Everyone Agrees on the Beard
“Sometimes they don’t look like the real Jesus,” says the head nurse during our pre-clinic meeting, then describes a young man, drug-addict, criminal record, likely a “fornicator” though she whispers that part as the pharmacist brought her three kids to work and the littlest one is staring back wide-eyed, arms crooked around her mother’s leg. “The young man is waiting on a bench outside the front door of rehab,” she says raising her voice slightly while managing to keep her syrupy sweetness. “Hunched up and angry. Not like Jesus. No ma’am,” looking straight at the little one now, “Not like the real Jesus at all.”
And that’s it. The whole story. Like an incomplete parable that didn’t make the Canon cut. A fable of Aesop without the two-line moral typed neatly in bold italics at the bottom of the page. She moves right along, no skip in her beat, to “Mary Beth is out sick today” and we have “five new patients so it could be a tough morning” but we have an “extra CNA, thank you Jessica,” and “God willing, we will handle anything.” So that the young man is left there, forgotten, still not looking like Jesus, still not getting it right. Still waiting I suppose.
I try to catch an eye and glance around the waiting room but have no luck. Even Cathy only fidgets with her mask, staring holes in the fluorescent glare on the red and black checkered floor. I’m grateful for the pandemic, if only to keep the full range of expression partially hidden. Out of all of us, everyone in the room, only Alejandro could pass for a real Jesus. Brown-skinned, thick black hair, longish but carefully groomed. I close an eye and imagine him old enough to sport a full beard, but instead only see the cool looking guy in that razor commercial — white-robed, contemplating the perfect mirrored image reflecting the all-white bathroom and the sudden appearance of his sexy wife who seems to want this Jesus to be late for work so he sets the Phillips Norelco Multi-trimmer down on the all-white marble sink. Jesus ain’t got no time for shaving. I’ve seen white Jesus, brown Jesus, black Jesus, rainbow Jesus, but never a no-beard Jesus. Everyone agrees on the beard.
In my dream the local orthopedic surgeon is hit by a train. It’s not a pretty sight, in fact, it’s pretty much the sight one would expect in these circumstances, and I’m the only doctor around who can save him. He’s the loud and very public member of First Salem Baptist who refuses to volunteer at our free clinic. Also refuses to treat any of our patients or accept any referrals from Dr. Santos unless it’s “urgent or life-threatening.” Says his way of doing ministry is to teach people to use guns. Doesn’t say “how.” Doesn’t say “safely.” Just says “use.” His other ministry is giving away shot-up elk meat when his freezer is full. “High in protein, low in fat,” I remember him saying once as I contemplate his crumpled and mangled body by the side of the tracks. His injuries are life-threatening, but not considered urgent in the grand scheme of things. At least not by me.
My wife says this is not a nice dream and wishes I acted troubled or sorrowful when I tell her about it. Maybe even muster some remorse since it’s recurring. I say I wonder who made her such a Freud or Joseph suddenly knowing so much about the interpretation of dreams and that this one could mean just about anything if you think about it — really. Who’s to say? Sometimes I tell her I save him in the end by the laying on of prayer hands and then do my best Ernest Angley impression — “I am not the healer; Jesus is the healer … and we’re documenting the cases. Heeeeeaaallll!!” This is often good enough for a giggle which is always better than forgiveness. At least to me.
If I were a real doctor I would want to be like Dr. Santos. He’s a saint. Except for the socialist part. Says things like “it’s not just red, yellow, black and white like the old children’s song says — green is the real color that divides us — you know, the shade that folds and fits in your pocket.” I liked this and wrote it down to think about later. He’s our medical director and runs the ministry part-time along with his wife who is our administrator. She’s a saint too, though the kind that gets things done. The kind that is good at getting donations of time or money or both. So that people act nervous around her — crossing to the opposite sidewalk when possible and instinctively gripping their wallets, purses and money clips. It’s a tax-deductible county wide reflex.
We tease Dr. Santos about his name. “I am saint in name only,” he laughs. “Just like all the rest,” he adds, and then tugs up his mask, pinching it tight around his nose so we get no further hint. “Imagine that! Ignatio Santos a saint,” he continues. “Although I do confess that every good catholic boy imagines what his saint name would be if he lived up to his mother’s dreams and mine would have been San Santos – St. Saint. Patron saint of redundancy I guess. Saints are stuck with their given name while a pope gets to choose almost anything from Cletus to Fabian — so it is better to be pope than a saint.” He has a wicked sense of humor.
