Paint is chipping from the ancestors. Some stained glass broke and the steeple needs repair. This church was built for people who no longer pack boots and suspenders into close wooden pews. Their arthritic hymn can’t lift to the barrel-vaulted ceiling. Nobody home, is how the dead are feeling. Instead of their heirs, me, heretic, from elsewhere. Rolling off, the scions blurred by sea-mist: ticketed travelers, angry sons and disobedient daughters. Dislocation’s our birthright. Irreligion. You never heard such a purple lily. So why sit here? Because a wan lady from the historical society is speaking of Diamond Hill, now-rickety buildings risen in the east where former slaves fitted beams of inns, schools, homes. Because their children grew up and sailed away. You never knew such an absence, the disembodied incense. Because my children gaze past the breakers of the Blue Ridge. I linger because kids die in Orlando, Aleppo, Chibok. There’s too much why not to pay heed. Here, in lieu of everywhere.

LESLEY WHEELER’s poetry collections include Radioland, Heterotopia, and Propagation, a chapbook forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Her poems and essays appear in Ecotone, About Place, Crab Orchard Review, and other journals. She blogs about poetry at and teaches at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.