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Devotion: The Burnt-Over District

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Late fall in the villages of Pompey, Preble, Oran, Delphi Falls,
      churched
river and woods. In Homer and Ovid, the localities
      and principalities
of central New York, the hollows and corners of the
      burnt-over districts
visited by angels in the 1800's who led us to greatness: awakenings,
gold, portents and lies, heaven, women's suffrage, and bundling
with the other in the love beds while we waited for the lamb,
the dove, the velvet of the ten-point buck grunting through
      the underbrush
to rut. We learned in divine time a year's a day.
      We learned obedience
and had charismatic children. And now the boy's an angelic
eighteen days or six thousand years, as he leaves to serve.
He did what we told him: blocked for punts—no one likes to
      block for punts—
and when his friends crashed the truck in a ditch, he waited
      for the cops
and took the rap, nice kid, because he did the act of deliverance
      one does
in central New York and made the vows, pledged, testified,
      and swore
and participated in the sport greater than the coming of the dead,
and escorted the exaggerated girl to the prom where he
      was befuddled
with organza and tulle and he did not forget the corsage, an orchid
in a box he stared into: the white outer whorl and the inner whorl
and pouted purple lip. He butterflied the pollen with the lashes
      of his eyes.
The flower was his terror. He was not meant to be the
      indwelling beauty
of things and surely he was not meant to be the wind in Iraq
      with three others
in his division and become the abstract shape of a god formed from a blood clot.
I've seen the pictures, the vague shapes that ripple in the heat
until I was terrified. It looked like he still moved. Remember fall
in Delphi? All ardent and catastrophic and counter, elbows flailing,
he ran in the flat places scraped from the gold hills and valleys.

Source: Poetry (January 2008)

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This poem originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

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Devotion: The Burnt-Over District

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