Today in the sanctuary, Hugh Jones sings a solo,
his notes so clear and crisp, we quiet ourselves.
No one shuffles a nervous foot or stuffs a late
envelope. It is his 91st birthday. He looks up
at stained-glass angels. He looks to the doorway
where ushers stand to listen. He looks to the light
flooding through the golden glass goblet and the glint
off the crystal baptism bowl. We are there, elevated.
Last year, he stopped midway through a solo,
unable to hit the notes, some lost in his throat.
His voice crackled. He stopped, bowed, and sat
down. The organist broke the silence with our
final hymn. We sang, some of our notes lopsided,
rusty, raspy, or mouthed, but we sang for Hugh
whose voice had carried us for so long and covered
our imperfect pitch, our inability to carry a tune
or hit notes he could that took us to heights
worthy of sun spilling through the windows
and laying ribbons of light around us.
Today, on his 91st birthday, the sanctuary is full
with gifts. He hits all notes as pure and strong
as an opera tenor, and those on walkers or pushing
oxygen carts stand. The children stand. We all
stand. We are there. We wait for that final note
to fade before we flood the room with applause.
Third Hour Grammar Exercises
Each checked another’s paper,
and somewhere around sentence
ten, I was lying on a beach towel.
Only a small part of my brain stayed
to name the subordinate clause in each
sentence. I worried the students would
discover me gone. I scanned the room,
saw some poised with red pen awaiting
the next answer. Others, like me, weren’t
there either. Their glassy eyes gazed
into space, their minds, perhaps, a few
yards away, at the same Hawaiian beach.
Ten minutes later, in the hall I keep
runners to a power walk, shaking my head
at roaming hands of sweethearts. Mr. Bailey
nods as two sophomores show him
their new retainers, one a Batman cape,
the other a watermelon. Ms. Dust grades.
I lean against a locker, arms crossed,
as we teachers pass the familiar eye lock
down the hall. One slaps the wall, another
stands in prayerful repose. It’s early spring,
nearly prom. Sun filters through overcast
and lays a strip of light at our feet.
Maryfrances Wagner’s newest books are The Silence of Red Glass, The Immigrants’ New Camera, and Solving for X. Her newly reissued book Red Silk won the Thorpe Menn Book Award. She co-edits I-70 Review, serves on The Writers Place board, was 2020 Missouri Individual Artist of the Year, and is Missouri Poet Laureate 2021-2023. Poems have appeared in New Letters, Midwest Quarterly, Laurel Review, American Journal of Poetry, Poetry East, Green Mountain Literary Review, Voices in Italian Americana, Main Street Rag, Rattle, Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry, et. al. For more information, check http://maryfranceswagnerwriter.fieldinfoserv.com/