If Their Voices Were Visible Entities

by Betty Adcock

Sacred Harp Singers, Georgia, 1930s

If their voices were visible entities

flying from the deep south’s fading

churches, startled from the throats

of an earlier century by hope revived,

they would be birds. Ordinary

starlings. Or swifts

perhaps, a flock of embers

cohering, dispersing, action-

painting against a cloud or blue, form to dissolving

into form, Turn on turn ascending,

they clot and flow, shift like wind-

tossed silk across the sky, their lift and dive

from pumping hearts that hold

the wingbeats’ bellows to the burn

of being.

They make and remake,

undoing and reweaving the garment of light

to puzzle all earthly suitors. They work

the air to patterns of return. And colorless

with height, they show only the white

of underwings or their black backs,

a moving kaleidoscope of contradiction.

Watch this story whose form is motion.

Listen. It is neither language nor music but flesh

become no thing, word become space

where the missing third wrings open

this harmony, and the design folds

and folds in the rough fugue to gone

to God, mystery unfurling on the sky.


Originally published in New South