Two poems by Jermaine Thompson

Must Judas Bear the Cross Alone? (An Offertory Sermonette)
 
For all we know when Jesus called Judas
Iscariot out of whatever ghetto in Israel, the cross
 
he put down to take-up with the twelve
was a wife, three kids, and negative
$13.47 on the bankbook. Some of y’all
 
in here are real familiar with the negative
bankbook—some are familiar with leaving
a wife, a child, a home—Amen—for less
 
than a Savior—Amen— Don’t look at me
like I’m not making sense. Wasn’t the evil
essential to the rending of the veil on Friday—
 
essential to an empty winding-sheet in a
borrowed tomb—to a seraph grinning at
Mary Magdalene like the Cheshire Cat on Sunday.
 
You call him traitor, assassin, money
hungry thief. But didn’t Jesus call him
 
brother—friend? And didn’t they preach
and teach together? Didn’t they wine and
sup together? Didn’t the Lord prophesy
 
the dish brimming with betrayal could not
have passed to Bartholomew or Philip. It
could not have passed to the Sons of Zebedee.
 
You sitting here like a kettle on the heat
trying not to squeal. Like you never gave
up your seat at the table—Amen—for one
 
more hike ‘long the Appalachian trail, for one
more whirly girly down at the bajingo parlor, for one
more shake ‘em up, shake ’em up, shake ‘em up 7.   
 
Oh, you ain’t gotta say Amen! But
The Bible is right, There’s no greater love than
a man who lays down his life for his friend.
 
The poet is right, who said what do I know, what do we
know of love’s austere and lonely offices.
 
What is your salvation, your raggedy testimony,
but a return from a betrayal you lived to tell?

Who was Judas but a friend who so loved
 the Lord that he did nothing to upset His will?

Judas paid his debt to the kingdom with a kiss.
—Amen—but I’m here to tell you—Amen—
 
you, too, have a debt to pay. Amen?--
But Heaven no longer accepts lip service. 
 
Envelopes are in the backs of the pews.
It’s time to give.
It’s time to give.

A Body on Repeat
  
I.
 
The one you fall in with tonight
is wearing a pink and green romper
like Evangeline Montgomery’s Sea Grass.
You assumed she wouldn’t get the reference,
 
so you didn’t mention it. Your Aunt Betty,
would think she looks familiar—
like the one tangled in the swirl
& gray of her memory.
 
This one is at the bar with her coral jeweled
friends woo-wooing shots of Fireball
& Jameson. Her hair, red & breezed
as Venus in the clamshell.
 
You gambol—heavy-winged toward
the flame hoping the Crown & Coke
sloshing in your belly has not numbed
the nectar of your wit—
 
Whatever you whisper—makes its way
under the rumble of the lemon-pucker herds
into the twinkle & tilt of her ear.
The pneumatic promise of her perfume
 
kneels at the altar your imagination prays upon.
You wish to wipe your mouth on the
welcome mat of her navel. She suggests
a round of tequila shots for her—
 
her friends. She winks, “I would do a body
shot but I ain’t rolling this romper down
for everyone to see my goodies.” Affected
twang brought to you by the Ozarks.
 
But, she does let you take the lime
from her lips with your lips. You try
to calibrate your face to cool while all
your body braces for some answer after touch.
  
II.
 
Maybe it was the spangle of salt 
in the crescent between your thumb and index finger
that made you think about your Great Aunt Betty. 

When you were last home, you & your mother visited. 
She looked like the prayer her late husband bowed & prayed 
every Sunday about his own mother: 
“Her steps gettin’ short; her eyes gettin’ weak.”  

She was alive, though too young to recollect Scottsboro—
but she must’ve been ‘round eighteen, nineteen 
when they winched Emmet Till’s body from the Tallahatchie.

Aunt Betty asked, “How’s your wife—
your new baby? Did you bring ‘em? They well?”
Your mother answered: 
“This is the oldest boy, Aunt Betty.”

Loudness meant to cut through the gray—
past the palsy—to charge it to her mind, not her heart.  
Aunt Betty paused—oh’ed apologetic—

“The one who brought the white woman?”
 
III.
 
In the giggle of the afterglow, I let it slip
that she shouldn’t bet on me staying anymore
than a scrunchie, a matching sock,
any bra clasp I’d pinched loose before
we lay slick & easy—raveled with candlelight
on these unwashed bedclothes. 
What I give for love
grows stale on the back of my tongue.
It loiters across slap-happy thighs,
& in that flicker 
I can sense the civic glare of my Sisters.
I can hear the levitant mercies
my Mother will use to make light
of how I’m gettin’ on up in age
& Boy, it don’t matter
if they green, blue, purple—
you don’t make it last no how—
& How, Son, do you keep falling
so in with the white ones?

Do they make love
better?

Jermaine Thompson has publications in The Pinch, Memorious, Whale Road Review, Southern Indiana Review, and New Letters. He is an educator who learned language from big-armed women who greased their skillets with gossip and from full-bellied men who cursed and prayed with the same fervor in Louisville, Mississippi.

Guest Editor José Faus is a founder of the Latino Writers Collective. His writing appears in numerous anthologies. His chapbook This Town Like That was released by Spartan Press. His second book of poetry The Life and Times of Jose Calderon was published by West 39 Press.

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