There was a day in January when the trains were heard again. Maybe they’d been heard before, I don’t remember. Only one night there was a train in my dream. I said to my mother: There was a train in my dream. It was carrying onions. She said: I heard it too. Mine was carrying Bibles. Bibles for the poor. I looked out her window and thought: What do the poor need Bibles for?
Each week in the fall during high school there was a football game. My friends were chosen to give the prayers on the intercom, until one winter when the Supreme Court said it was not allowed. The next Friday our principal came out before the game, the moment when a prayer was usually said, to talk to us. We’ve been ordered, he said, to end our prayers. We were groaning in the crowd. The persecutions had begun. Sometimes, he said, the forces that control us are too strong. The end was arriving. Sometimes, he said, the ones in power have the final say. We gripped each other, strangers holding hands. I saw the coach was on his knees. But not here. We had all been looking down. Not while I’m in charge. Then we were looking up. We’ll pray in this stadium until the Feds come storming in to arrest us all. And then we all were praying, a thousand voices speaking words in no harmony, words in no unison.
My origin is a place where strangers pray beside each other on bleachers in the loud rattle of disharmony. Three of my friends were gay until their families pressed them into being with a woman. They are all married now. That thing is everywhere in Mississippi, that strain of prayer that claims to heal the wounds that made me crave another man. Some say it is a weak father. My father disagrees. Some say it is an overbearing mother. My mother disagrees. Some say it is the way you’re born. My parents disagree. But they are searching for an exit. So am I. Stage left, stage right: we are opposites.
One week my mother speaks of rehabilitation camps. These are places, she says, where you can rest, where you can pray, where you can listen to the Lord. I learned years ago that I am not the Lord. Why should I listen for him? I say to her: Mother, there is no god. She falls into her chair dramatically. Forgive my son. I turn my head to the side: Who are you talking to? Forgive him, Lord, he knows not what he says. I would speak to her if she would listen. Not to this invisible company of fools.
There was a day in high school when the preacher from my new church turned to me, as if I had been forgotten. Child, he said, you will do great things. When his daughter married a man at six months pregnant, he drove away. One night, a quiet drive up north. This was before Katrina. He left in time.
When I was asked to wash his son’s feet and I refused, he thought I had forgotten Christ’s act. I remembered. I have read the Bible more than twenty times. He asked me because I was the most Christlike, he said. He was certain I’d say yes. And I said no. I will not kneel to touch your child’s feet. I will not unlace his filthy shoes. I will not reach out and remove his rancid socks. I will not take the water you’ve provided and rinse his sodden feet. I will not take your yellow bar of soap and hold his toes between my fingers. I will not cleanse them with the basin you have brought for me. When he scolded me before the others, he said: I only wanted you to say yes, I never would have made you do it. Like God who gives a test to Abraham: I never would have made you do it.
I go back to Mississippi. It is the weekend and I go to the beach. The places are changing: the sea has forgotten what was washed away. When the end comes I will take a boat into the shipping lanes and sail until the earth is forgotten. I will live at night beneath the meteors whose names I’ll never know. They will burn like our planet’s pyre as everything is slowly forgotten. But I will remember. I will remember what I should have always known: that all our failings are required. At last, there is nothing to sustain, nothing in the midst of all these ruins.