The Prophet allays all doubt.

“A  poem, like a person, asks only that you be present.”

A poem, like a person, asks only that you be present. It has a life independent of you. You can meet it, look it in the eye, sketch its face, the shape of its body, but it will always be the unknowable other.

One day while walking my dog, I encountered a man who proselytized to me. My first feeling was fear—I mostly pass, but my appearance and manner are identifiably queer, and I have too much firsthand experience of the violence religion can wield against myself and my community. When someone asks me if I’ve accepted the Lord into my heart, my muscles clench. I search for an escape. And yet, I was drawn to this man, the look in his eyes that felt like the rumblings of something I had felt before.

I am drawn to what society would call madness. I am mad. I take medication, I go to therapy, I iron words as if they were clothes, and then leave them in a pile outside my bedroom door. I am lucky to have a bedroom. A delusion is not a demon, but a formal bliss. An alignment. A belief.

It was only when I read this poem aloud to a friend that I realized why I had leaned so heavily on the frame/refrain of “sometimes.” It’s a kind of doubt, she said, and I think she’s right. Everything in this poem is in doubt. It’s a truth, and it’s a fiction. Every voice arrives from an uncertain source (except the voice of the grandmother, who perhaps must say what she says, regardless of evidence). Every detail that could be care welcomes the specter of judgment.

Where my empathy fails, I hope you doubt me. I hope you place your hand in the side of the poem and feel the wound as proof.

The Prophet allays all doubt.
  • Sometimes the sound of gospel hymns precedes him. Sometimes
  • he believes he is Jesus. Sometimes, on speakerphone, he tells a man
  • the Christian church is a scam. They don’t know a damn thing
  • about love. Sometimes, while talking, he stamps at spiders.
  • Sometimes he kisses his grandmother’s fuzzy cheek, like a good boy,
  • and she says, You are such a good boy. But sometimes he believes
  • his medication is poison. Sometimes he presses his ear to the sidewalk
  • to hear what the devil is up to, or counts the bricks of a building’s facade
  • to determine whether it is blessed or cursed. Sometimes he eats cold
  • canned soup from the community cabinet and saves the plastic spoon
  • in his pocket. Sometimes he doesn’t sleep. Sometimes he falls asleep
  • on a park bench by the river, listening to its whisper. What I have vowed
  • I will make good. Sometimes, waking up, he recognizes a stranger.
  • Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Eyes wide like a child.

Joshua Zeitler is a queer, nonbinary writer based in rural Michigan. They received their MFA from Alma College, and their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, Identity Theory, Stanchion, Midway Journal, and elsewhere.


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