a thing happened at Mass and I wrote a poem about it

At the Feast of the Annunciation
I heard him again:
the man with the voice
like unto a bellow in the furnace,
an unquiet, incorporeal reverberation
rising to the rafters.

At least a lag behind everyone else
his Amens resound into eternity,
a terrible trumpet blat
up from the rolling out belly of the earth,
a roar of horror, or an angel’s shout
shattering the vaults of dressed stone
we have considerately built to observe our worship.

The cantor is a professional;
she doesn’t miss a beat.
But others of us twitch toward the disrupt
after every antiphonal abuse
and I have thought to myself: I wonder
if he knows what he is doing, wonder
if he can hear himself at all
amidst the beauty of the choir, the obedient
lumbering from the pews,
the polyphonic pirouettes of Catholic artifice.

Before I’d only heard him, but today I saw
a man deaf, all numb to his noise, knuckled
hands gripping the pew in front.
A quiver in the angle of his head
made me imagine him an aged virtuoso
finding himself no longer the master of his
voice unrecognizable and uncontrolled,
Gabriel on a warped tape,
his tongue meeting his thoughts with nothing
hemming him, transparent as Mary’s mouth.

Hail, utterer of the word
I do not strain to hear you
but in heaven you cry in exquisite time
first, not last. Our songs there are delayed,
the rest of us, well habituated
to march in ancient notation,
but you groan the Spirit’s meter,
the voice of an old man or a ghost
dead as a monk to the world of sound,
in contemplation of the Virgin’s silence.

Speak, Lord, your servant is
a wind rending the mountains, a waxing fire,
a still small voice.


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