Tuesday, October 9, 2007

West Texas Sunday Night Prayer Meeting, 1968

A variegated crop of church bulletins
and Sunday school quarterlies
sprout and bloom in uniform rows.
They flap in concert, shoving airless air
from here to there and back again.
Brother Milo opens the Book,
quotes the Word, declares the Truth,
oblivious to ticking minute hands.
Old Jim, jotting notes in the margin
of his dearly-departed's Bible,
punctuates the sermon with arbitrary amens.
Slinging diaper bag over one shoulder,
squalling, bare-foot infant over the other,
a young mother sighs and leaves the assembly.
And two tow-headed boys on the back pew
play game after game of tic-tac-toe.
Elder Higgins, focusing on the lesson,
leans forward, adjusts his hearing aid
to better follow Brother Milo's reading
of Acts 2:38,
"Repent and be baptized every one of you. . . "
The end of his invitation is lost
in the zoop-zoop symphony of shape-note hymn books
sliding out of wooden racks.
Four-part harmony spills from their throats -
surprisingly sweet, simply sincere -
bringing Sunday night prayer meeting to a close.
Shadows lie long and lean upon the earth.
The plain white clapboard church
still harbors heat. The outside air is cool.
And fresh. Tinted with alfalfa.

No one leaves.

Children run and squeal,
Men stand in small knots in the parking lot,
kicking at the dust and talking of harvest.
Women, in summertime gingham,
more like sisters than sisters,
confide freely in one another.
And Elder Higgins' daughter holds hands
on the back porch with John Mark,
serenaded by a choir of late August crickets.

(L. Judd 2002)

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