Just today, during the same morning meeting — “huggles” he calls them, Dr. Santos reminded us we should have no intention of becoming a “normal” clinic. In fact, that should be our new motto, he continued, “not a normal clinic.” We are here to serve a specific population of people — to provide free quality healthcare to anyone who cannot afford it elsewhere. All around us throughout the county and state, normal clinics separate those who have insurance from those who don’t; those who are able to pay from those who can’t, those with a fat wallet from those who have none.
It’s the story of the sheep and goats of course. Jesus, the master of disguises, looking like someone poor, hungry, homeless and shivering, so that if you’re not on your game, not paying full attention, you might not recognize him and accidentally treat him like any ordinary poor, hungry, homeless and shivering person. Which you’ll regret for then you become a goat, accursed, placed on the left side of the good lord and savior, departed from him forever into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. It’s like Undercover Boss but with a bit of hell thrown in for motivation. There’s no need to be kind for kindness sake, no need to do unto others as you would have them blah blah blah, but always do good things to people even when you don’t feel like it for they might be Jesus in disguise.
We’re speaking more Spanish these days. Mexico. Puerto Rico. DR, Honduras. The local meat packaging plant. Seasonal tobacco workers March through November. Green Tobacco Sickness, Federal H2A Program are just a few things I had never heard of before this summer. And I’m trying. I’ve been paying Alejandro on the side to tutor me in Spanish and Mexican culture. One day, he says, he will take me to visit his home in the small pueblo of Las Conchitas, southeast of Monterrey. We can swim in the San Pedro river, just like I did as a small boy before we made the move. He says “move” with a tone I didn’t understand at first. My favorite memory, he continues, well I guess my only memory, is that I couldn’t see the other side. It’s like a snapshot — me holding my father’s hand, waist high in brown, muddy water that seemed to have no end. We could do the opposite of our move; Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio, Laredo, Nuevo Laredo. Then home.
He remembers another river. Three families had remained together and together they stepped in to cross its greenish-grey, surprisingly warm water early morning before the sun would rise. They needed to make Houston before dawn. Alejandro and the other small children were tied to their fathers and older brothers with pieces of shoestrings knotted together one end to another. Most of the way he rode his father’s back who was also carrying Marilu, his youngest sister securely in strong arms and close to his chest. There were rumors of crocodiles in the Rio Grande. And drowned Mexicans by the dozens every year. Many of their decomposed bodies washed onto muddy banks, eyelids and lips eaten by turtles, no physical means of identification remaining so they are buried in pauper graves marked as John Doe with a number to distinguish them from the other John Doe’s. Alejandro would not learn of these stories until his teenage years, how the Border Patrol agents referred to the cadavers they found as “floaters.” “Nosotros somos los que flotamos,” he says. We are the ones who float. Flotó, flotan, flotaron, flotamos, flotare. One by one he conjugates bodies as they vary according to voice, mood, number, and person, then removes his mask to reveal the face of a man suspended above and in-between — like the highest bridge. The face of a man who gets it. Fully.
I tease him about his darkening stubble.
David Dixon is a physician, poet, and musician who lives and practices in the foothills of North Carolina. His work has appeared in Rock & Sling, The Northern Virginia Review, Connecticut River Review, The Healing Muse, FlyingSouth, Volney Road Review, and elsewhere. His book of poetry “The Scattering of Saints” is forthcoming in Spring 2022.
Art: Mother by Paola Tavoletti who is an artist, illustrator and writer. Her works include: – Classical Lyceum – IED European Institute of Design: Diploma in Visual Communication (1978)- KLC Garden Design: Diploma, Honours- KLC Designing with Plants: Certificate, Honours (2015)- University of Hertfordshire, UK: Master Degree in Creative Arts (2019)- University of Lancaster, UK: currently enrolled in the 2nd year of the MA in Creative Writing / Poetry
Featured in international magazines: Russia Today (illustrations for literature)- Petite Hound Press (art) – Helen a Literary Magazine (art) – Poetry WTF?! (poetry/art)- Art United (art)- Women who draw (art) – Fiftiness (poetry/art) – Her Heart Poetry( poetry/art) – Adanna Literary Journal (cover art) – A5 magazine (art) – Flare Review (art) – Fiction International (cover art)- Michigan University Coloring Book (illustrations) – Juxtaprose literary magazine (illustrations) – Beyond Words (art)- the Poetry Kit Anthology’ Poetry in the Plague Year’ 2020( poetry)
– ‘Same Strange World: an Anthology of Contemporary Voices’ 2021 (Poetry)
– Collection of Poems longlisted in the ‘Premio Letterario Città di Castello’ 2021 (among the first 20 poets out of 256)