Transubstantiation in Underground Atlanta
by Avery K. James
Those men danced as if the antidote to death
could only emerge from the movement of love-
obsessed bodies. And if they stopped, all love
would come to an end. They, with their boombox
and bucket for tips, parted the river of Saturday shoppers
with only a square of sidewalk— though their music and whirling hips,
made miles of air shiver. And their afros, alive
in their own right, reached at all angles for the steel rafters,
its riveted pigeons.
Shirts dark with sweat, skin starred with it,
they kept that same voltage for ten unbroken minutes.
My middle-school-self wondered from across the street:
Will they ever come up for air?
As if they even needed it anymore.
I’d only heard that kind of music in roller rinks as a backdrop.
For those men, it was a heaven with clear windows—
a room of saving so small, each survived on the exhales
of the other. I realized my heart
was a palpitation here, out of step with Earth’s true rhythm—
so sweet and low, it hurt my teeth.
But shouldn’t all encounters with the divine leave a scar?
Between the women whose eyes turned to embers in their heads
when they looked on Jupiter and the Old Testament angels
whose terrific bodies wanted nothing to do with the human,
I’d say I got off easy.
Said the bass to my bones: Be not afraid.
Why the hell did no one else stop to watch? The alchemists
we’d all been waiting for were right there
putting gold into the world just outside
the Chocolate Shoppe
where everyone went for candied apples.
As my family caught up with me, Gramma
looked at those men possessed and shook
her head in that silent way.
I knew what it meant: in her eyes,
they were doing a Godless thing.
She was grieving them.
But their dancing, their silk elbows
drawing psalm in the air, flooded me with the Sunday Mass
wonder of Father John lifting Christ’s wafer
of a body to the light of stained glass.
I wanted to move like that— like at any moment
I could become a gazelle so big and full,
my joy would make a ruckus across the earth.