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Good News

ISSUE:  Spring 1987
Not smart, not pretty, not especially kind,
one of a million sparrows in God’s eye,
she sits in a middle pew this hot
second Sunday in July, All Day Meeting
and eating on the grounds. Home for the day,
wearing a fuchsia dress and precarious smile
she looks somehow fallen but unused,
a peony dismantling on the bush.
As the preacher chides and harrows his drowsy flock
she studies the large mural spread behind him:
their savior dressed in light; eleven choral faces;
and one who’s looking, always, down and away.
Through the open door, the open windows
with leaded hillsides flecked with sheep,
no breeze comes in from heaven
to stir the damp curls along her neck
so she moves her paper fan with the languorous
motion of the wrist a Fiji Islander
might use to sway a frond—
               Outside, a bird
flutes among the lilies. The cobbled tables
stand between the white church and the graves,
nothing left of chicken and pie, biscuits and lemonade,
nothing left of the women who dished it up
in feathered hats, or the men in shirtsleeves
with their braces showing, boys chasing beneath the oaks
and girls in white piqué and patent shoes, their hair
already wet from the blessed river—as if snatched
out of the yard, they’ve gone inside
to blink and nod, and swept among them,
this almost unfamiliar single woman, who rustled
from group to group, balancing a tiny plate of food.
Near her, in the aisle, as though arranged,
a thick fluorescent bug struggles and whirs.
And below the windows’ many fractured Christs,
the broad metal fans that stir the ceiling, she sees
it isn’t dawn in the painting, as she thought,
but dusk and deepening gloom,
                as now, in the church,
where the widow to her right with strict gray hair,
the deacons and the choir are standing, the hymn
is gathering speed and urgency, everybody’s
singing out for Jesus! The preacher
punctuates the crowd with invitation—Jesus!
Who has saved the sullen grocer at the back,
a farmer and his wife, a naughty child—
Jesus!—and they file forward, happy to be chosen,
but still the preacher’s murmuring,
Jesus with the leper, Jesus weeping.
His brow is cool and calm; he has the poor
lost disciple’s darkened face, he has the lean
body of the boy who boxes fruit, he holds the only
key to the grave, and she is lovely, rising now,
descending the aisle toward the one who loves her.


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