Poetry: “In Which Jesus Reincarnates as My Childhood Best Friend Turned First Love” by Emma Buckley

In this powerhouse of a poem, Emma Buckley mixes images of desire with images of religion, swirling together sensuality and sexuality with holy writ to create images and language which feel recognizable until she suddenly stands them on their head. Working from a place of intense physicality and deeply-ingrained faith, Buckley interrogates the way our wires can get crossed as we navigate the murky waters of these closely held beliefs, and shows readers a brand new way to worship.

In Which Jesus Reincarnates as My Childhood Best Friend Turned First Love
We grew up together like competing weeds shooting up around a fencepost,
our stems and roots and leaves entangling, our flowers swallowing the sun.
I remember the sound of the ocean, like holding my ear against a shell,
when he shovelled sand with his mother’s wine glass then turned it into water,
          practising for better miracles.
His curls piled up on his head and made the shape of two horns.
          I made jokes that would send me straight to hell.
His father picked thorns from his ankles when we ran too far into the woods,
getting lost like two children in a story invented
          between his first incarnation
                    and now.

He rehearsed his necromancy on garden worms and baby birds,
          but we didn’t call it that when other people could hear us.
I would kiss his head and taste lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint,
          his brow sweating out whatever cure he felt I needed.

His skinned knees, the ripped denim of his jeans.
          I tried not to think ichor,
                                        tried not to think holy,
tried not to think too much of anything I learned in Catholic school,
or on my knees elsewhere.

His hands, always blistered from woodworking.
          His feet, always bloodied from running.
His arms always outstretched for an embrace,
          looking like that stained-glass window scene
                    we politely averted our eyes from in church.

Yes, I loved him like a brother.
          Him, a good son.
                    Me, a good daughter.
          It was easier when we were younger.
That affection, a cupful of water in the peak of summer,
          when our vocal cords were dried to the thin pages of a bible.
I loved our play, our little stories.
                    I never swayed in my devotion.

All words come from somewhere.
          I felt the amen forming in my stomach as if I had invented it,
watching the sunset paint a halo around his gorgeous head
          and counting every sin that would notch against my soul if I touched
          his tongue
                    with my own.

Emma Buckley

Emma Buckley is a writer and poet based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She recently graduated with a Masters in Poetry from Queen's University Belfast, and was a recipient of the Ireland Chair of Poetry Student Award. Her work can be found in The Honest Ulsterman, Superfroot, The Lumiere Review and Bath Magg.

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