Elmer, Raymond, and I

They had us sing: TAKE HIS HAND
HIS STRONG TRUE HAND AND CLING
TO IT FOREVERMORE, FOREVERMORE,
and we sang like frivolous larks
on a winter evening with hymnals
around an haroomping organ
played by an ardent mission lady
who had sacred buns of hair
like conch shells over her ears,
in a solemn hall of devotions.
Beat the shy old devil off
who keeps grinning at your elbows,
who keeps whispering: “Go see
a movie instead” and keeps dripping
poison sweeter than punch: ah,
we were warned, and like starlings
we peeped out several alarms,
seeing HIM, black-hoofed and
frivolous, and marked his mien
mascaraed with fickle intent.
Give your hearts amply to virtue,
plain and simple and honest,
the puffed-out preacher coaxed,
his own heart exposed like a gift
on a handkerchief; and we did,
earnestly. There wasn’t a heart
left on earth when we cantered
home like frightened ponies but
at the door of our house sanctity
drifted back into night like an owl.