The Singing
by David Ritchie

    Inside the little clapboard church
    it must have been close to a hundred degrees.
    There was not yet a full choir seated, but
    those that were there were swaying
    from foot to foot with the rhythm
    that was internal, that was history.
    Behind the silence I could hear
    the humming of those around me,
    the swish of stiff dresses
    as women walked down the aisle
    to the choir,
    and the constant movement of hand-held fans
    like a host of butterflies opening and closing,
    opening and closing, turning sweat
    into a cooling system.
    The musician, an old black man
    with a stark white turban,
    walked over to the wounded upright, sat down,
    and without a sheet of music
    stabbed the ivories like he was infusing notes
    into a dormant object. His fingers
    looked like pieces of wood: hard, bent,
    brown: like weapons,
    weapons of music.
    When his fingers touched the keys
    the room became electric.
    You could hear the intake of air by all those
    in the hard wooden pews; preparing, praying
    for the strength to last the night.
    The first note was magic, but when the choir
    bellowed out its voice to the spiritual
    hymn "In the Air" I thought the spirit had
    reached down and pulled the life right out
    of my breast. Maybe I should take
    a few deep breaths, too. But it was too late,
    the spirit had been poured down and out
    of the mouths of the choir and onto the people
    in this old church, and the people couldn't sit down
    they couldn't stand up, they swayed where they stood,
    they shouted to Jesus where they stood,
    they went into a trance, fallin out,
    and had to be carried from the church.
    At the end of the evening, the choir sang
    quietly, and I could hear
    the sobs, I could hear the joy expressed
    by the congregation: amen glory to god halleujah
    Jesus is his name, until the pianist stopped, got up
    and went to the choir and embraced each one.
    Then the little church was empty.

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