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