Hitching a ride, trusting a partner, marrying the same person three times
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OK so he don’t look like a prophet but he’s
A real smart old guy. Got a place
Over a Chinese restaurant on Broadway
& you got something you want to ask
Just take him some chateau la hooch & go up the back way.
Says PROPHET IS IN on the door.
Like last night I went he was watching some cop show
On tv I ask him man
My old lady wants me to get religion. Whadda
Ya think & he laughs
Religion’s like getting yourself lost in New Jersey
He says, and shakes his head, like,
Man, how dumb can you get?
I think about that. We watch tv a while.
Then I say I don’t get it & he says
OK let me explain it like this.
Let’s say you got a nice place on the west side —
Where I say & he says nineties — nice place by the park
& I say how about east nineties & he says
OK it don’t matter. Anyhow you get in your car & cross
the George Washington Bridge & drive over to Paramus
Man I wouldn’t have no car in this city I say
He says never mind, you’re rich, you got a car.
You stay in Paramus a long time,
& it’s time to go home, so you
Start to drive but you get turned around
& you don’t remember how you came
So you drive around, days & days
All over Jersey looking for a way to come back.
He stopped & watched a Buick
Get blown up on tv. The room was real dark —
Just one yellow 40-watt bulb & the tube
& the wallpaper greasy &
The place smelled like burnt won ton.
I still didn’t get it & I said is that it &
He says what? Oh yeah — well
After a while you’re about to give up
& quit — maybe just stay in Jersey
But then you see a road sign that says
I-95 EAST GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE
So then I go home I say
& he says No, you stop the car & get out
& bow down to that sign.
You light candles & pray to it &
Stick some flowers on it.
You notice other people praying to other signs
Like ones that say ROUTE 4 EAST NEW YORK
& you think they’re screwed up.
You hear about people looking for the Lincoln Tunnel
& you think they’re more screwed up.
So when do I go home I ask
& he says you don’t so long as you got religion.
You stay by that road sign & talk
About how it saved your ass.
That’s dumb I say & he laughs
Real funny — kind of giggles.
Yeah he says, I don’t know why
You’d want a damn fool thing like that.
My old lady says it’d be good for me I tell him
Keeps some people out of trouble he says,
Makes ’em feel good for a while, but then
A lot get too stuck & it makes ’em ugly.
So Jesus wasn’t for real I say
Oh yeah Jesus was for real all right says the old man.
But he wasn’t no god any more than you are —
He was just a man who saw the plain truth
Saw heaven & earth & everything else
As clear as I’m seeing you.
But he tried to tell people how they should go,
You know, to get back home themselves.
Tried to show ’em it was right under their noses
& nobody got it. They thought he meant
They was supposed to just wait around until he comes
To take ’em across the river
Like he was a Jersey Transit bus.
Then they nailed him on a cross. Made
Another fucking road sign out of him.
The prophet finished off the bottle.
It was getting late — the local news was on the tube.
Does go home mean going to heaven I ask
Sort of he says but you don’t have to be dead
To get there. Go any time. You just gotta get going
& you gotta want to go more than you want anything else.
But nobody’s gonna take ya, not even Jesus.
So why don’t you go I say & he
Booms out a big laugh deeper than earth.
Shit I’m there right now he laughs
& I laugh too, cause I like the old guy.
I leave some cash on top of the tv
Before I go out. I still don’t know
What he meant about going home but I decided to
Forget about religion.
Thanks for “The Prophet Explains Religion” by Barbara O’Brien [Issue 195]. I am a semidevout Christian, and I think all Christians should read this poem.
Hats off to Barbara O’Brien for her wonderful “The Prophet Explains Religion,” and to The Sun for having nothing by Sparrow in Issue 195.