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Jimmy Swaggart Teaches Me Faith September 24, 2004

Jimmy Swaggart broadcast the message
on t.v. this morning in ail fifty states
plus Canada, that if a gay man ever
looks at him like that, he’s going
to kill him, then tell God. The voters
of Louisiana have just banned gay marriage.
In Jimmy Swaggart’s New Orleans chapel,
his congregation cheers, claps, and
stands. In my house, it’s Yom Kippur,

day of atonement for sins against god,
promises broken. I follow the laws I can.
I light candles and do not bathe, wear
leather shoes, or anoint myself with oil.
I don’t fast because it’s too hard,
I don’t pray because I don’t know how.
Mama and Papa never taught me, though
they forced me out of the car to synagogue
each Saturday. Friday nights we repeated

ritual Sabbath prayers. Barukh atah adonai,
we said, and ate the braided bread.
We did not mention god or faith. We lit
fresh candles, drank our wine and sang.
My Mama and Papa, my sister and I,
sang like our lives hung on the dovetail
of our harmony. We searched
the deep wooded eyes of our blood and
sometimes cried as we sang. Is praying

like begging? Is breaking a promise
to god like breaking a wine glass? I made
no promises to god this year, therefore, broke
none. I have wandered the desert twenty-five
years. Desert of bigots, desert of bottles
shot from car windows. Desert of televangelists,
desert of the twisted hot hate of the humid South.

Desert where my mother drew the blue
curtains before I lit Sabbath candles, desert
where I can’t walk downtown with my lover.
Jimmy Swaggart has scared me into talking
to god. I pray for this man’s removal
from the air. I will write angry letters. Next
Yom Kippur I will have broken many
promises. I’ll collect the shattered glass,
even though it looks broken forever, just
grains of blowing sand. I will join the mess
back together. Pour the wine. Drink.