Sounds of congregation from Damballah by John Edgar Wideman …
I wanted to dwell on Sybela’s first free morning but the chant of the Gospel Chorus wouldn’t let me sit still. Lord, reach down and touch me. The chorus wailing and then Reba Love Jackson soloing. I heard May singing and heard Mother Bess telling what she remembers and what she had heard about Sybela Owens. I was thinking the way Aunt May talks. I heard her laughter, her amens, and can I get a witness, her digressions within digressions, the webs she spins and brushes away with her hands. Her stories exist because of their parts and each part is a story worth telling, worth examining to find the stories it contains. What seems to ramble begins to cohere when the listener understands the process, understands that the voice seeks to recover everything, that the voice proclaims nothing is lost, that the listener is not passive but lives like everything else within the story. Somebody shouts Tell the truth. You shout too. May is preaching and dances out between the shiny, butt-rubbed, wooden pews doing what she’s been doing since the first morning somebody said Freedom. Freedom.
Improvisation within convention is what the alert listener is on the lookout for whether or not they have sat in butt-rubbed pews.
And so for day 1913