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Visitors to the Sunday Service


One American research program was cancelled when the chimps escaped the lab on a Sunday morning

and reassembled in a local church ....”  The Skeptic, 2008



Consider how the sunlight through stained glass

lights up their crests, their wizened muzzles, hands

as dark as creosote and tender to 

the touch as ladies’ gloves.  Imagine them

attentive in the pews, the hymn just past

now fading from the air around them--chimps

arrived in church!  They’ve lumbered in on feet

and knuckles, hoisted onto seats their furred,

misshapen forms with their long arms, and sat 

here, testament to Primate and to Prime.


They’re prim enough to take a vacant pew 

behind the reprobates, the Sunday chaste, 

and those in whom some private shame provokes 

abasement.  Still, they’ve come.  They stare ahead-- 

their sloping shoulders set in palisade

from aisle to aisle, prehensile feet unclenched--

now craning toward the pulpit patiently

for words they won’t believe, won’t understand:

this dispensation they refuse to share, 

these wild, attentive nonconformists, here. 


And, sermon started, their attention wanes--

it isn’t, after all, addressed to them.

And, even if it were, what spendthrift God

would squander all His grace on human faults,

omitting from consideration they, 

who’ve had to lead themselves from bondage?  They,

who know enough to stifle gratitude,

know better than to pray.  One grooms her mate,

stares up and muses on that swaddled, bare

and hapless creature there, fixed in mid-swing.


And, sermon past, they rise and saunter down 

the center aisle, a column brown as clay 

from which the first man, made the same as they--

the same hands shaping at His whim a host 

apart from them--was made. They undergo 

conversion, congregants to apes, outside, 

where trees extend their limbs--a ladder’s rungs

erected, spanning earth to heaven, ape 

to God. And so their work is done: they’ve come

to hear the word and, having heard, ascend.

Visitors to the

Sunday Service won the Rita Dove Prize in the Salem College International

Writing Awards

in 2009.

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