Penitence – Brigidh Duffey

I sin so much and so often
that I don’t for even a moment
consider unpacking all my faults
for some visiting priest. Instead,
I select one modest offense, months-old
but sufficiently wicked: I shot a neighbor-boy
with a water gun even though
he had already asked me to stop.

The Franciscan smiles.
Franciscans always seem to smile.
It makes me squirm. Years ago,
we would have had this conversation
alone together in a musty darkness.
But the confessionals have long since
been converted into mothers’ rooms.
I cannot decide if this is better or worse.

Penance is easy.
This must be a system for those
comfortable with their spot in heaven.
I am not so sure; I say my ten hail-marys
under my breath, uncurling a finger
to mark each amen. The kneeler’s cushion
does not provide me with much comfort. I figure
this is just the price of absolution.

Out the church doors and around the corner,
I visit Her in Her quiet grotto. It’s not much
of a statue—just painted cement, and it’s
chipping—but I like the tranquil smile She
wears as She crushes the air out of a serpent
with Her bare feet. She has unusually long toes.
I would tell Her my sins, my real ones, but I think
She already knows them—and is uninterested.

In kindergarten, I was not chosen to
climb the ladder and place the May flowers on
Her head. I had to stand by and sing
with the rest of the class while the prettiest
girl presented our hawthorn wreath.
But I do not consider this Her fault, so
we have stayed friends.

In later years, Her grotto will be
demolished to make way for a Gathering Space,
a room to eat donuts in. She will be demoted,
placed in a squat hut on the parish lawn,
though they will plant Her a garden as consolation.
All this will take place years after my last
confession. But in this moment there is only She
and I and the still of this crumbling place.

Brigidh DuffeyBrigidh Duffey lives in Brooklyn with two demanding cats. She studied Anthropology and Gender Studies at Mount Holyoke College. Her poetry explores gender, spirit, faith, and identity.