When grandmother was young,
there were horses downtown.
She told me the children called her Gypsy Mary.
They pulled her mother’s curtains down
and wrapped them like a shawl around her shoulders.
When banks failed she walked the streets
with whorepainted eyes and told fortunes,
a white-washed snow globe at her side.
She could tell you that your baby sister would float
down the Pearl on a washboard with moccasins at her throat.
She would tell you that war was coming, her father sent
upriver for making gin in the claw foot tub.
She couldn’t predict that her insides would turn
black against her like the dirt she shoveled
on her mother’s coffin lid.
What’s better than a nickel’s worth of hope
that you can shove in a coffee can?
The spells start to come late at night.
Baby Moon’s in my apron, grandmother says,
cradling a half-peeled orange.
I sit up with her and let grandfather sleep.
She loses her bifocals and conjures
until her jaw goes slack.
I pry open her mouth with my fingers
and pop two blue pills down her throat.
One curler dangles loose.
I can see the night in her eyes
like a cat crawling out of a storm
and under the porch.
In the courtyard of the Presbyterian school,
the children file in behind Ms. White,
the matron saint of sixth grade New Testament.
They wait to see the stained-glass Christ
and the painted window of ancient fathers.
Poor Man’s Bible, the church pamphlet says.
In the back of the line, a boy sketches his heroes
in a catechism. He imagines a whale puking Jonah
onto the sandbar at Nineveh, the storm in Samson’s eyes:
full fire and fox tails together, sweet arson
for the Philistine fields. In the corner
of the sanctuary, Otis, the black janitor
hammers plywood across a fist-sized hole
in Christ’s head. Ms. White guides the children
to the mosaic of a burning bush. She whispers,
Probably, a downtown crack head did it.
Lord’ll roast him for that. Otis slips a bandaged
hand inside the jumpsuit pocket before the teacher
can see. The boy draws what he believes. He will
always remember how to nail a savior to the page.
P.S. Dean is a third-year MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Mississippi.