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The gaudy stars bless us first,
curse us last, confessional-
like, with sacred obligation
pretend that the last smite
on our names is scratched out
with a fiery finger-point.
It’s all just haggard old
Damocles haggling over
our time. Whatever you
are told in that curtained booth
you can keep. It’s private,
just between you, an inter-
cessory voyeur and your
grudge-ridden biographer.
The cross-dresser in the robe
who sometimes wears hats
in curious shapes drinks it
in and then with cankered
lip, passes you the gilded cup.
Those giddy little church mice
scurrying your prayer closet,
climbing the sleeves of old
hairshirts, pissing them
and calling it perfume.
I dare you, dare you to
make them your pocket pets,
dare you, to the edge of doom.
I dare you to let them rend
your prayer shawl, to find
you a priest without motive.
Your only expiation here is
the pretense of secrets kept.
Small wonder, that Jesus
bobs and weaves, wobbles and
weeps at the penitence we
furtively observe. Contrition
is useless as that spinning wheel
in the mouse’s cage, the
exercise of Sisyphus imagining
completion and escape. You
can’t absolve the repetitive
frenzied, aimless commotion
of the acolytes, angry villagers
storming Hades with blazing votives.


Pamela Sumners is a constitutional and civil rights lawyer from Alabama. Her work has been published or recognized by The Woven Tale Press (2018 third-place contest winner); Streetlight (2018 third-place contest winner); Pen 2 Paper (2018 Literary Division winner); Gival Press Oscar Wilde Award (2018 finalist); Muse Pie Press (Pushcart nominee, 2018); Thirty West (2018 Chapbook Contest finalist); Vella Press (2018 Chapbook Contest finalist); Eyewear Sexton Book Award 2018 (long list); U City Review; Tahoma Literary Review; California Quarterly; Loch Raven Review; Third Wednesday; Better than Starbucks; BACOPA; New Verse News; Mudlark; Snakeskin; What Rough Beast; Blue Unicorn (forthcoming); The Lake (forthcoming January 2019); and Gyroscope (forthcoming, winter 2019). She lives in St. Louis with her family, which includes three rescue dogs.

© 2019, Pamela Sumners

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