You stayed real through your obvious disregard for anything besides homemade sin, homegrown, and me. I never had to worry about what was behind your back because your calloused, open hands, your sunbeam laughter, and your big country tits were always before me. We worked the ground your Daddy left you, and although you cursed, smoked and drank like a backslidden Turk, every fiber of your being cried honesty unparalleled. We would saw cordwood together, plant, hoe and harvest tomatoes, corn, pole beans and Mary Jane, and then you’d ride me in broad daylight on a beach towel down by the brown river. Your hot, sawdusky flesh, sunburned by days of toil, rough and smooth by turns, was always sweet like summer and the oil for my machine. Your brown, lively eyes sang volumes of love for me in shape note refrain. We had two plot hounds, a trailer and each other. We owned next to nothing and were richer than a Rothschild.
I ran to the arms of religion to sober up after Mama died. She’d wept black tar tears from her oxygen tent, clutching at my dirty t-shirt and crying for me to walk straight and get saved as she drowned in sorrow and lung disease, a Virginia Slim smoldering just outside her plastic walled coffin. I cut my long Samson locks, shaved my beard and became a coward—a double-tongued, Vitalis slickster-deacon with a Gideon Bible, peddling spiritual snake oil and dry, KJV clichés. You kept living hard and ended up going to prison for felony assault on a Federal agent, twenty pounds of kind green and thirty gallons of a spring, summer, and fall of love, laughter and yellow corn. You took it like a woman and spit in that plainclothes face when he slapped the cuffs on you. I surrendered to the call before my Maker and White Rock Baptist and I pleaded with the congregation to pray for your soul. I spent hours at the foot of the cross with Preacher Black, choking on Aqua Velvet tears and reaffirming my desire not to join you in sin and dissolution. Every day I died a little more to myself as I strove to outdo St. Stephen in a world where the stones were already bread. Every gray prison night in Nashville you wished to see the plain light of day again and get back to your farm and your liquor still. You’d done nothing but love and trust me, and I had sold you to the cops for a clean record and a recommendation to Fruit Hill Bible College. The good book says that God forgave me as soon as I asked, but I’ll be a damned soul sure as Sunday because my conscience doesn’t lie, just as sure as you’re back there living by the brown river that I got baptized in, growing corn for liquor and loving some other long haired Jesus who’s a damn sight happier than me.