Howard Be Thy Name

protrait of a woman

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 11 No. 2, "Neighbors." Find more from that issue here.

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.