Leaving the Lee Shore
Prometheus Webster was the solid Maritime son
of a grade-eight graduate fisherman (who read
the Classics late at night, down in the cuddy,
hidden behind a battered issue of Playboy).
Prometheus was salted into a Christian, immersed
in Sunday-morning sanctity, to please his mother
most of all. Then he found Jesus on Lake Ellen,
wandering the wavetops with a dazed expression.
Prometheus hauled Him into his Canadian-Tire canoe,
from which time forward, they were sun and shadow,
swapped fishing tales, shared cheap wine on the bank,
crunched breaded clams at the Quick & Tasty, walked
the curved beach at Mavillette where Acadians
had once dyked the ocean against posterity—not theirs,
unfortunately. Still, Prometheus was stunned to learn
that Catholics went to Heaven just like Baptists.
His mother had never told him this. He felt relieved
enough to attend UniversitÈ Sainte-Anne and sleep with
a French girl, Monique of the dark eyes and sharp teeth.
But she didn't much care for Jesus, so He avoided her.
Prometheus stood first in his college class, biology
his holy mistress. He bowed in homage to dead cats,
worshiped the thin red formaldehyde spill, celebrated
the way brain becomes claw, claw turns at last to rage.
After his father's accident, Prometheus joined the Reserves,
trained as a paramedic, bequeathed Monique to a fishmeal
pastor downshore. His mother released him to Gagetown
Base with a sigh for her devout little boy gone wrong.
His winch-twisted father cracked another cold Moosehead
and from his wheelchair, tossed the unsipped can—hard.
"How are the mighty fallen," he muttered, as his sad wife
quietly mopped the linoleum. He was reading Ulysses.
Dawn erupts like a brushfire over Baie Sainte-Marie,
mingles with gull guano on the Websters' rock wall.
It's too empty in the bindweed yard, with its fenceline
staggered along the sea cliff like a dislocated shoulder.
Prometheus? He's outside Kandahar, pressing his finger
over the heartbeating gap in a warrior's throat. At last
he knows what Pentecost means—the flame-tongue
of a C-9, the hot orgasm of an M-19. Communion
is an everyday libation here, claret into dry ground, men
screaming for God and country under the tamarix.
Prometheus tweezes maggots from a thigh-stump, wonders
whether they're edible. His skull contracts with a snap.
"I'm here to help," he tells himself when they bring in
the village babies. Prometheus binds burns, smears
ointment against gangrene. Surgeons lace skin flaps,
untidy as the backside of his mother's cross stitch.
He's glad he has no time for bedside name-trading.
The children watch him with resigned faces. He does not think
they ask heaven for mercy. Allah's around, but low-profile.
Jesus has been lurking at the compound perimeter.
In the short twilight, Prometheus cleans his immaculate
assault rifle and writes his father. He wants to be ready.
He also overturns flat stones by the mess door, studying
what skitters. He loves the lizards with their cruciform tracks.
He is not prepared when his landmined ambulance blows
open like a punctured lung, launching two nurses, a doctor
and himself—P. Webster: paramedic—into the desert.
In fresh near-deafness, he holds his gut, watches for jackals.
Jesus is standing beside a blasted hawthorn. "Your mother
sent me," He explains. "Just in case." Alien profanity
blankets the air with a dull dustcloak. Prometheus curls
over a tire, amazed by the liver wetness of his torn shirt.
He remembers the lab cats. "This is my body," he grins,
sighting along the blue barrel. "Broken for you." A flicker
of castoff-khaki ghosts bars the light. He prays them
closer, and drains cells into sand. They hear and obey.
Jesus folds ragged arms and nods. "You only get one chance;
use it." He must've been a helluva fighter once. The trigger
feels warm as a woman. Overhead, a booted eagle rides,
drawn by meat. Jesus salutes and fades as the rebels come.
The eagle swerves for a better view, talons flexed;
she knows not to land until nothing that moves is left.
Three boys with knives dance toward the gun's annunciation.
Bleeding on the wheel, Prometheus flings his gift of fire.