Clearing Bush

Behind the termite mound
where we played king of the mountain
stood a tangled triangle of untouched bush
and after one too many noses bloodied on
the mound, Uncle Bud our house father
decided that clearing that corner of dense
underbrush would be a better way for us
to vent our pent up adolescent steam.

So one morning he assembled all the boys,
older ones in front wielding axes and saws,
us behind with cutlasses and weed whips,
the littler boys following up with forks and rakes
to drag the severed stalks and limbs into piles
surging forward into the tangle
singing Sunday school songs
leaving only an emerald wake behind.

Skinny arms and legs stained yellow and green
boiled pink in the steamy sunshine we were
jubilant at our progress beating back the bush
good triumphing over the evil inherent in nature
for the glory of God and His Personal Bodyguard
protecting us from iniquity in this forsaken land
when suddenly we stopped and stood stock still,
tools hanging uselessly at our sides.

From a doll’s house of twigs a wooden ostrich egg
studded with embedded cowrie shells glared out
from under a wigwam palm roof and held us
transfixed in uncertain awe. Some of the
bigger boys advanced, axes raised as they’d been
taught to smite the Serpent slithering away when
Uncle Bud raised a hand and said, “Let’s take a break.”
and left us suspended in the chlorophyll haze.

He returned with an old gardener whose
ebony head shook with worry, who said,
“Is bad, is very bad, cannot be undone.”
“But surely you do not believe…”
“Should leave well enough alone.”
“But our work here is not yet done.”
Uncle Bud, though eager to complete the task,
deferred to the gardener’s sage advice.

A deacon in his church, his connections
extended deep into the community
putting him in position to pass along
to any secret priests among them news that
this tiny shrine had been disturbed, yet
he trembled with apprehension, loath to put
his new-found faith to the test
against the ancient forces of the forest.

We quickly raked our slash away and left
the idol’s little house exposed to sun and rain
retreating to the dormitory for showers
and a change of clothes before trooping
into the dining hall for prayers and supper
homework and sleep undisturbed by the
distant anger of an impending storm
about to rip through the remaining trees.

© 2015 Jim Ramsay, all rights reserved.