Click here to listen to Rita Dove read this poem.
Three days before it was pick-up-and-scrub,
the tops of doorjambs wiped clean
for white gloves come to test disarray.
Dad packed up the kids and fled
the cheddar cubes, plastic forks suspended
in Jell-O—that was judgment, ambrosia and trident—
oh, but it was delicious
at the Drive-in, sliding in pajamas down
into the pit, waking
just in time to see
great Pharaoh drowned
and Charlton Heston rosy
in his holy rags … now, that
was a good story, that
kept us awake
until the end credits, the moon
huge as it wandered down
the black gullet of avenue,
bright eye swallowing
the windshield. … We made it
home to the ruins
of the feast: crustless sandwiches
smelling faintly of ocean, platoons
of celery, mints and dip (they always
finished the cake), a soggy lemon
crescent lolling in the red bottom
of the drained punch bowl,
and the house a mess. We ate like kings for days.
2. Charlton Heston’s Holy Rags
Our lucky man puts in his first appearance.
We cheer, ski the front seat’s vinyl
into the plushy pit beneath the dash.
Just as sure as we’re missing the chalky mints
discretely placed between the moistened lips
of the Reverend Sisters of the Eastern Star,
he’ll save us from plopping frogs or locusts,
clouds of hissing told-you-sos
invading bed or pajama cuff.
This time around, though, he’s neither
good nor wise: He tromps palatial corridors,
a smooth-cheeked boy in Roman bronze,
all greed and good looks.
No green smoke wiggling over a host of snakes
ready to be turned into walking sticks;
instead, he lifts his hand and an urn,
kicked, stutters across the tiles:
The car speaker crackles scorn.
What brand of righteousness is this? Squeamish,
we stuff our mouths with more buttered corn
and count the things gone wrong—
there’s a sister rotting away in a cave,
too many sweaty people being whipped,
that skinny stranger’s burning gaze …
and then, just when we begin to doubt him,
we watch as doubt struggles up to crouch
inside his own baby blues. Oh,
now he rises to his chiseled best,
takes redemption’s arrow
deep into his manly chest
as rain comes down in torrents,
lightning timed to tell each flash of news
(the rock rolled back, the lepers’ new-washed skin),
and through it all—the tears, the flood,
Thy Kingdom Come in gold
and cobalt streaks—he stands aglow