in which an itinerant man of god or something thereabouts spreads pearls before swine or something akin to that.


He’d floated down from Marathon,

Where he’d briefly harangued the populace,

Telling all within earshot that a great torrent

Would sweep them away part and parcel

(All the while bright sunshine glared off his ancient aluminum folding chair,

But anyone having the least bit of a handle on the lay of the land

Knew the narrow, cranky Tioughnioga

Would jump its banks after a reasonable drizzle,

And the night before had brought rain that would make Noah fret)

And, sure enough, the high water came,

Though with a tad more ferocity than one would expect,

So much so that a young girl actually washed downstream a bit

Before a volunteer fireman made a highlight-reel grab to pull her to shore,

At which time the county boys told the street preacher du jour

That it might be in his personal and theological interests to move along.

He’d set up shop here and there in and around this tumbledown industrial burgh

Long since abandoned by Watson’s machines and Endicott-Johnson:

Outside the doorway of the white-elephantesque state office building,

Too PCB-contaminated to be inhabitable for generations now,

Cracked sidewalks on Henry and Hawley Street neighborhoods

Where his very survival at least hinted at divine intervention,

Abandoned tanning parlors and spiedie huts on the Vestal Parkway,

Valiantly attempting up warped and vaguely rectangular sandwich boards

Festooned with quotes from Hosea and Lamentations,

Music mumbling from his disco-era boom box,

Sounding for all the world like Hank Williams speaking in tongues.

His clientele did not vary much from location to location:

The already converted, stopping to compare misapprehensions

Of some obscure snippet of scripture,

Youngsters on bicycles or skateboards,

Solicitous or mocking, depending on how much shine was left on their innocence,

Meth-heads, all itch and twitch, taking a moment to let their pulse rates cool.

His demeanor, if not exactly avuncular, is at least akin

To some gruff but vaguely affectionate distant uncle,

Yet invariably someone walking into some Kohl’s or coffee shop

Will either smirk knowingly in his direction

Or, even worse, ignore him ostentatiously

At which point he is possessed of an inflammatory madness,

A John Brown with no arsenal to lay siege unto.

You can endeavor to avert your eyes and your souls from the Truth,

Gesticulating wildly in punctuation of his full-throated wail,

But it will find you, and no grand shopping center,

No expensive car, no gimcrack-laden technological device

Can deliver you from what He sees inside you,

What He knows about you better than you could ever know yourself,

And these rivers around you, these Susquehannas and Delawares

And Chenangos shall rise about you in a wave,

Sweeping away all you know, all you have built,

And it will not cleanse your land, but leave it as if scorched,

A fitting wasteland for the doomed!

Before long, some solicitous concerned citizen or harried store manager

Will alert the proper authorities, and some deputy sheriff or city cop

Will tell him once again to Move it along, buddy,

And move along he does, muttering shibboleths under his breath,

Straggling along in this poor-man’s pilgrimage

To provide some counsel to the damned and misbegotten.







16 thoughts on “in which an itinerant man of god or something thereabouts spreads pearls before swine or something akin to that.

    1. It’s interesting that you hit solidly upon Cassandra here; frankly, I can’t remember the last time I was so ambivalent toward a protagonist in a piece– I was wholly unsure where my sympathies lay here. I’m not disputing your notion here, understand; I simply find it fascinating.

  1. FIne story from exactly the kind of encounter that might drift downstream, and, after entering the stories of a small town, keep on drifting. Nicely told.

  2. This has the flavor of a longer piece – pathos, humor, and an inevitable logos of decay and it-is-madness-but-not-really – the irony of the unheard prophet. ~ M

  3. I always wonder what exactly goes on inside one of those guys heads…this may have helped ferret that out a bit…lol. What a great, linear, fast moving, descriptive narrative. You have the gift of condensing the universe into a thimble…I like that.

  4. So when THREE “hundred-year floods” hit Binghamton within seven years, where are the televangelists decrying all the homosexuality and rampant corruption, both moral and sexual, in the Triple Cities? Huh? Where?

    You know, I grew up in Vestal and to see you reference the cracks on Hawley street and Henry and the rest… but where did you get the name of the river?!

    I completely focused on the location. Now to go back and read the actual poem again. God, I miss the foothills of the Adirondacks… but not the homophobia!! Peace, Apalachin Amy

    1. I have a more than passing familiarity with metro Bingo, having lived most of my life up and down the Route 81 corridor, so the Chenango and the Tioughnioga are my turf–and, as for the Adirondack foothills, I spent what my be the best couple years of my life in St. Lawrence County.

      1. Aah, I know the Chenango – Morris Dancers annually build a maypole in a park at the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna in Binghamton. Now I know a new river and a new Indian name. Thanks. I’m an old upstate girl, and by that I mean Buffalo, Binghamton, and Ithaca… but not the St. Lawrence valley, which is gorgeous. Thx also for your most eloquent take on my poem about Lonely Girl… Amy

  5. I think of eli and want to strum some out of tune guitar, but see that word harangue and get stuck with an image of foghorn leghorn aaron harang. That’s happened three times already this early season and it hasn’t really rained.

    1. I think we may have long since reached where hitters are haranguing that Harang fastball, after which they repair to the clubhouse for some arroz con Arroyo.

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