First Baptist, Lexington

by Lesley Wheeler

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 forthcoming books are the poetry collection The State She’s In, the novel Unbecoming, and the essay collection Poetry’s Possible Worlds; previous poetry books are Radioland and the chapbook Propagation. Her work appears in Ecotone, Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Orchard Review, and other magazines. Poetry Editor of Shenandoah, she lives in Virginia.