William James

working class poetry // punk rock performance

PENANCE (BEFORE THE LORD DEPARTS)

Papa says settle down, now, 
wrenches his fingers like claws
around my wrist. Digs his nails
into my skin like stigmata. Squeezes
tight till the blood comes. Papa says 

When your daddy gets done, he's gonna
give you a paddlin',
and Daddy stands
behind the pulpit with God's Thunder 

in his eyes, guilting sinners to come
forward, to kneel, to bow their heads
in prayer before it's too late. Before
the Lord departs from this room forever. 

Papa snarls You'd better straighten up
and fly right,
yanks me up from beneath
the pews by the arm, drags me 

down the aisle, away from salvation, 
down to the vestibule, 
down to the basement, 

open hand swinging like a hammer, 
slapping against backside. Papa says 

If your daddy can't punish you, I will, 
against the sound of mourners weeping
for the Lord's mercy at the altar, asking
can we ever be saved, 

while upstairs
the organ plays.

 

[originally published in JAB Magazine]

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