Sacred Harp Convention
by Maryann Corbett
Don’t let it fool you. The careful Southern manners,
the primly white-walled church in its Baptist plainness,
the rigid etiquette of the square of singers—
nothing is tame here, nothing without its dangers.
Certainly not the sound. Tone like a bray,
pitch and tuning a bristle of disagreement,
dynamic range from freight train to tsunami.
You don’t hear this: you quail before its power.
The fourths and fifths of its harmonies opening like jaws.
The words lying in wait for the unsuspecting—
all that wandering, all those wayfaring strangers,
everyone leaving, bound for the promised land—
and now the teeth of its meaning close on your throat
and drag you to earth: you’re choked, you’re stupidly sobbing,
remembering your dead, so that the alto beside you,
whose voice has already rasped away your defenses,
goes quiet and settles an arm around your shoulder.
Copyright © 2009 by Maryann Corbett.