Like Prophets of Baal

We had gotten a whole hog
from Aulander, pink-fleshed
and splayed like a sacrifice
to cover sin, which is belief 
that tomorrow is a place 
we can eat.

I walk around the offering 
before the body is pulled.

The men maneuver flame
and smoke seems to follow me
no matter where I go. Dad is gone

to tend the fire.

My uncle motions the bag toward me,
peels it from the bottle’s mouth like 
a fast-moving rain cloud. It burns sweet

on my finger. I look around nervous [the way 
            I would years later when the homeless man 
            outside 7-Eleven returned with Mad Dog, OE,
            and something for himself].

That’s good stuff, my uncle says, and I nod
in belief, face contorting into an amen.

But it burns. It burns

like the split-open swine on cinder-block.
See! How the smoke follows our gods
like eyes of a portrait, an heirloom.

The men walk in their own ritual
of pretense, ignoring whole conflagrations.

My uncle ignores hole burns in his chest. 

Just like Dad. [One day I’d beg Uncle Skin
            to put the cigarettes down.

            He’d say there’s no point in quitting now 
            when he could feel what was chasing him 
            already had hold.]

Temple of blackened-breathing, charred
flesh, his lung is smoking in the pit,
it’s right there, leapt from his torso. 

We hop out his truck and the brown paper
cloud disappears under his seat, crackling
its own thunder.

He shows me how to coerce
embers back into flame while 
he lights a Newport. Done:

the tradition handed down.

            [Decades pass and I still drink cognac, 
            my throat an altar of wet ground, each sip 
            proof, each taste a howl for resurrection. 

            Bring it back, that moon, bring it back, his smile 
            an introduction, a soft mischief.

            I don’t even think Dad would’ve minded
            the Hennessy really, but I never told him.

            Most beliefs we build on secrets.

            When I say cancer runs
            in my family, what I mean is
            my father and his five siblings 
            couldn’t run fast enough.

            What I mean is I ain’t been back 
            to my hometown since this uncle’s 
            funeral. What I mean is 

            Dad is gone. My uncle followed 

            like smoke. I’m being chased.

            A monster’s hot breath 
            searches for my lungs.]

I get down face-to-gnarled-face 
with the animal whose skin pops.

I can smell the pork 
ripen like impending rain 
on the summer air.

I summon the fire now. 
Swallow it. Like the men & gods before me

            [I stretch a rod through billowing 
            smoke to touch, to test, to measure 
            a prophecy against an unforgiving sky].

Copyright © 2020 by Junious Ward. This poem appeared in Sing Me a Lesser Wound (Bull City Press, 2020). Used with permission of the author.