Chainsaw at the Pearly Gates
Michael Dowdy

That my grandfather had his way
with words was supper time gospel.
His blade fast nouns sliced the fatback
for mustard greens pungent as soil
and verbs sneaky and clean as shine
fooled the tongue to kindle the gut.
But I think my folks had it wrong.
He had his way with one word. Mean.
He would wind up his skinny arms
and gather his callused fingers
into tight balls of bunched leather,
fists dancing like marionettes
teased and jerked by the god of want,
then grin and boast that he’s so mean
he’d yank up young corn by its roots.
Before dinner, as us grandkids
surfed rivers of hunger running
through our guts, he’d swear he’s so mean
he’d push baby chicks in the creek,
where they’d drown in whirlpools of clucks.
That the old man lost, and I’ve lost
count, some number of kin before
they were fluent about their lot
was gospel truth at our table.
That he was mean as a chainsaw
when he faced down the pearly gates
     was apocryphal. Imagine
the awful growl of metal teeth
eating clean through the silver locks
and rocking heaven’s pleasure crafts,
launching rip currents of drowned souls
into the kingdom of the breeze.
When the gates teeter on their base
of marbled pearl and fall to earth,
he’d say the word one last time. Mean.
The other words, every last one,
carbineer and hill and toenail,
would be freed from cellars guarded
by hands softer than clouds and eyes
harder than a hundred year drought.    

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