The John Edward Johnson Prize
He let our dogs sit in back, the little church
baking like a biscuit in the July heat.
The small one barked sharp at a circling ceiling fan
swirling sadness and humidity upon bent heads.
The congregation was small and two called out
when the rented minister got her birthdate wrong.
He talked reams about Jesus whom he knew
far better than the deceased.
A smudged page of facts was the only map he had into her life.
What could he offer but generalities to lay flat as the now-settled dogs
dozing in pools of sun?
We were all Christian and coal’s children
but for a sprinkling of Jews and a handful of Nothings,
sharing a small Methodist church in a worn neighborhood
of the Pennsylvania town known for its flood big as Noah’s.
After acknowledging the faulty facts and heartfelt prayers, the hesitations and resignations,
the Lord followed our dusty cars
down a strip of street to a hilly green place with clean air, a clear view
and no memory of mining.
The 23rd Psalm was recited and meant.
A dark satin moth flew
back and forth beside the coffin,
a diamond waiting to be buried.