Moving the Earth
February 7, 1812
The farmers of New Madrid
felt the first shudder of Manifest Destiny
like Jesus crashing to earth
like fierce fists striking the iron gates of heaven.
It was the land, this time, that rebelled:
tremors swept through a million square miles,
rang church bells in Boston,
cast a new bend in the Mississippi
and sent those same floodwaters fleeing backwards,
into a hump some twenty feet high
that, when it collapsed, leveled acres on acres
of cottonwoods, barely in bud.
All things manmade failed, said witnesses.
Yet when the first sulfur cloud rose,
when the sun itself dimmed,
when women who swooned were never revived,
where was Jesus? Some saw him wading
hip-deep in debris, his lily white robes
soaking up gray sediment,
as he directed the water’s retrograde path
with an outstretched finger. Others said no,
that day, Jesus towered
over the rebel Mississippi. He sprouted
from topsoil—green as new wheat—and grew, golden,
till his head breached the barrier of stench and vapor,
till he could see past the Smokies, the Rockies,
past forests and deserts, to each indistinct shore.
His holy palm compressed
the town of New Madrid
and he watched the land breathe—stretch, ripple, contract:
a migration and a return
pulsing while frantic fists rocked the wrought-iron gates of heaven.
Melissa Frederick is a writer and freelance medical editor from suburban Philadelphia. Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous publications, including Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium, Goblin Fruit, inkscrawl, Spectral Realms, Mid-American Review, Moon City Review, matchbook, and Queen Mob’s Tea House. Her poetry chapbook, “She,” was published by Finishing Line Press in 2008. Follow her on Twitter at @msficklereader.
“Moving the Earth” first appeared in Mythic Delirium. Reprinted with permission.