POETRY BY STEVEN LEWIS
"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest."
"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Singing hymns in an ugly,
plainer-than-dirt Baptist church
in rural South Carolina,
believers rejoiced in the feeling
that the bossman might require
twenty extra hours of spinning
or weaving at the mill,
fifteen more hours of packing
or lifting or stocking at the plant.
But there was rest in Jesus.
On Jordan's stormy banks we stood
casting our wistful eyes
Just on the other side
was rest and peace
the peace that passed understanding.
And maybe for some of them the yoke
was easy and the burden was light.
My salvation had nothing to do with Jordan
or Canaan or casting wistful eyes,
unless you count some of the wistful eyes
I cast during the morning service.
It was more the living,
for some of us, than the dying
the dangers of love on a fast curve,
revved-up lust on a near-empty tank
and no pump in sight.
My Mother will never understand
why my grandfather, my father, myself
cut from the same cloth
always felt the push and pull
of good and evil, like two boys on a ledge.
Or why the streetcar named God's House
always stopped off at the corner bar.
I think my favorite
time of all the times
was when we fell asleep
after making love
and woke to go to
a midnight concert
fourth row heaven.
All those bravos, and
I thought "almost, but
not quite it." And later
when we were drinking
godfathers and smoking pot
you said you'd never
want anyone else. Even then
I knew you were lying.
A Thousand Times
I was thirteen years old when,
on a cold February day,
Mimi Barrister told my younger brother
that she loved Billy Black
better than she loved him.
It was not so much, she explained,
that she loved Billy better
than she loved my brother
but it seemed to her at the time
that, since Billy played football
and basketball and baseball,
and would no doubt be
a professional athlete some day,
he was just a better choice
for her, would make her a better
match than my brother could.
My brother said he understood,
which in fact he did understand,
even at that early age,
that she was in it for number one.
I couldn't blame her really,
since my brother was nothing
but a skinny, gawky little kid
who was going to have his heart
broken a thousand times
by girls like Mimi Barrister.
Helpless and Hopeless
I don't care for regrets
what or who went before
for you, for me.
I am not Jim or David.
You are not Trish, not Julie.
What difference does it make to me
now, in the present tense,
how you suffered with the
pain of rejection or the secrets
you have to carry?
I carry secrets, too, which you
do not need to know.
What difference would it make
if I did this or that with someone else?
You are not those people, nor am I
even the same person I was before.
What if we were nineteen again
not knowing enough, yet somehow too much?
Each point in time carries its own burdens,
its own joys.
We are not condemned to repeat
the past, unless you will it so.
The difference is the point
why you could never make it work,
why I never tried.
I'm not old enough to have
dead lovers, and yet I do.
You are not old enough to decide
the future based on the past.
We both want the same things
passion, love, independence,
something to hold on to, which
won't leave us helpless and hopeless.
Steven Lewis, a native of Pickens, is Director of Literary Arts with the South Carolina Arts Commission, where he has been on staff for more than a decade. He remembers writing a poem at the age of
12, and being in the pie business and teaching English at Porter-Gaud in Charleston.