Life of Sundays

By Rodney Jones b. 1950 Rodney Jones
Down the street, someone must be praying, and though I don’t
Go there anymore, I want to at times, to hear the diction
And the tone, though the English pronoun for God is obsolete—

What goes on is devotion, which wouldn’t change if I heard:
The polished sermon, the upright’s arpeggios of vacant notes.
What else could unite widows, bankers, children, and ghosts?

And those faces are so good as they tilt their smiles upward
To the rostrum that represents law, and the minister who
Represents God beams like the white palm of the good hand

Of Christ raised behind the baptistry to signal the multitude,
Which I am not among, though I feel the abundance of calm
And know the beatitude so well I do not have to imagine it,

Or the polite old ones who gather after the service to chat,
Or the ritual linen of Sunday tables that are already set.
More than any other days, Sundays stand in unvarying rows

That beg attention: there is that studied verisimilitude
Of sanctuary, so even mud and bitten weeds look dressed up
For some eye in the distant past, some remote kingdom

Where the pastures are crossed by thoroughly symbolic rivers.
That is why the syntax of prayers is so often reversed,
Aimed toward the dead who clearly have not gone ahead

But returned to prior things, a vista of angels and sheep,
A desert where men in robes and sandals gather by a tree.
Hushed stores, all day that sense a bell is about to ring—

I recognized it, waking up, before I weighed the bulk of news
Or saw Saturday night’s cars parked randomly along the curb,
And though I had no prayer, I wanted to offer something

Or ask for something, perhaps out of habit, but as the past
Must always be honored unconsciously, formally, and persists
On this first and singular day, though I think of it as last.

Rodney Jones, “Life of Sundays” from Transparent Gestures. Copyright © 2003 by Rodney Jones. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Poetry (October/November 1987).

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This poem originally appeared in the October/November 1987 issue of Poetry magazine

October/November 1987
 Rodney  Jones

Biography

Rodney Jones was born in 1950 in rural Alabama. He has described his childhood and youth as “very much like being a part of another age. Our community still did not have electricity until I was 5 or 6 years old.” His poetry frequently celebrates the relationships and events of the small, agrarian community he was born into, as well as preserves the kinds of vernacular speech he grew up hearing. Jones has noted of his youth in . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Religion, Faith & Doubt

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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