Simple Architecture

by JOSEPH MILLS

I tour the African-American church with my son who would rather be back outside collecting rocks. The guide points out the architecture is simple to keep people’s mind on God and I remember reading how Moravian hymns were composed so everyone could sing them, and I think of how I’m searching for the right forms for these poems, ones that are as simple and solid as wooden bowls, then my son tugs at my hand and asks, “Daddy, Do you like church?” I try not to lie to my children, so I say, “No. Not really.” He says, “Good” because he thinks this means we’ll be done soon. The guide explains changes to the building and mentions the “beautification project” that landscaped over the churchyard graves as if it was just a misguided attempt to make the town a little more picturesque. We go back outside, and I look at the wall listing 181 names that have been separated from their bodies as my son goes back to gathering stones. He will give these to his mother, not thinking to tell her about the church or cemetery. He’ll say, “I pet a black cat,” and “We had donuts.” Later he’ll cry when he thinks the rocks have been lost. His mother will assure him they’re in a beautiful bowl on her desk, and I’ll debate whether to tell her how he found them on the gravesites of children, ones whose names have been lost so each marker now says simply “child” and we only know this because of the size of the bones. I will debate whether to write any of this, afraid of what I’m bulldozing over, afraid of what I’m beautifying, afraid I don’t know what is ours and should remain unspoken, and what is ours and must be said.

JOSEPH MILLS is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts where he holds the endowed chair for the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. His publications include four collections of poetry: Sending Christmas Cards to Huck and Hamlet, Love and Other Collisions, Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers, and Somewhere During the Spin Cycle. He also has co-written two editons of A Guide to North Carolina’s Wineries with his wife, Danielle Tarmey.