Sundays with the Pastor Gone, My Father Gave the Sermon

I couldn’t bear to watch him but couldn’t
not listen, so I’d squint at the gold cross
above the altar so hard its light splintered
across my eye. Its crosshairs twisted and
grew and shrank their brilliance as my father
spoke the words of struggle and sin and love
despite. His voice muscled against
the stained glass, then broke so small and tender
I felt it like a single hair down my throat. He knew
when to cast a net and when to pull it in. Congregants
sometimes forgot themselves and applauded
when he was done. He’d have to usher
at the sanctuary door after the last hymn sent us forth,
shaking hands and refusing praise: You have such a gift.
I always enjoy listening to you speak. You know,
you may have picked the wrong profession.

He would squirm like an animal in another animal’s
teeth. My mother’s handbag held the keys
to our Volvo and I’d filch them while
she stood, wire-smiled, by my father
so I could slip to the parking lot, wait out
my father’s accolades from the driver’s seat
where I wasn’t allowed. I changed the radio presets,
sweat in the sun made cruel through window glass.
I yanked on the locked steering wheel and roared
engine sounds like I had anywhere urgent to be.

Emily Grise is a native of Lexington, Kentucky. She earned her MFA in poetry from the University of Missouri, St. Louis. She currently teaches writing to college students and reads for several literary publications in the St. Louis area.