Work > Poetry


Coming up Catholic in the Bible Belt, we were the weird kids.
Our parish was small and poor and the end of the road
for a religion home-based in Rome, with its rows and rows
of magenta bishops and its one white Pope. Did this faraway
Holy See send us drunks and geezers for priests, and who,
in the smothering southern summer heat, would send us nuns?
Clad every inch in iron-black habits, they seemed to be
catechism machines: Who made you? God made me. Who is God?
we repeated each week, the air inside and out as thick as
the Sisters' silent black soles — unsticking one thigh at a time
from plastic folding seats, while our Methodist friends practiced
how to canoe and French kiss at sleep-away camp in the woods.
We were schooled in theories of relativity, in regard to kissing —
this kind was more than a misdemeanor, less than a felony,
on the long list of sins we memorized and categorized
for the nuns. Catechism always closed with a song — but once,
conducting with her trucker's wrists, big Sister Agnes lurched
among our orderly rows like a rogue eighteen-wheeler — suspended
from her waist, a long pendulum of rosary gathered momentum
until snagging its free-swinging Jesus on the crossbar of my chair.
Bending over to save Him, she heard me — wispy and out of key,
plunked me hard on the top of my head with her turned-around ring
and a commandment, just for me: Do not sing! But everybody stopped
to start laughing instead. After that, I only pretended to sing, molding my silence into perfect ovals for the Gloria, from the empty throat God made.

Summer Nuns