SISTER CLARA FORD comes at me with eyes deep as sonnets, the whites of them bright as her dress and the black of them black as the shine on her forehead. Fingers that reach forward and touch my pale brow, send me floating backwards into the arms of men. Loose him, in the name of the Saints of Jerusalem, loose him. And I fall, feel the hands that catch me, large hands that rest me down among the pews, among others splayed here on the solid green First African Methodist Episcopal carpet. All of us laid out by her touch and the words that come with it, and I am loosed down here, but loosed of what? Floating, buoyant in a kind of spaciousness as if there’s air and distance between me and the carpet, bodies strewn about me in their Sunday best, one bangled arm flung over my choir robe. Launched by only a touch on my brow and a ferocity in Sister Clara’s eyes. Feelings gathering up into one that’s singular, rising high in my body. But what is it? A taste of serenity, or being softly held together?
Through the blur of my lashes, Lily Outerbridge is lowered, poured onto the floor and arranged in the aisle beside me, her old arms flailing. This healing is going on right after the twelve o’clock service. All morning I’ve been singing spirituals and anthems, the choir performing for hours, roiling in music and praising His Holy Matchless Name. The only white boy, in my black and cream nylon robe, up in the choir loft among these old folks, singing out ‘Ain’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus’, when I’m not exactly a Jesus man. Now I lie in some half-focused light, hungry, faint-headed, susceptible perhaps, but the weightlessness is real, the clarity, the wailing and faint hallelujahs. I can’t pretend I don’t feel something. The sound of old Lily singingwonderful counsellor. I know the tunes by now. Sister Clara above us like a giant black angel, her nappy-grey hair with its great white taffeta rose, her fainting hand barely paler on its underside, her palm the darkest purple.
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