Playing Preacher

by Cheryl Stiles

An October wind, hymn-like,
siphons through sassafras, pin oak,
maple, and pine,
and blows toward
the Appalachian mountaintop.
An old church stands there
across from her grandmother’s house.
Inside the church,
a lone child skirts
the wooden pews,
collecting plates
of imaginary offerings.
She stokes the pretend
woodstove fire,
blows imaginary smoke rings
into the face of the Southern Baptist devil.
Age seven, under four feet tall,
she climbs to the pulpit to preach.
Too young to believe
the adult staccato of brimstone
and damnation, her sermon
is one of redemption.
She envisions the mouth of Jesus
turn into a slow, happy grin—
a sure sign. For her
there are no dead and dying
gathering in the same thin tunnels
of white. For her
all the stained glass
windows break apart
into wildflowers, into light.

Cheryl Stiles is a Georgia native now working as a librarian in the Atlanta area. Her poems and essays have recently appeared in Poet Lore, Red River Review, Atlanta Review, SLANT, Pedestal Magazine, and other journals.