Joshua Martin 

At A Meeting At The Rock Springs Revival

Somewhere off the main highway
there is a town clamped down in the throats
of a “repentance or hell” dictum,
a town pressed against
a copse of thicket bushes, 
with just enough space for a dusty inroad
to lumber towards a warping oak pulpit.
And so they’ve assembled like fence-posts 
pulled downward into fresh mud
to meet the Divine
in hastily-erected tents supported
by splintered wooden beams. In preparation,
Southern theologians have crafted time travel
devices out of porch swings, and so sons and daughters
and fathers and mothers swing backwards through
time into apple pie laced kitchens and fly-swatted
stables, past clearings of beer bottles shattered
by .22 rounds, into an open field where a bible salesman
shakes the scripture in his right hand,
his left channeling the ghosts of Rock Springs, North Carolina,
August, 1851.Where they stand in time and place,
a dead horse speckled with houseflies lays in a field made fallow
by a congregation’s unrelenting marching,
their necks crow-bent in a plea for salvation.
For this is the third month of the cloud-choked dryness
and the air has thatched with thistle,
and the bones of their cattle have
scratched holes into their loosening hides,
and the preacher has tugged at his neck collar
for what seems like an eternity now,
still having no words for that which festers under the
parched lands of the faithful
who have long since run out of prayer. 


What The Unions Gave Them

Up until his mouth tightened like a caliper
and his movements became more lopsided, his eyes
more narrow, more removed, up until then my grandfather
would speak gently of the labor unions in 
Nitro, West Virginia, how they ensured jobs,
insured hands and feet, kept limbs free from
hooks, chemicals the workers couldn’t pronounce.
How so very sad it must have been in the days
before the unionization of the chemical plants,
the men staring intently into vats of nitrocellulose
as if searching for friends sucked beneath the white powder,
coming home long after the last scintilla of daylight was
mopped up from the valley’s floor. And how so very strange
the workers must have felt, after it happened, to finally 
throw a ham hock into their cauldron of pinto beans at suppertime, 
to add to their shacks the foundations for a child’s bedroom.
What the unions promised was what the men mortared
away in French and Belgium towns they couldn’t pronounce:
livelihoods extended beyond coal-drained mountains
and the entangled steel of factories rising from earthworks,
pulsating with each puff of smoke. And for men that
hadn’t read Nietzsche or thought too deeply about
the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the notion that
all life held value must have been an inkling of proof that in some
remote corner of time and space a God did indeed look
down on their lives and that maybe it wasn’t 
absurd after all, none of it, not even the landscape
barren like a winter pantry, 
not even their half-feigned smiles at day’s end. 


Theology At The Dutch Bar

Through bar smoke that hung ephemeral
and departed with a kick of the front door,

they entered, these bar-men, arrived after
work from failed businesses and hunting

stands alike, both ramshackled and writhing
with energy, some with wives, others imagining

coming home to a hot meal and throw pillows
(although this would never be mentioned),

nearly all religious, and at least one seeking atonement 
for the deer stripped of skin and guts, hung

like a tarp outside of his deer camp two
weekends ago when he took his only son shooting.

And as it went, the boy, with hands soon to
be cracked and bathed in North Carolina

red clay as the butt of his rifle, asked the father about 
the distance to heaven before pulling

the trigger on a doe, a shot, malicious or otherwise,
that, in an instant, meant a childhood skinned 

and hung, flank by flank, like how the lithe machine of  
brown fur was turned into a pile of 

meat in a breath-span, which was, of course,
much shorter than the time it would have taken 

the old man to argue one way or the other
for the existence of God.  



Joshua Martin was born in Madison, Mississippi and studied poetry and English in Southern Appalachia. A recent graduate of Clemson University's MA in English program, Joshua enjoys writing about place, especially the mountains of North Carolina. When he's not writing, he enjoys practicing his street photography around Greenville, South Carolina and elsewhere. He is currently working on his first chapbook. 


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