I want to worship the quiet gods,
the ones who blush before they speak
and hesitate before they offer a compliment
because they’re only too aware
of how it will reveal
their uncommon depth of feeling.
I want to worship the tired gods,
the ones coming off a twelve-hour shift,
who can’t stand up on the bus and will go to bed
still wearing their uniform.
I want to worship the humble gods,
the ones who are enraptured by the tiny
and imperfect: a Muscovy duck’s raw wattles,
the pattern of brain coral, the dandelions,
the ones who think that facial features
are only enhanced by the presence
of a port-wine stain birthmark.
I want to worship the true gods,
givers of water and repose,
the ones who make sure the electric bill
is in before the late fee and stops dinner
from burning in the oven while you’re busy
giving the cat his medicine.
Exit 74 to Richmond
Parole is supposed to be a good thing,
But a few days before my release, my auntie called.
A few years back, my moms had gone to live with her in Richmond.
She was calling to tell me Moms was in the hospital.
The doctors said this time, she wouldn’t make it.
She was 76 years old,
On her third heart attack.
But arrangements had already been made for me to go home to Baltimore.
I called the halfway house and asked if I could stop at the hospital to see her.
It was on my way.
The halfway house said no, I had to come check in with them,
Check in with my PO, do paperwork.
I tried to explain, the last time I spoke to her, I cussed her out.
I couldn’t let it end that way. I had to see her.
They still said no.
So I told them,
Listen, I’m going to Richmond.
I’m going to see my moms,
And be with her one more time.
I gave them my cell number and told them to call me
With any other concerns.
So that’s what I did.
I got off the bus in Richmond.
Went to my moms’ hospital room,
Stayed the night there.
The next day, the marshals called before they came.
I said, yep,
My moms wasn’t even conscious
But they cuffed her to the bed anyway.
Then they cuffed my auntie,
My 10-year-old nephew.
They were arrested for the crime of being in the room with me.
The only one they didn’t cuff was my 6-year-old nephew.
But he got to watch all of us get cuffed,
And they still put him
In the back of a squad car.
Now I’m back inside.
I got a moms tattoo on my arm, done up in prison ink,
With the date of her birth and the date of her death.
At least she don’t have to worry about me no more.
The God of Elephants
My grandfather was a Shriner,
so every time the circus was in town
we got free tickets.
By that time, the Big Top
was no longer tented,
but a darkened arena.
I remember the red-felted fezzes,
the spangled aerialists,
the motorcycles and their
Globe of Death.
We didn’t know
about the stifling
box cars, the bullhooks.
We just kept
waving our light-up
with fiber optic filaments
empty peanut shells.
O, God of Elephants,
God of the Tigers
Singed on a Burning Ring,
I hope you can
Lauren Scharhag is an award-winning writer of fiction and poetry. She is the author of Under Julia, The Ice Dragon, The Winter Prince, West Side Girl & Other Poems, and the co-author of The Order of the Four Sons series. Her poems and short stories have appeared in over eighty journals and anthologies, including Voice of Eve, Isacoustic, The American Journal of Poetry, and Gambling the Aisle. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri. To learn more about her work, visit: www.laurenscharhag.blogspot.com.