When I Say Jesus Was My Boyfriend, a Poem by Erin Adair-Hodges

From the Latest Issue of The Sewanee Review

April 9, 2018  By Erin Adair-Hodges

I don’t mean that I snuck out my bedroom window,

vaulting over juniper bushes to get to his car

which he’d bought by working summers and weekends

at the Trujillos’ Broken Moon ranch,

tractoring the fields, hauling bales,

and turning a red so deep

it gives up into brown,

nor do I mean


he’d drive me through the early winter night

to the lonesome mesa and turn off the engine,

sitting still for a nervous moment before leaning in

to French my face, his eager tongue

a newborn calf struggling its way

to milk, his hand searching my shirt and,

when finding form, cupping my breast, not

with lust so much as reverence,

a jeweler staring through a loupe

at a gem rumored and finally realized,

the radio playing an R&B song filled

with harmonies and breakdowns and, at one point,

talking, a testimony, the deep voice pledging

to do better, be better, love harder,

if given the chance.

When I say Jesus was my boyfriend


I mean only that I talked about him

to all my friends and did the things

I thought he’d like because I knew

he loved me but mostly in the way

we know at fifteen that everyone we love

will someday be dead, and we will be dead,

and an army flying some future flag

will build an outpost on what was once the mall

where our parents dropped us off

to hang out with our friends

except that no one else shows and so

it’s just us drinking an Orange Julius

and trying to look indifferent

to loneliness, which is to say

this certainty was theoretical and I wasn’t sure

of anything, so I gave my body to the river,

wore white because I was his.

When I say


Jesus was my boyfriend what I mean

was that he told me he loved me

even though I didn’t deserve it,

that it was a gift I had to repay

with my one stupid life

and that I should wait for him.

And I did, and I am, still


waiting, not for him to descend

from a sky in which clouds have formed

the shape of a cross, which is a real dream I once had,

him bursting golden in the blue over my church,

my family and friends rising to meet him,

first a few and then more

and I watched them go and suddenly

he went too, the cross of clouds collapsing

into nothingness, and I was still there, still

earthbound, untaken, and so this wasn’t

a dream so much as it was

damnation, to have seen pure happiness come

but not for me, so I am not waiting for him

but for that feeling, the someone-would-do-anything-for-you

feeling, would-die-a-sandal-wearing-virgin-

because-it’s-him-or-you feeling,

and I think that maybe this

is what has ruined me the most,


that I want such love now, not

in some rumored after and not

from a ghost. And all I get is regular love,

which doesn’t even ask anymore

how it is I like my eggs, and so maybe

I don’t deserve even this milk love, its expiration date

stamped along the seams, this love that makes

listening sounds while staring off into

a thicket of its own desires, only half

in where it is and half where it wants

yet to be. But why should love

be any more resilient than the bodies

we do this loving with? Why shouldn’t

love flab and crease, spot and sag,

developing a weird but specific smell?

And I keep wanting love

to be kinder to me, but perhaps it is that I

have not been kind to love,


not understanding, not patient enough to warm my own bed

while love works nights in a factory that manufactures

forgiveness, meeting the ceaseless demand,

bringing the seconds home to me.

I gave birth once

and there was so much blood,

in the pain I punched a wall, the fist

mark left hanging like an angry moon,

so I think it’s no big thing to bleed for love,

no miracle in being breakable.

When I say Jesus was my boyfriend

I mean he died when the car he drove


crossed over the solid line, that he’s been married

twice and has his real estate license,

that he would look me up but has forgotten

my last name. I mean he said what he needed

to say. I mean that some days,

when I see a group of girls, tinged golden

from chosenness, whisper curated confessions

they release like doves into the air,

I miss him. I miss him and do not tell

my husband, do not tell my friends.

I carry the secret of missing him

in my grown and tired body

until the world nudges a new horror forward

and I need the space he’s in.

I offer my good hands.

I save what I can save.


From the forthcoming spring issue of The Sewanee Review.

Erin Adair-Hodges
Erin Adair-Hodges
Erin Adair-Hodges is the author of Let's All Die Happy, winner of the 2016 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. In 2017 she was the Claudia Emerson scholar at the Sewanee Writers' Conference, where she wrote “When I Say Jesus Was My Boyfriend.” Erin is the cocreator and curator of the Bad Mouth Reading Series in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is currently a visiting professor of creative writing at the University of Toledo.

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