The Gate Crossing

Sunblind as a dug-up mole, skunk drunk
and asphalt steamy, dodging armadillos
and flatbeds between Bristol and Springfield
white lines, mirages, heat waves converge.

A roadside mission appears on a smeared
horizon. Then I see them.
When I stop they surround my car

moon-eyed children
painted across the windshield
bruised stares, lips tight as clothespins.
Translucent feet puff alkaline
dust ants scrub grass stones

Starfish fingers grip me tight
tug me through the gate
to the white mission house.
A tattered quilt banner
hangs by nails on the porch rail.
Seek and ye shall find, knock and it
shall be opened unto you.

Christians halfway-housed on the porch
swoon to a rippling ukulele hymn
as they pull push me in
handcuffed in damp warm palms
to a fly swirling kitchen
where she stirs mint tea,
gold-leafed sweat spangles
her smooth white chest
blouse loosened for a fan.

Children surround me
mute little shadows on a vinyl couch
she hums velvety gospel
radiant as any bride,
as hens and stray cats rustle
in the chinaberry bushes,
and old men bend like
branches over
thumb-smeared Bibles
she curls, slowly
on the divan
a scroll, a snake,
unable to stop my hand
reaching for life
to lift shining hair
as the quilt cocoons around us
tucked in by many hands
luminous faces
as I slide
the ladder
to the door

~ Craig Shaffer


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