Fragments of the Alabama Baptist Church, hung in the air by the artist. Photo by Lorraine Walker Williams
Fragments of the Alabama Baptist Church, hung in the air by the artist. Photo by Lorraine Walker Williams

Relics Recovered

De Young Museum, San Francisco

Smell of burnt wood

draws me into the room,

charred wood

suspended from the ceiling of the museum.

 

Alabama Baptist Church wood,

salvaged piece by piece.

 

One jagged board sways, turns a black face,

ghost flames spin shadows.

 

Alabama Baptist Church wood,

lacquer of licked flame

blazes a steeple,

 

a congregation,

hands raised in prayer.

 

Alabama Baptist Church wood

moves me in afternoon light—

 

A sanctity,

fire could not destroy.

 

Lorraine Walker Williams

 

About the poem: When I first viewed this installation in 2011 I was struck by the power of the remains from the Baptist Church. I recently revisited the exhibit and remembered I had worked on a poem about the effect of confronting senseless destruction. By revising and continually creating new work we empower the memory for those willing to look and listen.

 

Note: The Mother Emmanuel murders in Charleston a week ago reminded me that the violation of human life and the sanctity of places of worship unfortunately continues and if I were to change the last line to read a gun instead of fire it would apply to the recent tragedy.