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.