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  • On Being Asked to Pray for a Van and Snapper
  • Michael Chitwood (bio)

On Being Asked to Pray for a Van

My evangelical brethren have let me know,via the quarterly fundraising letter,that they can't get the gospel aroundbecause their van has given up the ghost.God in the machine, help them.I lift up their carburetor and their transaxle.Bless them with meshed gears and a greased cam shaft.Free their lifters.Deliver their differentialand anoint their valves and their pistons.Unblock their engine blockand give them deep treaded tires.Their brakes cry out to You. Hear them, O Lord.Drive out the demons from their steering columnand come in to the transmissionthat they may know the peace of passing.Minister even unto the turn indicator.Creator Spirit, Holy Maker of the Universe,give them gas.


It's a kind of monster,cobbled from parts of other creatures—beak of a raptor,clawed feet of a burrowing animal,tail of a croc.Its armor medieval, breast plate and back plate,the smeared heraldry praises mud and bottom muck.You're lucky just to see one.His father recalled only the brown streak,the plume it was leaving in the clear water, [End Page 100] when he pulled the boat along sideand thrust his thoughtless hand into the waterand was suddenly more alive, electric,holding it by its knobbed tail.It dangled and hissed and stank like rot,fifty pounds of bottom dweller,that clamped on the handle of an oarand dented the hard wood.

Legend lives in a snapper, weir-walkerat home in the cold, dark depths,the labyrinths of sunken logs and snags.When they rise, ducklings disappear,snatched from underneath.Frogs seem swallowed by the mud itself.The quick neck strikes with terrible speedand the hooked-vise mouth is like a wrecking tool.The old ones saywhen that mouth seizes it releases onlywhen it thunders.

And then, according to an uncle's old recipe,they were going to eat that thing,taste its white meat,his father assured them the meat in the beast bomb canisterwould be white, white as a wafer.His father staked it in the yardwith an old horseshoe spike and a length of chain.He had to check with an old-timeron the best way to crack that shell.The dog snarled, fake-chargedthen hid under the porch.Some crows talked mob talk but kept their distance.It lay still and the mud dried to gray.

Such dreams—swimming in the cool waterand then the grab, the stab of pain, being pulled under.It did not belong in the yard all night.They needed it back in the water;They needed it out there unseen to keep them watching,to keep them thrilled. They needed it goneand in the morning, spike, chain and all, it was.

Michael Chitwood

Michael Chitwood is a freelance writer, a lecturer at the University of North Carolina, and poetry editor of Southern Cultures. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Poetry, The New Republic, Threepenny Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Field, The Georgia Review, and numerous other journals. His most recent book of poetry, Spill, was a finalist for ForeWord magazine's poetry book of the year.

Ed. Note: At our request poetry editor Michael Chitwood was kind enough to provide these two poems from Spill, which won the 2008 Roanoke-Chowan Award from the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association. [End Page 101]



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