A large crowd of books and notebooks has been paroled from storage, is now assembling itself, with my encouragement, on some darned fine custom-made bookshelves. Just when the world, via Kindle, etc., is turning to digital reading-matter, I decide to get some old-fashioned built-in bookshelves. Timing is everything in show business.
In one of the exhumed notebooks I found an old story-poem--about a preacher, a man of the cloth. Oddly enough, I remember the poem's origin, too: a walk beside a creek near my brother's home in California. It's a creek that gets hit pretty hard by the human presence. How or why I took a leap, so to speak, from the creek to the story, I don't know. The poem is pretty much a free-verse ballad, I'd say.
On the way to deposit
tithings in a secret account,
a preacher lost his way,
found himself misplaced in woods.
Hungry and bug-bitten
beside a creek that smelled
strongly of sewage, this
preacher asked God
to direct him toward
a way out. A weird
child appeared then. There
was something too wise
in her pallid face. There
was no indication she lived
anywhere but in
those words. Maybe, thought
the preacher, she lives nowhere.
She said to him, "Throw the money
away. Throw it, preacher, in
the creek." He said, "No."
He claimed the money, of course,
belonged to God. It wasn't that
the child disagreed. It was that
she smiled thinly, sweetly.
She said, "Then throw it in
the creek, preacher. Throw that cash
in the creek. Do you doubt God
will retrieve it if it belongs to Him?"
The preacher knew his powers
of conviction had left the congregation
of his mind. He was hungry
and bug-bitten, lost in woods.
He feared the child more
than any lacerating snake.
He flung the money in the creek.
He watched the currency float
on water like leaves. The child
evaporated. The preacher
was tempted to reach for the money,
run after it. In his mind,
he saw it drying on the rocks.
But he turned, and he left.
He woke up in his car. A state
trooper tapped on his window.
"Am I dead?" asked the preacher,
after the window had come down.
The servant of the people said, "No,
sir, but you look like hell."
Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom