A little heat caught

in gleaming rags,

in shrouds of veil,

torn and sun—shot swaddlings:


over the Methodist roof,

two clouds propose a Zion

of their own, blazing

(colors of tarnish on copper)


against the steely close

of a coastal afternoon, December,

while under the steeple

the Choral Society


prepares to perform

Messiah, pouring, in their best

blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.

Not steep, really.


but from here,

the first pew, they’re a looming

cloudbank of familiar angels:

that neighbor who


fights operatically

with her girlfriend, for one,

and the friendly bearded clerk

from the post office.


—tenor trapped

in the body of a baritone? Altos

from the A&P, soprano

from the T—shirt shop:


today they’re all poise,

costume and purpose

conveying the right  note

of distance and formality.


Silence in the hall,

anticipatory, as if we’re all

about to open a gift we’re not sure

we’ll like;


how could they

compete with sunset’s burnished

oratorio? Thoughts which vanish,

when the violins begin.


Who’d have thought

they’d be so good? Every valley,

proclaims the solo tenor,

(a sleek blonde


I’ve seen somewhere before

—the liquor store?) shall be exalted,

and in his handsome mouth the word

is lifted and opened


into more syllables

than we could count, central ah

dilated in a baroque melisma,

liquefied; the pour


of voice seems

to make the enplaned landscape

the text predicts the Lord

will heighten and tame.


This music

demonstrates what it claims:

glory shall be revealed. If art’s

acceptable evidence,


mustn’t what lies

behind the world be at least

as beautiful as the human voice?

The tenors lack confidence,


and the soloists,

half of them anyway, don’t

have the strength to found

the mighty kingdoms


these passages propose

—but the chorus, all together,

equals my burning clouds,

and seems itself to burn,


commingled powers

deeded to a larger, centering claim.

These aren’t anyone we know;

choiring dissolves


familiarity in an up-

pouring rush which will not

rest, will not, for a moment,

be still.


aren’t we enlarged

by the scale of what we’re able

to desire? Everything,

the choir insists,


might flame;

inside these wrappings

burns another, brighter life,

quickened now,


by song: hear how

it cascades, in overlapping,

lapidary waves of praise? Still time.

Still time to change.



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