloat, blood-foam leaking language. My tongue wanted so much,
but not this. The man sighed, spent, “Let him down.” My father lowered
my heavy unhallowed body to the floor.) When I told my father I was in love,
his throat-throbbed tongue-twitched rising baptized bellows
said nothing, said shutupshutupshutup, said notmyson,
said faggotcocksuckerlittlepussybitch, said Iloveyousogoddamnedmuch.
When the Spirit seeped out, leaving him flaccid, bashful,
he whispered, “That wasn’t me.” He said, “You have to believe me.”
When the Spirit clamps your tongue between its atoning tongs,
you can say anything; you can say nothing. You can say exactly what you mean.
When I told my mother I was engaged to the man of the dreams
I could not remember when I woke up, her unveiled face was masked
with the harsh, unswayable light of someone who had spoken with a god.
She reminded me of my father’s dream of a lank lion
swallowed whole by a hyena, of the time a decade ago
that God himself woke her up with his cold, demanding hand
crept into bed behind her, breathed into her ear to tell me,
Satan is a conniver. (I said, “Has the LORD not spoken through us also?”
But sometimes a prophet or prophetess, the pillar of cloud pulled away,
is left leprous, half-eaten from the womb, stillborn of Spirit.)
God’s word was all glyphs and runes. Her deaf hands became prayers
in the spirit-thick dark, became uninterpretable signs. At the bookshelf,
she found the dictionary beside the medical reference book
that had introduced me to penises covered in rashes and scabs,
to disease and desire, to my leper colony lust. (Imagine the leper skin,
starved for touch, grazed by some messianic hand.) She found the word
somewhere between conceal and consecrate—vb 1: to cooperate secretly
2: conspire, intrigue 3: secretly allow to occur. But with whom
did Satan connive? Did he reconvene with God in some dim-lit backroom
of heaven? Did they contrive another impassable test, plot a plague
of sword, flame, raid, wind, & boils on another family? Did they dangle
a fishhook for my leviathan tongue? Skin for skin! Satan says. The stage was set,
our movements blocked, a potsherd and some ash the only props in our hands.
In the dark, a waltzing masquerade of angels of lightning began to flash
in dizzy dance around my mother’s troubled body. In the dark, Satan winked.
Brandon Thurman is a poet and behavior analyst living in Fayetteville, Arkansas with his fiancé and son. His poetry is influenced heavily by his work with children with autism and his childhood in a Pentecostal household in the foothills of the Appalachians. This is his first publication.”