DECALOGUE

BRANDON THURMAN

 
 

After church, my father walked with me to the local lake

that smelled of sulfur & shit, stunk of a secret ritual

dug too deep. He reached around my stomach & taught

me to thread a squirming body so as to conceal the barb,

to cast a rod, to cast out demons; taught me that every lake

holds a leviathan, every little boy a monster. He held me

steady as we reeled in the fish, reeled in the closeness

of calloused hand over hand, tugging bluegills & sunfish

gasping from the water, wrenching our barbed hooks

from their lips, throats, & eyes, our buckets thrashing

with their panicked bodies. Their fins were razors

on my soft skin as I worked the hooks gingerly out,

hands tender & bloody as a midwife. Back at home,

my father hauled the buckets to the basement, seized

their spasms down on the splintered wood work table,

& split their bellies into pink gasping flesh, translucent

& luminous. I fled to my bedroom & wept for a father

whose hands could crack a body open & see the hidden flesh,

for a father who taught me every one of the commandments.
 
I. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. My body

was a blasphemous psalter, exalted & worshipping

with rapid red breath. II. Thou shalt not make unto thee

any graven image of anything in the water under the earth.

At the library where I won every summer reading contest

by cheating, I printed off a photo of a taut, tattooed man,

cock pierced, hewn from pearl & wet dreams. III. Thou shalt not

take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. I sang in every tongue

of angels in the dark of my grandmother’s den, her computer

screen throbbing, blooming with pixelated skin. IV. Remember

the sabbath day, to keep it holy. After church, the only other boy,

pudge-bellied & tiny-cocked, would close my door behind us.

We sat across the room & doused ourselves blushing in

luminous pink fleshy bliss. My mother pounded out damnation

on the door as we scrambled our pants up. V. Honour thy father

& thy mother. My father butchered the fish’s broken bodies;

my mother buttered, battered, & fried. VI. Thou shalt not kill.

The only present my father ever gave me

                                                                          was a knife.
 
*
 
At the white trash lake resort in Missouri, on my college summer,

my family baptized itself in gritty water biting with barbed hooks.

The woman I would ask to marry me drove from Texas to meet us.

We stripped to our skin-shine suits. Our joy splashed in the water

like a cannonball, our bodies bobbing there barely breathing like bait,

my old leviathan circling slow below us. On the dock reeling nauseous

on the water, she slipped her arms around my bare belly, our nets full

& frayed with whiskered wizard catfish. They prophesied with wet,

desperate wheezes as we spread their bodies on the crusted-blood sink.

I tried to play my father, tried to slip into the sheath of another’s

body. The blade was dulled by neglect, having known only the dark

of a drawer flooded with a merman’s wet dreams. That night,

stuffed with their buttered bodies, I lay in the dark with my woman

on the groaning sofa-bed. I told her all my secret sins, not realizing

I had been just a boy excavating his own body. Her absolution slipped

into my belly like a keen blade, her grace a hook in my lip.

 
VII. Thou shalt not commit adultery. My body screeched at me

like a jealous bride. VIII. Thou shalt not steal. Years later,

I would dumpster dive for gay porn behind our first apartment.

Two DVDs lay in the empty dumpster in a sheen of glinting

rainbow scum. IX. Thou shalt not bear false witness. The cases

were empty, my hands gleamed with grime. X. Thou shalt not

covet thy neighbor’s house. I climbed sheepishly back upstairs

into our confessional bed & told my wife what I had done.

She held me too tight, her eyes flitting like a skittering lure.

My heart: gilled, sucking dry oxygen. My heart: a minnow in a jar.

We were tender butchers, splitting each other open with our dulled-blade

love. We thought we were a burnt offering to some philistine god,

our guts poured out between us, a tangle of entrails that wouldn’t let go,

wouldn’t be read. God scowled down at us, & we thought we knew why.

We thought we were the original tablets, in shards at Moses’ feet.

My body was the forgotten commandment, scratched into stone.

 

 
 

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