Nights when our thighs stuck to benches
and candleflies beat powdery wings
on churchhouse screens and the preacher said,
“Not one of you is righteous. No, not one.”
None of us dared appear self-assured.
The fly specks on the ceiling burned darker,
and two rows of white globes, hanging from chains
above the pews, slumped to melting points, heat
and God in the same space. In their limp dresses
the two Wolaver girls beat time on their bosoms
with funeral home fans, and the songleader’s hand,
as he wiped his palm across his chest,
left a damp outline on his shirt, as though
the pores of his soul were purged.
I’ll tell you the truth, if truth is the point.
We were all afraid of God, but the strict hymns
nudged us on — songs red with sin, red
with blood — and before us His white throne,
incandescent, like a molten law judging us,
until our prayers were singed in the flame.
Jacquelyn Malone’s work has appeared in Poetry, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cortland Review, Poetry Northwest, and Ibbettson Street as well as other publications. Two of her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. One was featured on the website Poetry Daily. Her chapbook All Waters Run to Lethe was published by Finishing Line Press. Until recently she was the editor of www.masspoetry.org.