Stacey Lynn Brown

Down South, all it takes to be a church

Down South, all it takes
to be a church are some stencils
and a van. And my childhood
was full of them:


The Episcopal litanies of Sunday school
exercises in genuflection,
the low country Southern Baptist pit
of hellfire and damnation


hemming us inside the tent
while just outside,
flies buzzed above
plattered chicken, slaw, and beans.


Prophets profiteering in spoken
tongues as the Charismatic
wailed and thrashed and shook
their Babel babble down.


In dirt-floored shacks, fevered
believers danced themselves
into a frenzy, coiling snakes like copper
bracelets dangling from their wrists,


spit-cracked lips and boot heel clog,
the bass line itself almost enough
to give you back your faith.
Grape juice in Dixie


cups, cardboard host, backwashed
wine, this grit who’d been told
to be still and learn
was never any closer to God


than when I stood at the back of that
whitewashed clapboard A.M.E. I could only
ever visit: The preacher pacing the worn
strip of rug, pleading, Help us, Lord,
teach us how to love
,


sending testified ripples that washed
over heads nodding bobs
on the waves of his words:


the choir rocking, feet stomping, peace
only to be found in the swing skirt of shimmy
and the big-bellied voices booming it holy
in the gospel of move and you shall know sway.