Robert E. Heald

When the Crucifix Becomes a Road Sign

In the dream I can’t forget, shadow lingering behind my eyes no matter how much coffee I drown the night in, no matter how long I stare into the sun, no matter how many miles I close between the horizon and whatever silence it is I’m always running from, your hands haunt my body like blood haunts a crucifix — not altogether out of place, not altogether un-derstood, not altogether a form of cruelty. Things in their right place: So it was, so it is, so it ever shall be. When I was young, I watched an older boy perform an act I didn’t know then to call savage. Crucified a sparrow. Rite of passage, the way it goes. It’s harder than you think to hammer a small wing into gravity: so many fragile bones, cartilage delicate as the touch of the first boy I ever kissed, those glass eyes screaming every secret I thought I held. I don’t remember blood — isn’t that strange? — but I’m sure it was there. A crucifix ought to have blood. A battlefield ought to have ghosts. A memory ought to have shackles, all these rituals and meanings streaming out the wrong way, looking up for familiar stars in the wrong hemisphere. What I want to say is: My strange heart wanders, and my strange heart fails, and maybe our love is beautiful the way a martyrdom can be beautiful. Could that be right? Someone once told me that there is a landscape after cruelty called tenderness, holiness in the dark rainbow of a bruise. What I want to say is: Every body can be cruciform: How you spread your arms in the doorway at sunrise. See? Not altogether cruelty. No. Stop. I am telling this. What I really want to say is: Your hands haunt my body, and my body is a crossroads. Face any horizon, and walk away.


Robert E. Heald was born and raised in Atlanta, GA, and is currently an M.F.A. candidate for poetry in the Helen Zell Writer’s Program at the University of Michigan. His work was chosen as a finalist in River Styx’s International Poetry Contest and has appeared in Muzzle Magazine, Reservoir, Bird’s Thumb, and Assaracus.




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