Honeysuckle Ghost in the First Baptist Church Back Pew

by J. Scott Brownlee


I do not think
it is a living nothing, where non-beings
can make a kind of unearthly love, I
think it’s the nothing kind of nothing, I think
we go through the door and vanish together.
- Sharon Olds

I, too, think often about warm sunlight—
the intention it gives to a single flower
being pollinated by a hummingbird,
bee, or hand eased toward beauty

unmistakably—being a thing
that can bring beauty close to itself,
simply by touching it—petal-white,
each brief golden curl grown out of green

both of our tongues reached toward
as if consummating something live
and holy—beyond praise, beyond fact,
beyond fences where our youth bloomed out

orderly—despite every discord in the congregation
of the First Baptist Church—where I felt you touch me
as if Holy Spirit—in the farthest back pew
with the preacher praying and us both reaching up.

To what, I still don’t know. I believe in this world,
and this town, and each face in it as you do God.
That is my confession. When I say, This place
breaks my heart
, I mean, you do as well. I mean,

your heart also—not to mention, It could not last—
still won’t—will not—although we insist it. We were
apart before we ever came together—all at once.
If the hymns of the damned—of the honey-

suckled—are enough to save us—I’ll still gladly
praise you, beloved—testify to your magnificence.
To pass into the nothing kind of nothing
on the other side of this life is a gift

I accept without question. My corpse, now,
passes into it. Although most folks can’t tell
when they blindly profess what they pray to—
invisible—I have seen it. It resembles

your face—how it first opened up with a joy
I found naked, then—non-scriptural. You said,
I’m close, closer—until rising up you cried out
finally, Yes. Oh Christ, yes. Jesus yes.

That was my conversion to the end of a thing
being holier, here, in our mortal coil,
than the everlasting. Now when I sing,
or pray, or profess to believe something true,

my one tenet is this each and every Sunday:
There is no majesty—no mystery—beyond you,
your body, your blood crying out Yes the first time
you had me in this pew—where you once spoke to me

discretely, love, though I’ve become bodiless now—
still your Michael, Yes—still hearing what you told me
in the hollowed out heart of this old, oak-hewn seat
for strong, righteous folks—pure penitents who return

for forgiveness weekly even with the echoes of our bodies’
singing: Death’s a better rapture. I still think about often
the way you said it, your tongue tilting toward praise,
then, sex-fed reckoning—and my own still, silent.



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