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Churchgoing

Vespers on a Sunday afternoon.

A unified medley of a simple church

in a town on a bay where shorebirds

migrate south in autumn and oysters

hatch quietly on the shells of others.

Oystermen troll from sunset to sundown

the hard blue surface of the steady water,

decades true to it.

Old men hack at weeds with scythes

along the road that seams historic homes

and ranch houses; it stretches,

it seems, to foggy infinity.

Summer visitors leave a dollar or two

in the box up front, sign the register,

inscribe their names so they remain forever.

Old pews are polished with impeccable shine.

Opening the thick red book of Methodist hymns

in this church of every ministry,

on any Sunday, some people feel

explicit wrongs and gentle disillusionment.

The air is so clean here it feels like divinity.

I memorize the view of the old yard

behind the church, manicured and waiting.

It seems too big for anything besides flocks

of bears and horses coming in from the beach.

We are all too groomed, impeccably serious.

The pews fill up.

Women wear lipstick and honorable dresses;

men put on their Presbyterian faces.

A hunched man with a tawny ponytail

and moist eyes rises up and sobs,

“My wife is six weeks dead now.”

The youngest woman in the congregation

puts her arm around him while the harpist tours

Ireland and Scotland and we all sing

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

I recognize the tune but not the words,

the same tune I had whispered out the window

to the sea when I was young, wondering which night

was the one the book said was silent.

And even though it wasn’t mine, the song fit

then and now as the congregation

sang softly all those vowels from 1890.

I add lilt, excited to be privy to big feelings

as pastors from other towns down the peninsula,

12 of the 13 residents, the visiting minister and his wife

listen and Old Ned finishes his cry.

If love is divine then what am I

when they are so full of love

excelling? I believe in showing up.

The sermon starts.

I think about what hope is and decide it isn’t

anything the minister talks about

before he’s finished. Aren’t we already

full of hope by coming here?

The minister tells us to question everything

so I question how he decided wonder was the main act

in this tiny, noble church of unseasonable reason.

I think he is saying, if we think together

without arguing about what we’re thinking

we have freedom. But my wonder

is not your wonder, I think, and wonder where

he’s getting all his divinity from.

These open-hearted beaches are so pure they choke me.

I prefer the cold, hard pews and visitor seating.

I prefer to be deranged and read these pretty prayers

as evil in my feet taps out a little more universe.

from Forest with CastanetsFind more by Diane Mehta at the library

Copyright © 2018 Diane Mehta
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Published in Diane Mehta Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.