I sat there, as I had in so many homes, trying to weasel my way into a first Mormon missionary discussion. My job was to take everything a solitary woman already believed and make it sound like a prelude to what I had to offer. Call it what you will. The first discussion is foreplay, though I didn’t think of it that way back then.

It was a dark and storm-free night. No full moon or wind blowing. No animals howling out on the heath. Sometimes the wild world sleeps, or at least stretches, yawns, and leaves you to yourself. Sometimes a Mormon missionary shows up at your door and you let him in. Did this woman know she was about to provide me one of the most haunting moments of my mission?

Board games, I remember
board games, maybe only a few;
my memory wants to pack
her living room full of boards
in boxes, with dice and game pieces,
tools of chance and strategy stowed
in cubbies, under tables, dusty
on warping, paint-chipped shelves,
archived mirth from the golden
age of hands-on pastimes…

Being 20, I assumed she was in her 40s. Being 6’2″, I saw her as neither short nor tall. She had a nice figure: slim, but nothing you’d call athletic; healthy, but nothing you’d call sanguine. Long black hair, softened with hints of gray, cast down around her tall yet gentle face and smooth narrow nose. Her Eve’s apron was nice casual, khakis topped with a striped shirt. Nothing flashy. I mean, when you stride around rural Maine in Sunday best like I was doing, most everybody you meet looks dusty and worn.

To use a pejorative phrase I learned in my youth, she wasn’t all there. I don’t believe she was clinically impaired, nor do I believe I caught her drunk or high. In fact, I want to say she was an academic, or at least had been before falling by the wayside. I just felt like I wasn’t meeting her entire intellect. Kind of like an office building late at night, a murky mixture of darkened rooms and security lighting. I guess it was how she spoke: too softly and monotone, like a car engine idling with a whistling hint of strain. 

Why talk so soft? She could have screamed without being noticed, especially on a hilly dirt road like hers after dark, sparsely populated with neighbors transfixed by primetime television. For another thing, I don’t remember her ever making eye contact, certainly not in any extended or meaningful way. Clearly she had never been to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. They trained me that if you feel uncomfortable making eye contact, you can look at the bridge of a person’s nose instead and they’ll never know.

Post-trauma or out of loneliness,
sometimes part of the intellect steals
away deep into the brain and tightly
closes a door behind it. Indeed,
only today can I reach the woman
I remember, who I grant is not
the woman who existed then.
Yet, in my mind I gaze at her,
as I gazed at her in the past.
I know I gazed at her then,
because I did not listen
well. Her words slipped by
me, landing on shelves and in
cubbies filled with board games.

“… slain in the spirit.”

That’s it. That’s the only phrase I remember from anything she said that night: slain in the spirit. I was already well-acquainted with the idea of god and his angels threatening humans with swords, even slaying humans sometimes. Yet, if I had ever before heard the phrase “slain in the spirit,” I had never heard it spoken so intimately. I’d certainly never heard it after dark in an old home on a lonely hillside, spoken by one of rural Maine’s spiritual women.

The blade slices the tissue open,
pain squealing through the nerves,
blood seeping out fast and rich, till
the panicked flesh clinches itself.
Atonement is a beautiful word
for a brutal notion. People spend
lifetimes mesmerized by it.

One night, in a time now gone, I envisioned godly violence. Real swords. Real blood. I don’t think that’s what the woman meant by being slain in the spirit. Still, she seemed as lost in the metaphor as I was. Strange perhaps. It’s just a tiptoe’s step away from that topic to me sitting here typing with a boyish grin, realizing I’ve developed a crush on the woman I remember, wishing we could meet and play a game.

Poet’s Notes:

As a companion piece, I encourage you to read A Revelation in New England.