An Incomplete History of Christian Science

I

That fabled day when Mary Baker Eddy
slipped on a patch of ice in Massachusetts,
sustaining injuries (her lawsuit claimed)
that only God’s own radiance relieved
(her doctor testified that it was morphine)—
that very day begat the faith called Science,
the business made of literature and lore
that Phineas Quimby took from Mesmerism
and she, in turn, borrowed from Quimbyism
in what the envious called plagiarism.
Later she cut ties with her former mentor.
Guileless as the mesmerized, he never
grasped the potential of his work. Or hers.
But for a woman in whose land and language
entrepreneurship nearly rhymes with worship,
who in her fortysomething years has reaped
more than her portion of New England sorrows
and keeps a flinty eye out for salvation—
for such a woman there are no missed chances,
there are no churches that one might have founded
and yet chose not to found. She sold a book.
She preached a creed. She purchased real estate
to house the fastest-growing flock on earth.
Three hundred thousand faithful in the boomtime—
among them Mickey Rooney, Doris Day,
and Jane, my grandma, who grew up and married
a doctor, Dick. It’s not exactly true
that Eddy’s flock can never see a doctor,
but prayer’s their chief prescription, and it cost
the flock some lambs, and so the faith called Science
had dwindled by the time Dick married Jane
and Dick and Jane moved to a pretty house
and had five kids who never lacked a thing
through all the boomtime of their generation.

II

My grandma Jane, the near-Olympian,
had just crouched down and braced to swim for gold
in 1940 when the world streaked by
and swan-dived into flames. She straightened. Stared.
Padded off soundlessly. The Games were dead,
but she swam laps each day into her eighties
and gave free weekly lessons at the Y
(not as she’d done with Mom, to hear Mom tell it—
chucking the kid right in and yelling, “Swim!”—
but with a mellowed patience). Then, past ninety,
flailing in tides of memory, her cheek
gouged with a melanoma scar, she sank
into her chosen twilight—hospice care
at home—instead of bothering with doctors.
Into her room I crept on Christmas break,
into the viewfield of the lens that kept
electric watch over her bed and saved
each sight it saw. Instinctively, I whispered.
They don’t make privacy here anymore;
it’s one more lapsed New England industry,
like hats or clocks or rifles from the Armory
still crowning Hartford with its onion dome,
or scores of homemade sciences and sects
whose lean inventors brooded on their cots
until they found a formula to brand,
bottle in bright new souls, and reproduce…
Those faded long ago. But privacy,
the region’s one true god, is newly gone.
There at the bedside of its late disciple,
I watched her snore beneath the small glass eye
observing when she slept and when she woke.
I called her “Jane”—the first and only time.
I said she’d lived well and could rest well now.
On what authority, I couldn’t say.
Footage may show: I kissed my fingertips
and touched them shyly to the gag-gift blanket
Mom had cocooned her in, its woven text—
“Bah Humbug!”—heaving up in gentle swells.

Austin Allen

Austin Allen

Austin Allen’s debut poetry collection, Pleasures of the Game (Waywiser Press, 2016), was awarded the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize. His poetry has appeared in The Yale Review, The Missouri Review, The Sewanee Review, 32 Poems, and other journals. He has taught creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Cincinnati.
Austin Allen

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Author: Austin Allen

Austin Allen’s debut poetry collection, Pleasures of the Game (Waywiser Press, 2016), was awarded the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize. His poetry has appeared in The Yale Review, The Missouri Review, The Sewanee Review, 32 Poems, and other journals. He has taught creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Cincinnati.