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"The Man with the Hardest Belly," by Paul Allen

Author: Paul Allen

compensates his loss of limbs—legs
to knee, nub arms—with a gift
to titillate the congregations when he is delivered
from Ocala in his motor home to call us to Christ.
This handsome chunk of what was left
after he’d been shucked, he says, at 14
found God by serving himself on our tables
if we had canned com at all in 19 and 55.

We are not members here. As Dad said, we
have our own faith. But someone spirit-filled
made Mother promise. So we’re here cross-legged
on the cool ground at the river,
and my father is chosen. The Youth Director
is chosen. The man high up in Amway
is chosen. The three of them hang

THE MAN WITH THE HARDEST BELLY over the first branch
of the maple like a sandbag on the levee.
He pops his torso, flips, chins
to the next branch, flips, grabs a limb
with his thighs. Left nub for leverage,
he hooks another V with the back
of his head, walks on stumps up the trunk
to the next limb, flips to his belly, bends,
flips, holds with his teeth. He maneuvers
like something stained and mating
toward the top of our slide in godless biology,
or like the little dots we see inside our own eyes
on days we’re morose. The thing
we’ve come to watch we can’t watch
directly as he works toward the sun. The higher
he goes, the more we must look down to save
our eyes. We pull grass, look up and squint
to check his progress, kill an ant climbing our shoe.
Some stand to change the angle,
to keep him closer to the shaded cars.
Settling high, balanced and swaying, he preaches
from the texts painted on his motor home
under the faded “DOUBT AND DELIVERY.”

…so look with me now at Genesis, whole people, Genesis 15:1-6. Abram. Abram was a cripple in bed, had no standing among men. Listen to me, had no standing among men, praise God, and Moses, who said no, not me, not me, God gave Moses what he needed. And Joshua at their first real trial? Joshua didn’t think he could do nothing. Joshua 7:1-10. I thank God my arms and legs went to your soft tummies in ’55. I was born again in that shucking machine, look at my belly, my hard and strong belly, you could park a truck on my belly praise God, God gives you what you need. I need a strong belly and a lithe neck to climb trees and show you the Holy Spirit at work, and show you the compensations of our precious Lord. Praise you. Lord. The Holy Spirit turns my pages for me. Look at Joshua splashing dirt up in his face. I’m here to tell you people there’s no dirt in my face, no Lord. And Gideon. It’s right there in your book. Judges 6:1-14. What does God say to that worthless garment of feces? (Excuse me, ladies, but the compensations of God is nothing to be delicate about.) Says to Gideon, go in your power. Go in your power. Listen to me now: Go in your power and save my people. Read it. Isn’t that what it says? Your power. Don’t look at me, I know I’m pretty. Look at your book, look at your own Holy Word. Now examine, if you will, First Corinthians 10:13. See? God won’t give you nothing wrong without a correlational power to get out of it…. Jesus himself, his wonderment self, take this cup from my lips, listen now, take this cup from my lips, lake this cup….

We pull off the road to let the other cars by.
The Youth Director finds a wide place.
And the man high up in Arnway finds a wide place.
The three of us wait, our hazard lights blinking,
while the bom again wave and the kids shout
from their windows that Jesus is the One
and fathers honk (Honk If You Love Jesus).

My father nods occasionally. My sister starts
it. We are arguing about whether
four nubs around the rooms of his scriptural
motor home, or slithers like something run over.
Crawls. Slithers. My father hushes us. My sister hits
me, says, ‘For unto you is bom a child.” I hit
my sister: “Let the women keep silent
in the Chevrolet.” My mother has had enough.
She separates us. We aren’t to speak. We aren’t
to utter a peep. Each of us must look out our own window.

The cars are thinning. We can hear the hazards now.
The road is dark and the dust is settling.
“I told her we’d go, and we went,” my mother says.
“I told you we’d come, and we came,” my father says.
“I thought it a bit much, though,” she says, when
he stood on his perch, spread those arms
and screamed, ‘Nail me. Nail me.”
‘Me too,’ my father says, ‘nails wouldn’t work.’
My mother is looking at him. He says.
Toggle bolts might work.’
‘Go help him down,” my mother says, ‘and let’s go home.”

My father joins the other two on the road. They walk
back toward the river. My mother tells us it will
turn cool; we don’t need to bathe when we get home,

but we do need to wash our feet. My father appears.
He eases us between the Youth Director and the man
high up in Am way. When we’re on the main road
and the others have turned off, my mother says,
“I thought we’d have your mother over tomorrow.
Remind me to get a ham out when we get home.”
“And corn?” my father says. “Whatever,” she says.

Tonight down the cold upstairs hall we hear
them laughing, my mother and father.
Tonight we hear them making love again.

DMU Timestamp: March 07, 2019 02:52

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