Back to Issue Twenty-Nine.

Haibun for womxn who are told to forgive

Finalist for the 2019 Adroit Prize for Poetry


The old church. Pastor X hits the podium until he beats forgiveness into our mouths. The word coats
the tongue like a caramel in the heat. Sickly & immovable. A corner store for sinners. This is when I
am a girl, taught to swallow pain like a lady should,

        pinky raised to God
                like a flag made of doilies,
        pale quivering flame.

I am ten when I walk by a man in the parking lot of that Italian restaurant (the one my father loved)
& it is cold. I cannot tell where the smoke ends and his breath begins. In the reflection of the
window, he watches me like a secret that cannot be kept. Tears the sight of me into something
digestible, bread for famished ducks. I, too, pick at my food. This a ritual of God’s girlhood.

        Like a wound forgives
                a bullet, I close around
        it. Small yielding mouth.

Another time I am twelve, fourteen, sixteen, twenty. On a date, an older one grabs my wrist and tells
me I’ve been a bad girl. At a church picnic, one rests his palm too far up my leg. Another follows me
in the lot & laughs when he sees me clench my car keys like a sixth finger. Pastor X says he seen it all
before. Girl ruins her life with immodesty, ruins it further with a grudge. He says we’re all God’s kids,
even the whores and the handsy. In my anger I learn I am not a child. I am either Godless or a
goddess. I am both. I am shame, miniskirt unraveled like a hymn that haunts the pews. Pussy

        Now, I say forgive
                & a distant church bell chimes,
        weightless like cold breath.

I point my eyes to a new hour. Watch the flocks of crows circle the belltower, as if to say watch, it will
only happen again. I wait for God to lean against the mortar of it, eyeing me up and down as I walk
quickly by,

        forgiveness the butt
                of a menthol cigarette
        perched between his lips.

Grace Gilbert is a finalist for Sweet Literary Magazine’s 2018 poetry contest & the 2018 Princemere Poetry Prize. Her most recent poetry and creative non-fiction can be found in Ninth Letter, Anomaly Literary Journal, Twyckenham Notes, tilde, Maudlin House, Pretty Owl Poetry, Gandy Dancer, & others. She is a new alumna of the writing program at SUNY Geneseo & an incoming MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Pittsburgh.


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