8.02 / February 2013

Our Master of Psalmody

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The neuter down the street, Lee, is a master of psalmody.  He used to sing her psalms in church, with liquid, heartbreaking grace, and women swayed flat-heeled shoes; men nodded thick necks; everyone shone.  For years, he was quite the church highlight, and yet, unsure of which role to consider the slender brunette in tan linen pants, no one sat too close or offered conversation.  My parents and neighbors couldn’t decide if they should be flirtatious or macho, discuss the latest mini-series or who would win the playoffs.  They grew nervous to mention car repairs or romance, began to second-guess their own roles, and quickly looked away.  But they did love to hear her sing.

Our preacher was a sweaty, potato-bodied man whose face inflamed red and shiny when he spoke, but for all his enthusiasm, was tortuously boring.  So this, coupled with Lee’s glissando, made his awaited honey psalms our rich dessert after each dutiful service.  The preacher, possessed of plain sight, of course noticed their rankings, and his brow wrinkled in a tight pinch.

Nowadays, you can only hear Lee’s voice sweetening the air if you walk past her open window.  You see, all those years, no one discussed his songs’ lyrics.  The elongated words sounded religious, till the jealous preacher tape-recorded them.  Then he went home, hitched up his pant legs, and sat on his carpet, to listen for reasons for upset.  The next Sunday, Lee wasn’t there, and hasn’t been there since.  Turns out, her holy psalms sang of silk stockings and saffron underwear, sweat beads on upper lips, cat cry moans, bellies on backs, breath on skin.

She/he/Lee has no gender, no sexual drive or equipment, yet sings angelically the details of lust.  I grew up with those songs about undone buttons and upper thighs.  For six years, my body heightened and ripened, and reposed once a week, among usually hard women like Mrs. Green and Ms. Gunter, grown flushed and quick-breathed; the row of old mechanic men turned beacon-eyed; the school kids leaned back, mouths parted; and all my other transported neighbors.

After thinking many attentive hours about it, I believe his psalms are a kind of primal scream, a healing erotic eruption.  She balances celibacy by transcribing passion and tonguing it out.  Then, (the rush!) he releases her songs to touch us en masse, in mass, while we’re most controlled and polite.

I wouldn’t say the discovery offended the churchgoers.  I bet most knew what words were sung like wet passion prayers within the church walls, and were privately excited by the act’s illegality and their quiet complicity.  To this day, there’s a short, sacred radius around Lee that becomes a chapel of libido, and people gather around, regular as a weekly service, but more willingly attended.  Like mushrooms, men and women appear on his lawn to search the grass for imaginary lost items, or casually retie their already tight laces.  Grandmothers, gangly boys, middle-aged men, and young wives find reasons to come close and listen, stretch bodies and soften faces, blush and smile.  But they don’t talk to Lee, who sings for them anyway.  They just wouldn’t know what to say.


Dawn Sperber is a writer and editor living in New Mexico, surrounded by birds and bobcats, coyotes, and sacred hills. Her writing has appeared in Gargoyle, Going Down Swinging, Hunger Mountain, Moon Milk Review, and elsewhere. Dancing is her favorite way to pray.
8.02 / February 2013