12-3 poem

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A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

12.3 (Summer 2012)





Sunday School in Southern Town

George Shirley  

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,


Low-church-compatible, reborn

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.