Fuse #8

Friday, May 11, 2007

Poetry Friday - The Collected Poems of Susan Ramsey

This was a poem written for my friend Katie Givens Kime on the day of her ordination. Katie married me when she was still in seminary (no fears, it's legit) and me mum attended this particular ceremony. Her wedding anniversary isn't until the 29th, but I figured we'd give her a shout-out beforehand. You may find this work in Poetry East (Spring, 2007,)

Benediction, Off Beat

I’ve come to see Katie ordained, but I smell trouble.
Apparently it takes five ministers
and each gets to speak. Presbyterians.
I settle back. This is going to take a while.

Every time I doubt this country learns
anything, I try to remind myself
how white people used to sound when they clapped along
in the Fifties, the beat random as rain.

There are moments. A mentor urges her
not to become a Katherine. “Please. Stay Katie.”
A seminary friend, eyes wide, proclaims
“Katie! It’s over – you can read fiction now!”

Eubie Blake said he didn’t mind white people
too much “but they surely do clap funny.”
Yet by the eighties even Nancy Reagan
could clap in time, though relentlessly on beat.

The one part of the service that is Katie’s
will be the benediction, we should only
live that long. She manages to say
“I will, with God’s help” fifty-seven times

with full conviction. Her parents present her robes,
black piped with her signature scarlet. Her grandmother
hand-sewed the scarlet stole her grandfather drapes
around her. At last we’re coming to the end.

The piano player starts a stride left hand.
The wisp of a soloist belts a verse, a chorus.
I’m wistful, thinking what a gospel choir,
their congregation, could do with that joy.

Whoopie Goldberg said “White folks – they get
excited, they try to move.” Our choir director
once urged “Feel free to move on the second verse.”
Episcopalians. Not a pretty sight.

but Katie raises her arms above her head
and while the piano vamps she blesses us
with both hands. I can feel it hit.
She closes just as the chorus comes around,

the key changes, out hearts rise up and she
swings wide her upraised hands and starts to clap
on the downbeat, blesses us, gives us permission to slip
out of our separate skins, to move, to be moved.

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At 10:39 AM , Blogger Vivian Mahoney said...

I'm adding you to the Poetry Friday Roundup!

At 10:59 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a glorious poem. It speaks to me on so many levels:

-- As the kid of a Presbyterian Minister, so many memories of being talked half to death during just about any church event, the more ceremonial, the talkier.

-- As a rebellious church musician trying to lively up liturgy (in my case, a bunch of Norwegian Lutherans, stand in for the Episcopalians).

And white people clapping on the beat – an old friend of mine jobbed with a bluesman in Minneapolis in the 70s. On beat clapping irritated the man something awful. He used to look out over his audience (especially at suburban venues), size them up, and drawl, “And if any of y’all white people out there feel like clapping, it’s on TWO and FOUR!”

The poem also captures beautifully the blend of emotion and accomplishment associated with spiritual milestones – I’ve felt a similar rush at the Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son, the installation of a friend as pastor, and at a service where a friend entered the novitiate.

Well done!


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