The Gospel According to John

Brian Clifton

Good coaches teach with their bodies. They bend
their knees, trace the right angles of their legs with their opened

                    hands. I told children they would be stabbed
in a knife fight. They nodded and stretched.

They thrust rubber knives into the loose folds of each other’s
shirts and sweatpants. Like a good coach, I adjusted

          their bodies, let them tangle on the mat, then sent them
to thread the eyes of their parents’ minivans and SUVs.

I walked home. In the park nearby, branches held the moon’s head
                                        as it sung its dismembered oblivion.

In the gym, I asked beginners to disarm one another
with their hands, their shoulders, their whole, developing bodies,

to take turns pinning a body to the ground and depriving it of air
until it went limp. Like a knot of snakes, their backs flexed

and relaxed. I told the children to be calm, to use their calmness
                    to structure the frenzy. Calmness was the key.

          I repeated myself in the park for the moon. My pupils tried
on its patient face. Its muteness throbbed like a needle across the dead

wax—the amniotic hum of circuitry. In the gym, fighting was a dance
without music. The body its own metronome. I told the children

                                        this. I instructed them how
to fight with broken faces and arms. Their bodies heaved

after the hour-long workout. I told the children I was proud
and their parents were proud. I sprayed the mats with disinfectant

and inhaled deeply. In the park, alone, I would be unrecognizable
                    to them like the dead to their living selves.
What a relief to be someone else when dead. As I exhaled,
                                        my arms extended like a crucifixion,

and my back arched. The moon’s severed head pressed into me.

Brian Clifton is the author of the chapbooks MOT and Agape (from Osmanthus Press). They have work in: Pleiades, Guernica, Cincinnati Review, Salt Hill, Colorado Review, The Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, and other magazines. They are an avid record collector and curator of curiosities.

© Variant Literature Inc 2021