(April 1999)

Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 92 (April 1999): 9, 11, 29, 35, 41, .

The Sacrament of Penance

I. Absolution

a second plank given to us by the mercy of God after shipwreck
Edward Pusey

Forgiven once–
and–for–all at our birthing baptism we still
circle high seas, forget to breathe
the airy Spirit, go under
and under.

Our collared step–father
sights us as stranded, locates sorrow
in those lost cells circling
each drowning mouth. He too
is wet from shipwreck,
a servant–sailor soaked to his mortal skin,
but sanctified.

It is the Other who holds us,
first holding out
the long plank of his cross
to pull us in, let us drink again
his unsalty, preserving self.

II. Repentance

the necessary preparation

in the dark night of the soul,
no soul left. the blackness of barren bellies,
all that is shriveled, starved. in the dark night
of our sin, hell hovering, heaven’s distance tipping into
east from west widening. in the dark
sight of our infested selves,
our soot–filled souls. in


A lazarus, dead and still dying,
I stink with the rotting
of sin wrapped tight about limbs
limp with what man is and isn’t.

by my fault,
my own fault,
my own most grievous fault,
I confess that I have committed. . . .

A jonah, slipping in the vomit
of what ingests us when we swallow
the direction away from God

For these and all my other sins
which I cannot now remember,
I am heartily sorry. . . .

A caesar’s wife haunted by the hell
of what we are: gardens exiled, heels crushed,
crucifixions tattooed across our supplications.

Wherefore, I pray God to have mercy upon me,
and you, my father, to pray for me
to the Lord our God. Amen.


Not the pillar–of–salt–looking–back–at–the–lack–of–limits scenario;
not the saccharine–soft–shoe–song–and–dance list of yes
and yes and maybe, possibly yes, I’ll try, perhaps;
not even the pound of flesh sautéed on the scale with Hail Mary’s.

Instead, geometry’s half–halo of inscription:
prick of the compass steel, the line from then to now
steady and bright and eerily even for one–hundred–eighty
contrite converted degrees.

—Marjorie Maddox

Hopper’s Vaudevillians

Hopper’s Vaudevillians
just two souls left on the stage

one took the other by the hand
and they lean forward to take one last embrace

of the audience’s air
in the bow, a red hat

on his head, her hair bowed
at the back, white limbs taut in the glare

of the cold spotlight
only laughter as their steps eke out

a pause, and they cling
at the edge of the stage

waiting for the light to come
and take them away.

—Atar Hadari

The Branch

(from the beginning Alpha
unto the all–consuming Omega)
shall be
beautiful and glorious,
the Branch
shall be
excellent and comely

from a rod out of the stem
of Jesse, and
righteousness grown up
unto David,

and Its leave–
ing the garden
of Gethsemane

wherefrom transplanted upon
the Golgotha Hill,
shall make
of Its and its limbs
a trancept
to silhouette the twilight Friday sky
for all the world to Know
thus saith the Lord

: "I am the Vine"

and I ponder, ever in my heart
why my Son must
still be so

tied to the Tree . . .

—Carl Winderl

If His Were the Only Tree

in the Garden
if they must forthwith still
taste of some tree
in search

of knowledge of

and evil, then let
them eat of my Son

the Fruit of the tree of Jesse
from whom He depends, ever
for their desire


He let Himself be hung there
as if out to dry
so that they
might later partake
of His dehydrated body
His unleavened blood
so as to have

the Knowledge

of Whom
it thenceforth hath been said
He is

the Apple of His Father’s eye

Carl Winderl

Arc of the Lily

The movements of the Madonna—
moment of maternity,
passion of the Pieta
are the same stance.

See first her skyward gaze
open–handed, empty, bloom to full arms.
Follow the arc of her head downward,
beholding the babe.

She wraps the cloth tighter
around hot baby flesh, gathering Him
to her face, her breast.

She wraps another cloth
around his still warm body
broken, gathering Him
to her face, her breast.

His head in her lap has the heft
of her newborn boy. Her hand drapes
over the man. Her white face turns upward,
a lily seeking rain.

Loretta Watts