Trombones - A Sonnet Crown

Reimagining James Weldon Johnson's "God's Trombones" with images by Aaron Douglas that accompany the original Johnson sermons

The Judgment Day

It’s more than just a painting or a poem –
or even a sonnet for a painting
(we’d be so vain to suggest!).  The story
is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The judgment day is what we seek, and fear.
In no hurry to pay for our misdeeds,
give us reparations now for insults,
moral crimes against us, past and present.

There is a discrimination – between
the sinners and the saved, darkness dwellers,
those who see the light. Salvation’s shining
ray uplifts the soul; lightning bolts reveal
the lumps of lead the wicked thought were pots
of earthly gold. And time shall be no more.

Let My People Go

Of earthly gold. And time shall be no more.
I ride the steeds of war, my spear sharpened
to kill my brother at Pharaoh's command.
But there's a light that pierces all the waves,
the rage of hate, and separates our thoughts
from the darkened state of eternal war.

Go up, Moses, tell old Pharaoh to go.
We no longer need his tricks and trinkets,
his crutches enabled our servitude.
Tell Pharaoh he needs us - we don't need him.
Without us, he, his armies cease to be.
Give old Pharaoh the 4-1-1. We're done.
No more blues, no more weeping over me.
The groans of my people have filled my ears.

The Crucifixion

The groans of my people have filled my ears.
A line of folks awaits the lynching tree
behind our dear, sweet Jesus. Simon bears
the cross for him, climbs up the rugged road.
Sweet Jesus. Nails go through his hands, his feet –
the soldier’s spear pierces him. Mary weeps,
we weep when we think about how he died.

I tremble. My turn’s next. The rope is loose
around my neck. The crowd screams, “Crucify!”
We bear the cross. We die on Calvary.
The soldiers stare, do nothing. The thorny crown,
the purple robe mock. Sweet Jesus. Betrayed.
The traitor’s bitter kiss, its passion lost –
the sweat like drops of blood upon his brow.

Noah Built the Ark

The sweat like drops of blood upon his brow.
"He is working so hard to build that boat,
He's gonna give himself a heart attack!"
His wife would say. Year after passing year
he worked on the Ark, rain or shine, hot, cold,
through periods of ridicule, self doubt -
building, preaching. Legend says he gathered
two of every living creature before
he sealed the hatch. Then the rain began.
Forty days. The rising waters lifted
the Ark off its blocks - sent it underway.
For one year they sailed. Sea without a shore.
Then God gave Noah a sign - a Rainbow -
it won't be water, but fire - next time.

Go Down Death – A Funeral Sermon

It won’t be water, but fire – next time.
The universe was expanding faster
than we thought, the distance the death angel
had to travel, longer, his flight angle
trajectory, steeper, than allowed for
in previous calculations. A bright
star steered him to the house of Caroline,
our sister, to commence her journey home.

Death didn’t say a word. She saw Death come
like a falling star, our Caroline. No fear
was in her heart. Death took her in his arms
like a baby, comforted her, placed her
on his horse securely for the ride.
And she whispered to us: I’m going home.

April 17, 2016 - The Prodigal Son

And she whispered to us: I’m going home.
The young man traveled down the easy road
to Babylon. New clothes, new dancing friends,
new drinking dens and gambling games to play,
and women – their flowery scents intoxicate
the mind. Oh, the women of Babylon!

But his luck ran out – good times disappeared
and he found himself stripped of everything
good fortune gave him. Soon he cast his lot
among the beasts, the scavengers, the swine
who thrived on leftovers, things tossed aside –
with beggars in the mire of Babylon.
Then, in disgust, he made the journey home.
Young man — your arms too short to box with God.

The Creation

Young man - your arms too short to box with God.
Invisible hand traversed time's flow
and made a world to cure his loneliness.
A thousand worlds. But that was not enough.
There was a need to correspond, to speak,
to apprehend what thoughts the space contained
his hands had wrought. So God created man.

From dust and clay he shaped the human form,
then breathed into his mouth the breath of life.
And man became what God intended him
to be, a maker of his own image.
Then plants grew near him, symbiotically,
providing food and warmth - to each - in turn.
And man became a living soul. Amen.

Listen Lord - A Prayer

And man became a living soul. Amen.
We lift our prayers, our noble thoughts to Thee,
our source of strength and creativity.
These words, these phrases - our meditation,
we presently petition at your throne.
But listen, Lord, just between you and me,
things ain't so right down here. The folks you left
in charge have gone astray - the golden calf
is all they seek, an idol that they made
with their own hands. Keep us in your light, Lord,
on the righteous path. Forgive the sinners,
languishing in Babylon. Take pity
on the poets and artists who fall short.
It's more than just a painting or a poem.