“That Old-Time Religion” by Victor Infante

That Old-Time Religion
for Allen Ginsberg

What would happen if we surrendered silence,
filled the negative space with song? All of us,
voices joined singing, “Glory, Glory Hallelujah”?
    Or, “Imagine There’s No Heaven”?
     Or, “Oops, I Did It Again”?

We sit in polite pews,
embarrassed by our warbling voices;
passively consuming
   the catechism of song.

We, who listen silently to radios,
who fail to dance in kitchens.
We, whose album covers gather ornamental dust,

What prayers for us
   whose sin is silence?
What prayers for us
   who use heartbreak as furnishing?

                  When I was young I clothed myself
                   in violence and poverty,
                   and my voice grew hoarse,
                  fading wheeze in the night

This business of salvation
   has never happened in stillness.
This has always been a parable
   of pilgrimage and transformation.

1927: Hoagy Carmichael quits his law practice
and moves to California to play piano,
plucking melodies from the night to save his soul;

1929: Eleanora Fagan brings her heartbreak
to a Harlem stage, turns the violence of her youth
to song, reinvents herself as Billie Holiday.

1931: Young Robert Johnson,
who can play harmonica but not guitar,
makes a deal at the crossroads, but not with The Devil

                   And somewhere the boy I was
                   has calcified to stone.
                   And somewhere the boy I was
                   fails to pick up a guitar.

What if every voice, on every street, in every country
joined together in one nameless song?
   Surely that would replicate
   the horns that shattered Jericho’s walls.

                  And the somewhere the boy I was
                retreats further and further into silence
                   And somewhere the boy I was
                   vanishes into masonry.

What is The Devil, but what remains
   when pieces of us vanish into night;
that bitter twitch when “Rehab” plays;
   Mark David Chapman’s cooling gun?

                  And somewhere the boy I was
                  fails to disturb the universe.

How are those voices anything but Holy,
those melodies that fill a chasm?
Lena Horne and Elliott Smith,
Richie Valens and MCA

— amen —

all inflections
in a voice that starts in silence
and explodes in a Bang,
in a Word,
in life.

All of them cracks
in the Jericho
between us all.

                  And somewhere the boy I was
               inherits his uncle’s old Stones and Cream albums,
                  devours them in a binge.

                  And somewhere the boy I was
                snags his mother’s copy of “Double Fantasy”
               and doesn’t fast-forward through the Yoko Ono songs.

                  And somewhere the boy I was
                 slams his body in the heat of a pit
                  and finds a strange salvation.

So why is it that
when we raise the lights
and talk plainly of God,
none of us are happy?

Victor D. Infante is a poet, editor and journalist living in Worcester. He is the editor of the online literary journal, Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge, and the author of City of Insomnia, a poetry collection from Write Bloody Publishing. His poems and stories have been published in numerous periodicals, including The Collagist, Pearl, Chiron Review and The Nervous Breakdown.

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One thought on ““That Old-Time Religion” by Victor Infante

  1. Stunning, Victor. I needed to read this at this very moment. Thank you!

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