“Bristlecone Soul” by Andre F. Peltier


Eternity walks the mine fields
of World War III
where the undergod is helpless,
forgotten and forlorn.
The undergod comes up for air
with his snorkel and his spear,
but the altar boys stand at attention
The altar boys pass out
from the heat and the stress
of holding that giant Bible
for the priests to read.
When they stumble,
they are ushered into the wings
to recover,
to see the light,
to rise in prayer,
to rise in redemption and pain.
And we all wore horse hair shirts
as we recovered from the final quakes,
the final landslides,
the final tsunami.
Our cilices mortified our flesh,
mortified our shameful bristlecone souls.
We raised hands to our little gods
and our horse hair shirts were raised too.
As Eternity walked through
those mine fields,
we watched from atop our pillars.
Like Simeon,
we perch on our pillars.
We look over the scorched Earth and wail.
From atop our pillars,
we watch the undergod cry for help
but go forever unheard. 
For thirty-seven years,
our collective vertebrae bend and contort.
Our collective vertebrae dislocate,
but we remain silent.
Our bodies are left for ravens,
vultures, crows as we die
on our pillars and feed
those scavengers while they get
their three square
and we get our repentant one-way tickets
to the bowels of those birds
and the bowels of
the unrepentant earth.

“Who was that horse-haired man?”
they ask, as I ride from town,
lacerations on my back,
blood running down to my toes.
“Who was that horse-haired man?”
they beg to know.
For who could be so pious
so pure, so at one with the pillar,
the mine fields, the undergods?
I sell the finger-bones
of Belina the Virgin:
free shipping and a digit
can be yours.
Belina the Virgin rode
six white horses when she came.
They say her relics were lost
during the Revolution.
They say the fingers,
her fingers, are not her own.
“How can you sell bones lost in 1789?”
They ask. “How can we have such faith?”
Her head, preserved in a statue,
preserved in Mores Abbey,
will lead us all to that tunnel of faith.
We buy our tickets for
The Tunnel of Faith
and then we neck in the darkness.
In the Tunnel of Faith,
our ship takes on water
and begins its never-ending list.
We bail to no avail
as we take on more and more water.
To bail in the tunnel of Faith,
we drown in our own pretensions.
Necking with Belina the Virgin
as we sink below those foamy waves,
we hold her lucky bones and pray
to those undergods of misfortune,


We write, “Trout fishing in America”
1,000x on the chalk boards
of the pancreas.
We sign our names
1,000x for Mr. Nesbit
but end up in principals’ offices
We stare into the camera lens
as Noggin sends us to detention
for transgressions forgotten and unknown.
Juveniles Under God,
we polished the cafeteria, raked the leaves,
emptied the cigarette buckets.
“Is it totally bonus?” Alan asked
as our Chem-Com teacher cried,
turned out the lights, and left the building.
“I’ve had it with you people,”
she rebuked as she ran from the room.
And in the back of that pick-up truck,
the undergods smoked
the dirtiest of the dirt weed,
shared airplane bottles of rum,
and crossed their fingers
in that ever-optimistic way
only the undergods can.
The undergods made a bong
out of Belina the Virgin’s skull.
Smoke poured out of her eye sockets
as they remembered their first time
on the beaches of Florida,
on the white beaches of the world.
While we wait for the undergods
to pass that skull around,
“don’t bogart that skull, my friend.”
We wait for the true history
of our concupiscent lust
to take hold and drive us
into the future of unyielding pain.
We never admit to our sick desires,
our bloodhunger, our unknown relics;
to admit would end the pain.
The virgin endured the pain
so we endure as well.
They tighten the chains around our abdomens,
and we raise up our horsehair shirts
to expose more flesh.
“Thank you, Padre, may I have another?”
we weep as we consent.
We weep as we consent
to the horrors of the pleasure principle
and to the horrors of the principles
of science and mathematics.

The mathematics of the soul
stand to be counted by those fallen saints
and those fallen sinners,
but neither saint nor sinner can manage
the complex calculations
of those trigonometric fantasies.
When Belina the Virgin practiced
her multiplication tables,
she refused to marry,
she refused to join that beast-train
coming ‘round the bend
for all points fire and brimstone.
She dangled like a spider over those fiery pits,
but the undergods held tightly
to her gossamer thread.
She wrote “Trout fishing in America”
1,000x as she dangled over the precipice
and hell’s gaping maw beckoned.
Her phalanges clung to the precipice
but never slipped.
Her phalanges now worth
their weight in gold and platinum.
When you buy her fingers,
you ensure your everlasting salvation.
Place them on your mantel
and wash your bristlecone soul clean.
No blemish on the penitent soul,
no eternal suffering.
The overgods know your
did its job
keeping you
warm and

Andre F. Peltier (he/him) is a Pushcart nominee and a Lecturer III at Eastern Michigan University, where he teaches literature and writing. He lives in Ypsilanti, MI, with his wife and children. His poetry has recently appeared in various publications like CP Quarterly, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Provenance Journal, Lavender Lime Literary, About Place, Novus Literary and Arts Journal, Fiery Scribe, and Fahmidan Journal, and most recently in Magpie Literary Journal, Cajun Mutt Press, and Idle Ink. In his free time, he obsesses over soccer and comic books. Twitter: @aandrefpeltier

Image: “Seasons Greetingsby Nicole Monroe

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