The Jesus Bus

By Melissa Studdard

Featured Art: Children’s Games by Édouard Jean Vuillard

came early, sputtering and spilling
Kumbaya from the windows,
the little punks inside eating a breakfast
of Pop Rocks and candy cigarettes left over from Halloween
and hiding the wrappers in the creases
between seatback and seat. I never sang
but floated instead in my own world of thought.
All you had to do was look at an issue
of National Geographic to know everything
was extraordinary and people’s bones were full of stars.
Cecil, the driver, got his neighbors
to help paint the Jesus bus into a roll of Lifesavers candies—
all bright and vertically striped—green, yellow, red, and orange, 
Lifesaver in perfect white script across a strip of blue. Cecil,
tenderhearted conveyor of children to the terrible glory of New
Light Baptist Church, Cecil, who after nearly hitting a squirrel,
had to pull to the side of the highway to pray. Who could blame him
for not understanding that the grace he sought was already on his bus,
packed into forty-two little sugar-smacking bodies?
And hadn’t I once killed a frog by trying to save it?
Spilled it hard on the sidewalk like the spoils of an egg?
If the sky had ruptured above me, I would have cleaned up the clouds
and apologized for the mess. But the rebel gods kept
hanging around me like Woodstock hippies, so I dared some revival
to happen with the Christ frog. I was six and still
decades away from translating the voices tiptoeing through my mind.
Everywhere I went, I looked for spiderwebs with secret messages.
Maybe there was a pig to save. And when the bus backfired,
I thought I saw an afterlife emerge. Weeks later,
when I awoke screaming the fourth night in a row, I wanted
my parents to tell me it was possible for us to be alive
without hurting each other. I wasn’t dreaming of squirrels
or frogs. Just the Sunday School lesson on wartime and atheism:
how the good of us, when commanded by soldiers,
refused to stomp on a picture of Jesus
and so had their heads chopped off,
how I too should be willing at all costs
to keep my feet clean of my lord.
I was a good girl and learned my lessons well.
From others’ non-Christian necks would grow something
as secular and boring
as heads. But from my neck, an endless field,
and in that field,
congregations upon congregations of daisies—
all of them wearing the sad face of night.

Melissa Studdard is the author of the poetry collection I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast and the chapbook Like a Bird with a Thousand Wings. Her work has been featured by PBS, NPR, The New York Times, The Guardian, and more. Her awards include the Lucille Medwick Award from the Poetry Society of America, The Penn Review Poetry Prize, and the Tom Howard Prize for Winning Writers.

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