James 3
Austin Segrest

James 3

        And the tongue is a fire . . .

The Baptist church across the street
from where we moved after the divorce
and the house my parents built
finally sold—I’d cut through
the parking lot down to Junior High
and back. Red brick stretching
an entire block, a nightmare of hallways.
“You can talk the talk,” merch behind a counter scoffed,
“but can you walk the walk?”
A character or two, a girl or two.
Pool tables, Wednesday night worship songs’
guitar and synthesizer. And then that bit
of beauty and terror found its way
through the youth pastor’s otherwise, as always,
unremarkable homily. Having burned
down the woods, almost the house
they built, having known the char
a little spark, a little speech can spur,
Mom lighting up Dad, reducing him
to ashes in his chair, to James’s little member
that boasteth great things. Ghost
coal of a Benson & Hedges
burnt down to her lips, her mother’s bit
in her mouth turning appetite
into petite: a rudder’s too keen control
over what it could control—
what was allowed in the house
and what was allowed out:
a grammar, burnished, burning.
My tongue a gas-lit creek.

Austin Segrest

is the author of Door to Remain, winner of the 2021 Vassar Miller Prize for Poetry. Born and raised in Alabama, he teaches at Lawrence University in Wisconsin.