However innocent your life may have been, no Christian ought
to venture to die in any other state than that of the penitent.
I have been sodden with wine.
I have been confused by wine.
I have been lied to by men,
And yet, I lie down upon such men,
Still and willing in the manners that they please.
Lord, I’ve been the blemish at your love feast.
And I’ve been tangled in nettles and brambles,
Have dwelt in seamy hotels, have ambled
Down roads that once, so necessary,
Seemed. And I’ve prayed, hot and overloadedly.
Having meddled in such matters
That ought be closed to me.
Darkness, I have done dread deeds in,
Hearkening to apocalyptic heathen,
Even as I cocked my lips to yours. And I have slept
On floors. And I have crept along on all fours.
And. More. I have lived briskly in nice houses.
I have swigged whiskey in icehouses.
I have been June, July, and August.
I have been riotous when I felt like I must
Or I could be. And I’ve hung on your tree like a ripe fig
Desiring to be plucked. And I’ve flung my body to your bed
Like a white bride pining to be rubbed up against.
Like a suckling child hungry in a viper’s den.
And I have been Dismas, the penitent
Thief. And I have been Judas. And I’ve spent
My plenty silvers chiefly on my hells.
In that, I have seldom, if ever, failed.
It’s just as well. For as the ibis devours her carrion,
I feed upon what queasy defeats I carry on
My back. Thus the beggar becomes her bowl.
And the hangwoman surrenders to the scaffold.
And irrevocable acts of god and doom consume me.
Can this be mercy? I fear there isn’t any
Left. Even the chrism is bereft.
Wretched, most wretched it says,
While my guilt unfolds like a napkin in your lap.
Will a dog grow fat on crumbs the master drops?
I have been a grabber at your garment hem.
And I have been a Magdalene outside your tomb.
And I’ve bathed atop roofs, have pounded with rue,
Have pooled my pearls, the sorrowful few—
Like milky mea culpas they rattle fragile on a string.
Christ: Forgive me everything.
This poem was selected for Best Poetry 2010.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.