POETRY: The Fire Burns Low by John Leax

The Fire Burns Low by John Leax

Issues from the hand of time the simple soul
Irresolute and selfish, misshapen, lame
Unable to face forward or retreat. . .
(T. S. Eliot, “Animula”)

Thursday evening
Inside the light of a three-way lamp
he sits absorbed
reading
the living word reduced
to monosyllables,
the gospel cut like hash
for middleclass consumption

He does not like abstractions;
he takes the words as they come,
nouns, verbs, and articles.
They move him, but he does not move.
Each verse, each phrase
he reads reminds him
he died with Christ in 1963.
He remembers the day,
moistens his lips and begins to recite
“I am dead. . .”
but he can’t remember the rest.
He mortifies the flesh; his right
leg prickles asleep.

Thursday night
In the dark he loves his wife
not well or long (the hour is late)
but moderately, discreetly
as Christ will woo the church.

Friday morning
The desk he works at is as clean
as his mind.
Nothing piles up into confusion.
He is praised but not promoted.

Sunday morning
In church he waits on the Lord
and is never disappointed.

Sunday afternoon
After the roast and baked potatoes
occasionally with a dab
of sour cream,
he settles in front of the sleep machine
and watches time run out
on the Baltimore Colts.
That disappoints him; he’d like his son
to worship Johnny U
but Namath gets the girls
and postgame interview.

Sunday evening
The evening meal is never much—
leftovers, eggs,
maybe a piece of chocolate cake
with ice cream
then back to church
for one more admonition
to catch fire for Jesus.

Bent over the kitchen table
he has no history.
The ceiling light shapes his head
on the page he reads.
From the shadow the living word
makes small talk with his soul.
He takes the words as they come,
he does not argue; the fire burns low.
He relives again the day he died. . .

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