Today is the bicentennial of First Presbyterian Church, Potsdam, where I have warmed a pew since childhood. The church had a concert back in April celebrating the rich musical heritage of the congregation. Here is a poem for that occasion:
When I was a child it was painted blue, like heaven,
trimmed in gold. Now a creamy white, who knows
how many layers of paint sandwich the smoke of candles?
And what has become of the generations of voices
singing the same hymns from the same pews, all
those prayers of plea and praise, the muffled coughs
that punctuated sermons, the babies’ cries, shushed
by pacing mothers far back in the narthex, these same
scripture lessons imparted, year after liturgical year?
And all those past choirs, children donning the robes
of departed parents, carrying the future’s anthems–
the trumpets, handbells, cellos, flutes, and pianos,
this organ that surrounds the communion table, whose pipes
cannon joy and mourning into the rafters, shaking
the roof slate, quivering the slow liquid stained glass–
of what moment are these, after their moment has passed?
Only that the instrument is said to remember the song,
is transformed over time, as the wood of the violin realigns
along the grain, better able to sing, sweeter, fuller, richer,
the longer it is played. This old envelope of corporate spirit,
this sandstone shell, the plaster and the lath, pulpit and pew,
resounds now every sound it has ever contained. Listen.
It is the grain of your bones realigning. The organ tones
shiver within your chest, as if they were your own voice,
but sweeter, richer, fuller, than just your voice alone.