Hallelujah Singers at the First Congregational
Church is packed, as they say, to the rafters
and the sub-zero air we’ve dragged in
from Central Square steams warmer and warmer.
Our coats are slung in the pews, humidity rising
as it must have on the sea islands
off Beaufort, South Carolina
where the singers came from,
bringing the Gullah culture north
to the stiff white steeples of New England.
Full-bellied, plum-rich hues of pure-blood Africa.
They belt out the born-deep beat,
swing it wide and high Lord,
hand-clapping until the pale congregation,
as though some binding cord’s been broken,
begins weaving in its seats
and in the balcony, one young woman risks
rising, swinging hips, shoulders and then her whole body.
Before the altar, the singers, in turbans
and straw wide-rimmed hats sing Hallelujah
for Africa, Praise House, the Lord, the harvest.
They raise arms above their heads and sway
like wind-bent sycamores,
palms turned upward, reaching to touch
the Spirit surging down toward them.
To touch, not with one finger,
like Michaelangelo’s God and Adam,
but palm to palm,
the flame burning through them, out to us, so blazing hot
the stained glass windows flash with fire,
and I, relapsed Puritan, half-way believer,
kick off my boots and don’t care who sees me
dance out barefoot into the aisle.