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David Middleton

Posted by admin on December 26, 2011

 

David Middleton is Alcee Fortier Distinguished Professor at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. His books include The Burning Fields, As Far as Light Remains, and The Habitual Peacefulness of Gruchy. His verse has appeared in The Southern Review, The Sewanee Review, Louisiana Literature, The Lyric, and elsewhere. Middleton serves as poetry editor for The Classical Outlook and Modern Age.

 

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The Sunday School Lesson

north Louisiana

The room was full of thirteen-year-old boys

Unhappily constrained by polished shoes,

Bow ties, oiled hair, orders against all noise,

And one eternal hour of Good News.

 

I joined the class each summer in July

When visiting my kin in that small town,

Lazing away the weeks till by and by

The signs of autumn brought my parents down.

 

Distracted like the rest, I, too, was bored

Though not a friend who shared the cycling year’s

High rites of church, school, fair, and sports that stored

A common mind with common loves and fears.

 

Long-legged and ungainly in my chair,

I’d lean on the shoved-up window while the fan

Would spin a weightless haze of heated air

Around the sullen room as class began.

 

Jack Hopkins was our teacher though I doubt

He ever saw himself as any more

Than someone who could see an hour out

With tall tales of his catch the night before.

 

I’d watch his bulbous nose and long-drawn face

Both reddened in a steady heart’s decline

As once more he would tell, with skill and grace,

Of nine-pound bass caught on a two-pound line.

 

One day, though, he seemed different, hardly there,

Gazing over the graves with restless eyes,

Searching for something distant and yet near,

Unfixable in cloudless summer skies.

 

At last, he slowly read, then half-recited

In a strong drawl that measured out King James,

Those passages in Matthew where affrighted

Disciples cried to Jesus as He came

 

Walking across night’s foam upon the water

To grasp weakening Peter who’d looked down,

Distracted by the winds that made him totter,

Now mastered by the fear that he would drown.

 

Fumbling with his glasses, Mr. Jack then tried

With chuckles and an animated glance

Around a room, from which all sound had died

To end the solemn calm and his own trance.

 

Those verses always moved him, he confessed,

Because of that strange evening on the lake

When a sudden storm caught him and he pressed

Against its wind to reach a cypress brake.

 

Perhaps it was the play of dark and light

Or just his tiredness vivified with fear,

And yet he swore that at the torrent’s height

He saw the Christ by lightning drawing near.

 

With that, the lesson ended and the class

Rose awkwardly one by one and left the room

Embarrassed, even scared to have to pass

This man who’d gazed beyond the body’s doom.

 

And though time brought him soon to what he saw,

It took me over thirty years to know

How soul’s redeemed by wonder, lost in awe

Before those depths through which I too must go

 

With doubt and faith like Peter on the sea

Sinking in fear and chaos of the foam

Yet looking up toward one who has to be

There before the winds to take us home.

 

From Volume IV, Issue 1, 2009.