Howard Be Thy Name
When Howard Became Jesus
No one in the huddle laughed
when Howard said he was Jesus,
that if we did not believe him
we were all sinners doomed to hell.
The next play was a hand-off to Howard.
Everyone, even our team, piled on,
grabbing for Howard, for the ball,
for the chance to cling to something solid.
When our boyhood heap had finally become still,
a pointed shadow drew our eyes way down the field
and there against the goal post leaned Howard,
the warm ball in his arms like a baby,
his eyes round and deep like the barrels of a gun.
Walking home, everyone was silent but Howard.
He said he had wanted to tell us about it before,
but was not sure that we were ready to listen,
not sure that we were ready to believe.
He said for the past year and a half
as he lay each night on his back,
his arms stretched out in a cross,
his feet so neatly together,
he was sure he had been chosen to lead us
in the path of righteousness for his name sake.
He said it was not luck that he had aced every test,
that the bookcase and birdhouse he built in shop class
won ribbons at the county fair.
He said that was just his way of being Jesus,
that we must learn to trust his perfect ways
and regard his saintly airs with adulation.
But we walked on in silence, each new step
so tight and full of fear we could not breathe,
could not break away and run on home alone.
At his house we stopped and watched him enter,
his eyes releasing us at last behind the door.
That night beside our beds we fell to prayer
and prayed that all that afternoon was just a dream,
that we would wake up in the morning and find Howard
in the huddle telling lies just like before.
When Howard Bowed His Head to Water
Howard skipped stones across the lake
that last, late August afternoon
until his father's face filled
the lighted cabin window.
But Howard looked the other way,
following the final stone with his stare,
bowed his head low to water
and watched his face float
in the sky at his feet
until the blue became a shadow,
until the wind carried his name from the window
and pulled his eyes out of the dark
away from the lightness of youth.
When Howard Got All Keyed Up
Howard loved his collection of keys.
Looking more like an obedient jailer
than a barefoot, knock-kneed boy,
he wore a heavy ring of them on his belt,
letting them hang like a sunburst of brass
jingling wherever he went.
And he went everywhere with them,
finding more each day in the backs
of his grandmother's dresser drawers,
in the bottom of her attic trunks,
on rusted nails under her basement steps,
in jelly jars out back in the shed.
He spent entire afternoons on her porch,
taking them off the big ring one by one,
scrubbing and shining them until they were new,
until they shone like a string of gold teeth,
until they rang together like a chorus of chimes
open and free in the morning sun.
Charles Ghigna is poet-in-residence for the Alabama School of Fine Arts, where he directs the creative writing program. His works have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies, and his most recent collection is Alabama Bound. These prose poems are part of an episodic novel, Howard Be Thy Name, still in search of a publisher. (1983)