Jesus Walks the Southland by Robert Gray

tonight i saw jesus
in my rearview mirror
he was on the side
of the road in montgomery
and looked just like
he always did
in those paintings
except that he was
a bit thinner on top
and a lot dirtier
which i guess was
just from the shit
that’s been dumped
on him recently
i couldn’t really tell
if he was hitchhiking
or just walking along
it all happened too fast
but it wouldn’t have mattered
anyway because i wasn’t looking
out for him besides
i had somewhere to get to
and didn’t have room in my car


from Jesus Walks the Southland (Negative Capability Press, 2014)
published by permission of the author


The title poem of Robert Gray’s third and most recent book of poetry, “Jesus Walks the Southland” illustrates a marriage with a dysfunctional history and, from what Gray implies (“the shit that’s been dumped on him recently”), also present: Christianity and the Deep South. His allegory of Hitchiker Jesus, the setting of Montgomery, Alabama and the self-revealing narrative shape the poem. This is a modern-day reference to the biblical parable of those who preceded the Good Samaritan and passed by the robbed man on the side of the road, a story of compassion that doesn’t require religion to hold meaning. The brevity of the poem captures the moment in which the speaker rejects mercy in favor of a combination of ignorance (“i couldn’t really tell”) and convenience (“i had somewhere to get to / and didn’t have room in my car”). Gray’s contextual rejection of convention is reflected by the minimal punctuation and lack of capitalization, which call for attention to each phrasing. As with any of his poetry, it is best when read both silently and then aloud. Lacking resolution and concluding more as an echoing thought, the poem pulls a relatable string in the reader’s memory of a time when they could have but didn’t do enough.

–Hannah Denham


Robert Gray has written two other books of poems besides Jesus Walks the Southland: Drew: Poems from Blue Water and I Wish That I Were Langston Hughes. He was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2014. He also contributed to the production of Mobile in Black and White, a documentary on race relations in Mobile, Alabama in 2013, which has received numerous awards. A native of Alabama, he received his degrees from the University of Alabama and Michigan State University. He is currently an associate professor within the Department of Education at University of Bergen in Norway.