I Can’t Eat With Jesus, by Michael Buhler
Jesus is in this northern mining town
he walks the street at night
beneath the streetlight’s muted glow
missing a few teeth.
He’s always alone,
and when he finds my eyes he breathes easy,
as though I am a lifeline.
Often he’s had a few drinks
he bobs flowingly while he walks
his pants hanging off his backside,
old, worn leather belt dangling away
like a safety harness carelessly draped on the hip.
He is always happy
even delighted, when he sees me
and he remembers my name
—Michael, he calls me—
and I am ashamed because I have forgotten his.
The wind blows cold from the northwest
right up the avenue, and I shiver.
He seems immune to the wind
but he carries the emptiness and loneliness
of this sidewalk and the way cars and trucks race past
like a deep-seated ache in the bones.
I ask again
what his name is,
with the traffic rushing and hushing past,
the headlights reflecting off his smiling face and his glasses
—but he didn’t hear me—
a name is a sacred thing,
and for now it is probably better if I just leave it be.
He calls me by my name again
and I feel so terribly honoured.
How are you, Michael? he asks me.
Shoot, I’m doin’ fine—how’re you?
Good, he says.
But the word trails away, because there’s something
momentous, earth-shattering, going on, and I don’t
have the courage to ask what it is.
You been home lately? I ask.
He is from far away, from the end of the rail line
from a place lost in a sea of trees and bog
that lies before a wide, endless river.
No, no I haven’t been home in a while.
No plans. So, how are you Michael?
If he asks me that one more time my heart will break,
so I toughen up and laugh.
You take it easy, I say.
I wish him peace as I part
but he overcomes my attempt at control,
bowing his head and looking to the ground,
accepting my good wishes, assuming I would only speak
truth, from the heart.
Good bye, Michael.
He is alone
and his good bye sticks in me
like a shard of glass
I love him and trust him,
but I wouldn’t eat supper with him.
He smells, body and clothes unwashed
and he might have drank a bit too much
and be unpredictable,
and he might carry germs.
If he asked me to, I convince myself I’d walk with him
till the end of the day, or lace his shoes.
I’d serve him a meal at the soup kitchen—
I could do that—I’ve done that.
But I can’t sit and eat with him.
Why can’t I eat with Jesus?
There is a line in front of me
only the Saints can cross
in a predictable fashion,
for circumstances have placed me at the dinner table with Jesus before,
and I have endured.
The circumstance is grace.
Anything is possible with Jesus.
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