Haven’t they moved like rivers—
like Glory, like light—
over the seven days of your body?
And wasn’t that good?
Them at your hips—
isn’t this what God felt when he pressed together
the first Beloved: Everything.
Fever. Vapor. Atman. Pulsus. Finally,
a sin worth hurting for. Finally, a sweet, a
You are mine.
It is hard not to have faith in this:
from the blue-brown clay of night
these two potters crushed and smoothed you
into being—grind, then curve—built your form up—
atlas of bone, fields of muscle,
one breast a fig tree, the other a nightingale,
both Morning and Evening.
O, the beautiful making they do—
of trigger and carve, suffering and stars—
Aren’t they, too, the dark carpenters
of your small church? Have they not burned
on the altar of your belly, eaten the bread
of your thighs, broke you to wine, to ichor,
to nectareous feast?
Haven’t they riveted your wrists, haven’t they
had you at your knees?
And when these hands touched your throat,
showed you how to take the apple and the rib,
how to slip a thumb into your mouth and taste it all,
didn’t you sing out their ninety-nine names—
Zahir, Aleph, Hands-time-seven,
Sphinx, Leonids, locomotura,
Rubidium, August, and September—
And when you cried out, O, Prometheans,
didn’t they bring fire?
These hands, if not gods, then why
when you have come to me, and I have returned you
to that from which you came—bright mud, mineral-salt—
why then do you whisper O, my Hecatonchire. My Centimani.
My hundred-handed one?
(A Prayer from God's Trombones)
O Lord, we come this morning Knee-bowed and body-bent Before Thy throne of grace. O Lord—this morning— Bow our hearts beneath our knees, And our knees in some lonesome valley. We come this morning— Like empty pitchers to a full fountain, With no merits of our own. O Lord—open up a window of heaven, And lean out far over the battlements of glory, And listen this morning. Lord, have mercy on proud and dying sinners— Sinners hanging over the mouth of hell, Who seem to love their distance well. Lord—ride by this morning— Mount Your milk-white horse, And ride-a this morning— And in Your ride, ride by old hell, Ride by the dingy gates of hell, And stop poor sinners in their headlong plunge. And now, O Lord, this man of God, Who breaks the bread of life this morning— Shadow him in the hollow of Thy hand, And keep him out of the gunshot of the devil. Take him, Lord—this morning— Wash him with hyssop inside and out, Hang him up and drain him dry of sin. Pin his ear to the wisdom-post, And make his words sledge hammers of truth— Beating on the iron heart of sin. Lord God, this morning— Put his eye to the telescope of eternity, And let him look upon the paper walls of time. Lord, turpentine his imagination, Put perpetual motion in his arms, Fill him full of the dynamite of Thy power, Anoint him all over with the oil of Thy salvation, And set his tongue on fire. And now, O Lord— When I've done drunk my last cup of sorrow— When I've been called everything but a child of God— When I'm done traveling up the rough side of the mountain— O—Mary's Baby— When I start down the steep and slippery steps of death— When this old world begins to rock beneath my feet— Lower me to my dusty grave in peace To wait for that great gittin'-up morning—Amen.
From God's Trombones by James Weldon Johnson. Copyright © 1927 The Viking Press, Inc., renewed 1955 by Grace Nail Johnson. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.