1970s Catholicism


It was easier to confess
when I slipped into a wooden booth
and pulled the thick curtain closed.
Kneeling in the muted light,
I told the priest what he expected:
I had fought with my brothers and sister,
not listened to my parents, failed
to do my chores right when told.
Confession was rote. An anonymous,
low stakes exchange. How much sin
could I commit at ten? How many
commandments could I break?

Palm fronds were tucked into the frame
of the needlepoint prayer on my wall.
My forehead bore ashes one day
each year. Communion wafers
melted on my tongue as I bowed my head
and mumbled prayers. My bones fixed
with staples, I still knelt when told, stood
when required.

The marble was beautiful,
as was the gold, and every window
was stained with a story. It was our routine
to climb the long staircase and spend
Sunday mornings in the lovely gloom.
But it brought me no solace. All my Our Fathers,
all the stars on my chart recognizing
my ability to memorize, didn’t make me
feel holy, or good, or worthy. The rituals
were comforting, but helped and healed
no one, not even myself.

Did I learn to be kind? Did I learn
to be just by reciting and reading
the verses? Or did I learn that
some people believed there were
the saved and unsaved? Did I see people
shamed for living the hard life
they were handed the best way they could?
If only they had put me to service
instead of having me attend service,
maybe I could have stayed. If only
one nun or priest would have pushed
beyond my canned recitation
to unearth my fears and rejoice
in my capacity to love despite
the uncertain ground that held me,
I could have seen beyond all the cloying velvet.

NaPoWriMo Day 12


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