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P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
12.3 (Summer 2012)
Sunday School in Southern Town
Sleepy shadows sycamores
Slide among, snake into streets;
Their serpentine progressions o’er
Ashen asphalt roadways sneak
In soporific metaphor
(Sex and death and slumber sweet
All implicit—all and more)
A sinuous embrace to weave,
Insensitive to steady scores
Of Sunday tires processing meek
Past shop, salon, and country store
To swarm the skirts of steeples steep.
Sedans, vans, trucks, and buses snore
In lots where tarmac flat and sleek
Has staved away the snaky morn’s
Festoons of shade and raised a sheen
Of chrome, glass, vinyl; claxon horn
Confirms hermetic seal in beep;
Shoes scrape ill-fitting; high chimes warn
That Pastor is about to preach
(Their peals a digital import
Of carillons that Christmas Eve
Once heralded on Briton shore—
Enhanced and budget-friendly cheap,
Magnolia-friendly in the heat;
The Satchett boys on Farm Road Four
Stroke baseballs, yet can hear the ring).
Noon comes early where church doors
Locked against the lot’s hot sheen
Save the faithful thick-adorned
Thanks to air-conditioning.
Hot and hotter temp’tures soar:
Cracks like demons loudly spring,
Driven out, from Mr. Ford’s
Automotive winding sheets.
Somewhat slower—yet conformed
Forcibly by high decree—
The neighborhood’s reptilian forms
Slither backward in retreat,
Over curbs, up trunks, ’round forks
Where swollen figs make knobs obscene;
Along mimosas to the porch,
Then dormant under sagging eaves.
Mad old Mister Lattimore—
The Catholic O’Shaughnessys—
The pagan scholar Miss DuFor
(Some say Mephistopheles
Calls she sly her much-adored
Coal-black spaniel on the leash)
Amble past the church’s door
Just as Pastor hits his peak.
Though his words particular
Congeal in passing door to street,
None for three blocks may ignore
The paroxysm that he’s reached.
Ecstasy above the floor
Delirious has sucked his feet;
Fury borrowed from the Lord
The pulpit makes his fist to beat.
Eden’s snakes now cower lower
Under cars and under trees;
Snapping demons sweat and pour
Out of windshields and concrete.
In the pews, what squirms the worn
Hardwood (thinly cushioned) seats
Agonize! What silken horrors
Crucify poor necks and knees!
Perspiration into hoar
Central air conspires to tweak
Judas-like—oh, clever whore!—
Pricking armpits, groins, and feet.
Finally their hymnals sore
Spirits finger for relief;
Through the humid midday soar
Singing prayers that long beseech
Respite from repentant chore,
Hope to end the day in peace,
Rest from guilt… what more, what more?
All one cannot bear to think.
Saved from something, safe to bore
Dubious fruit another week,
Through the lot the faithful pour,
Pondering a place to eat.
Cracker Barrel has in store
Breakfasts late for fasting plebes:
Five-mile shortcut, Farm Road Four,
Then go Mills to Highway Three.
Millie left to ope her door
As the Come-to-Jesus theme
Filled the organ; pettifours
Fresh-baked joy to diners bring.
Ma’s stays closed; but Matador
(Said illegally to spring
Along the migrant corridor)
Has the best of everything.
Sunday school for now is over:
Another Southern town is clean
For now. Let them who wish deplore
Hypocrisy in spirits mean.
If in Magnolia Sepulchres
All these live in rotting steam—
Spreading gossip, settling scores,
Juicing up their football teams,
Selling homes where whites were born
To whites alone, distributing
Out of campers gritty porn
Moonshine, ammo, guns, and weed—
If all this shows a culture torn
In two, then nothing worse it seems
Than fuming cities in the North—
Unless because our towns are green.
I do not spend my Sunday morns
In church, yet boast not stupidly
To know the number on God’s door
Because His gate’s not Jackson Street.
As one more Sunday’s sun draws lower,
The Preacher once more stands to teach.
Shadows slide from sycamores
And this time every sidewalk reach.
George Shirley lives in the Clemson (South Carolina) area. He has studied theology and, in recent years, taught English at various high schools and colleges throughout the Southeast.