January Gill O’Neil was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and received a BA from Old Dominion University and an MFA from New York University. She is the author of Misery Islands (CavanKerry Press, 2014), winner of a 2015 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence, and Underlife (CavanKerry Press, 2009). She has received fellowships from Cave Canem and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund.
Old South Meeting House
by January Gill O’Neil
We draw breath from brick
step on stones, weather-worn,
cobbled and carved
with the story of this church,
this meeting house,
where Ben Franklin was baptized
and Phillis Wheatley prayed—a mouth-house
where colonists gathered
to plot against the crown.
This structure, with elegant curves
and round-topped windows, was the heart
of Boston, the body of the people,
survived occupation for preservation,
Let us gather in the box pews
once numbered and rented
by generations of families
held together like ribs
in the body politic. Let us gaze upon
the upper galleries to the free seats
where the poor and the town slaves
listened and waited and pondered
Let us testify to the plight
of the well-meaning at the pulpit
with its sounding board high above,
congregations raising heads and hands to the sky.
We, the people—the tourists
and townies—one nation under
this vaulted roof, exalted voices
speaking poetry out loud,
in praise and dissent.
We draw breath from brick. Ignite the fire in us.
Speak to us:
the language is hope.