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Southern Cultures 10.2 (2004) 70-72

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Aspiration and Varieties of Religious Experience

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Farther south they call it hog jowl.
Up north they call it salt pork.
But we called it streaked meat

the one Elizabethan elegance
in a lexicon of liberries, chimbleys,
y'alls, might coulds, and sherberts.

On New Year's Day, for luck, my mother would slice it
ten times the thickness of bacon, the salt in one slice
enough to make a mouth shrivel for days.

Far away, others were igniting sauces,
shaping the daily tortilla, or boiling
mussels from the river in coconut milk,

but we were counting on a mess
of black-eyed peas, a fried slab of pig fat,
and the charm of a name, perfected. [End Page 70]

Click for larger view
Figure 1
"I saw God, my son once told me. He lives in a field of snow." Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Varieties of Religious Experience
Sydney, Australia

Each morning I improvise a prayer:
at the untuned piano, I pound out
the hymns I know in a minor key, those four songs
marooned in the Baptist hymnal, uneasy
in a crowd confident of Zion.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence I play too
earnestly for this Tuesday bleat of taxis,
hiss of buses, critique of currawongs in the gentrified
gumtrees, corner whir of laudromats wringing
out the weekend's wrongs.

Great-Grandma writes to ask if we have found a church,
and I wonder if this counts: the refuge
of a cool piano in a sun-saturated city.
I sing each verse twice to accentuate its truth,
but for every song I sing, I've disowned dozens. [End Page 71]

Down the street at the Solid Rock Center, they're still
Standing on the Promises. Sometimes I pause outside
and hum along with their amplified zeal.
Like Great-Grandma, they know they're heavenbound,
but she hopes to get there first—

she buys just two days' groceries at a time, too frugal
to leave leftovers in the fridge when she goes.
I should be more frugal, less greedy at the market,
less eager to believe we can eat basketfuls of plums,
mandarins, pineapples, pears before rot sets in.

In this week's wicker, a heft of mangoes,
their firm flesh the color of the robe
of the Buddhist monk I nodded to last night
as he set out the temple's trash. In the muted dusk,
I envied him his saffron, his unencumbered head.

His temple, our rented townhouse, and all
the houses in a line from here to there were built on
sandstone chiseled with Wallaby, Emu,
Echidna, Whale—old dreamings lost
to foundations of cement and balconies of wrought iron.

I stand on my balcony with my dripping fruit.
I saw God, my son once told me. He lives in a field of snow.
What could you see? Just snow. And footprints.
Whose footprints?
The footprints of people looking for God.
Lynn Powell is a native of east Tennessee and now lives in Oberlin, Ohio, with her husband and two children. She is the author of two books of poetry, Old & New Testaments, which won the 1995 Birmingham Prize in Poetry and the 1996 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, and The Zones of Paradise.

"Aspiration" and "Varieties of Religious Experience" appeared in The Zones of Paradise by Lynn Powell, published by the University of Akron Press, and are reprinted here with the permission of the author and the publisher.



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