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Holy Relics

Joshua Hart


They hang like ancient holy relics on a hook in my garage and rot.
The leather bag is stiff—
pockets stained with sweat from calloused fingers
that brushed across their tops in search of nails: four at a time.
On the bottom left a noose supports the rusted head of the hatchet
with its face that ripped skin from unskilled knuckles years ago.
The wooden handle points sadly at the ground.
I never touch them now. They wouldn’t know me.
The calluses are gone. The skin is pale, the muscles lax.

These hands are only good for turning pages.
But I didn’t always breathe books.
I was once a hatchet swinger, a prince of the shelter top—
when the only book I would read was The Grapes of Wrath.
I say, “a prince,” I romanticize these days, but looking back
there’s not another view in sight.
I climbed the ladder toward the sun to pin down tar and asphalt conjurations
to protect the grounded ones from the wrath of ancient gods.

I imagine my companions kept on nailing,
carrying sheets of spells on bended backs,
sweating last nights’ celebrations,
breathing air a little farther off the ground.
sacrificing eyes and skin to Amun Ra.
and never calling themselves princes of shelter tops.
I imagine so. I haven’t seen them.

Lately I want to move the hook that holds my hatchet and my bag
up to the attic at the peak and leave them there
a little farther off the ground.
I fancy this would be a much more fitting place for
holy relics such as these, or perhaps
I just don’t want to see them there.
Perhaps I want to walk away—forget my fellow princes—
not admit to old Tom Joad I’ve let him down.