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.


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