27 Jul ’17

SWINE by Jessie Van Eerden

The evangelist’s Bible, lashed together with electrical tape, opens to Luke Eight about the man who wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in tombs.  I am in my animal light and not afraid of it, too young for a bra and too old to go without, my eyelet blouse showing through two rose-eyes in that revival room.  I search out the older boys, look for Bobby among them, but he wouldn’t be caught dead.  Preacher says they sailed to the country of the Gadarenes with Jesus in tow, rowed clear across from Galilee, and the naked crazy man, housed nightly in cold stone, ran up to him and said, What have I to do with you?  Said, I beg you not to torment me, Son of the Most High.  All of that was said from the crazy’s mouth by the demon that was Legion, that was many, that seized up the crazy and made him cut his arms and break the chains that people tried to tame him with, and Jesus was just about to cast him, the many-demon, but it begged again, Don’t send me into darkness but into that herd of swine instead, the two thousand swine munching weeds and oats nearby.  Jesus said okay, and the demon entered the swine and they whinnied and freaked and flung themselves one by one off the cliff into the water and drowned.  The evangelist is old with crooked teeth and his tongue moves in and out as he talks and sweats and says the man got in his right mind, his eyes a new blue, and they all put Jesus back on that boat out of fear, and imagine, preacher says, squinching his eyes—What did it feel like for the man now free?  And that was all it took for me.  Off I went in my mind to be the man with the scarred up arms and years of natty hair full of dead things, I was left lonely as a loon watching Jesus become a dot on the far water, for who would come near me now?  Near to one whom the demon had sloughed off like a snakeskin, and of course next, though the evangelist doesn’t ask it—How did it feel to the swine?  Surely like a tongue when the demon slipped in, and I start squirming in my seat, feeling hot, someone is praying, or singing, but I am standing on the cliff having to choose whether to be that radiant man now given his neat bed with a roof and no moon, or the terrified swine in a morbid parade that maybe I would stop or maybe not, but the tongue, I keep thinking, the entering, and I go in my eyelet blouse and jean shorts into the caves, the cold tombs latticed on the floor by moonlight, not brutal with my arms like the crazy was but something else, something close, some new kind of freedom and new blue eyesight looking into the dark on a slab of stone and beyond it, in that sprawled moss, that swamp feel from two nights ago, my jean shorts undone, and Bobby there with me with his older bluer eyes, and I feel the need to run out and pee but just stay in my seat with the some kind of prayer going, or the some kind of song, and it is tongue and I can feel it, Bobby doing it, my legs wide, there is more aching with the green and moaning.  I choose the tombs, I choose the terrified swine, I rock so hot into the heated bed of hymn, there is a hand on me, patting my shoulder, saying, That’s it, surrender, give yourself up, my face fervent with eyes shut, my white blouse so wet.



My first novel, Glorybound, came out in the fall of 2012 with WordFarm and won the 2012 ForeWord Reviews Editor’s Choice Fiction Prize. My work has appeared in The Oxford American, Bellingham Review, The River Teeth Reader, Houghton Mifflin’s Best American Spiritual Writing, Longman’s college reader Dreams & Inward Journeys and the esteemed Appalachian anthology Red Holler.  I received my MFA in nonfiction writing at the University of Iowa and was awarded the 2007-2008 Milton Fellowship at Image and Seattle Pacific University for work on Glorybound.  I direct the low-residency MFA writing program at WV Wesleyan College.
“What’s the most inspiring, mess-with-your-head thing you’ve ever seen?”

“I will say the first thing that pops into my mind since I have no idea how to decide on the wildest thing ever: I saw a cow get butchered, from the shot in the head all the way through to the end.  I touched her four bulbous stomachs.  The guy butchering said he ate steaks every night which was maybe the wildest part.  Everything in that room was hot.”

Literary Editor:  John Yu Branscum