The singing has already started,
and I stand in the back. My family’s heads
lined up in two pews near the front,
same pews for forty years.
It looks as though a small child
sits between my sister and her husband
but it’s really just a canyon
stretching its massive void, and what a great thing,
to be able to say,
you’re working on the marriage,
instead of just in it, stuck, like logs
jammed in the river.
My brother’s wife is missing altogether.
She’s socializing with the millionaires
who can give her more than God.
Sometimes the church is like a bar—
all that light as powerful in its clarity
as the darkness, and my sibling’s hair
is now many shades of cloudy sky.
They’ve transformed into adults, parents,
survivors, divorcees, forgetting at times
how to play, and open, and feel.
The church says, for joys,
Lord in your love, and for tragedy, Lord
in your mercy. Dad is closest to the aisle,
a quick escape, and Mom is shorter,
smaller, so much smaller. I walk to the family pew
taking my place among what’s easily broken.
Close enough now to see my parents’ hands
each with matching bruises on the thin skin
beneath the knuckles. How has this day come?
The pastor is into his sermon
beginning with a clip of
The Lion King,
and I think of my daughter at four years old
standing on the arm of the couch
in our apartment on 16th and Washington
holding up her stuffed lion, Simba, to the sun,
the way Rafiki does in the movie, and I’m a single
unwed mother on welfare, the woman
my Dad likes to rage at, and I’ve been to the well,
and the river, and the pump, and know my baptism
has come, and I am fully a part of this.
from Rattle #44, Summer 2014
[ download audio]
Amy Plettner: “I’ll never forget the first poetry reading I attended. June Jordan packed the Centennial Room on city campus in Lincoln, Nebraska, on November 20, 1986. June’s voice and body vibrated with the rhythm of her words—words of outrage, sorrow, and intimacies. I was hooked. I started writing to pass my Women’s Literature class and I never stopped.”