Haibun for womxn who are told to forgive
BY GRACE GILBERT
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 poltergeist. 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.