by Gord Sellar

on the other hand, is like any other place. People work
the land, tumble their bones back home at sundown,
marry, bear babies in their arms, sleep not enough,
and every so often they drag their sweat-drenched skins
down to the big tents by the cool twisting waters,
to hear ’bout the Lord and the fearsome fires of Hell.

Issachar watches their faces as they get dunked below
the surface of the water, the faces they make
when the Lord touches the roots of their heart
with the tip of His old finger. They look scared,
to him, at first, and then the sudden sunburst
of relief, of vigilant baptized love, suddenly blooms.

The water up to his waist, Issachar is pensive.
His preacher’s voice doesn’t roar the same in the river:
instead, he whispers salvation to any who have
ears to hear. His mind is not on eternal salvation
or damnation, however. A forgivable distraction.
No, he’s thinking about the souls in a city named Canton.

Issachar watches them in the tents, after his sermon.
Seems every year, more people know the words,
and sing along, over the gee-tars and the banjoes, like
a pack of rabid toothy angels, hungry for Paradise.
They break their bread, they set themselves again
on the highway out of Hell and back to the Lord.

It would be one thing, if he was thinkin’ himself
another John the Baptist, pridefully sinning.
But in the end, it is just a matter of economics,
though Issachar Roberts could never put it that way.
No, old Issachar’s never read Adam Smith, but just
the same, he’s an economist of the human soul.
Zealotry is hardly enough to bear him to the East.
But imagine him imagining the dividends,
imagine the profits, the demand in that kind of market
so starved for some good old-style salvation.

The hungry Chinamen. The needy, poor struggling
masses. Tennessee has its share of ignorance, but
it ain’t got nothing on all of China. Sometimes
he puts his ear to the ground, and he can hear them
down there, crying out for salvation from the shackles of
sinful ignorance. Old Issachar knows what they need.

The letter from Gutzlaff, a Chinese missionary,
what letter arrived the other morning in
the post, is laden with enticements and
exhortation, yet clinches it. He sets his wife down,
explains that they will need to start packing.

June 12, 2012

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