This is inspired by We Write Poems’ Prompt #72, which is about addressing shame. It diverges a bit from the prompt in that it isn’t a personal poem but rather one that is projected from an imagined person.


I feel I’ve spent
half my life
behind a screen.
Between points
of light a mouth
does the enumerating,
naming. I count
with fingers
on hard knots
what I find in myself
to hate, what I can’t
speak alone
in daylight or find
in books to blame.
That word I used,
I can’t remember,
it must have been
a blow to my mother´s
heart, the way
I thought about
that girl in the fifth
pew who blossomed
in my head like so
many red vines,
or that time
I pocketed a quarter
at the age of eight,
when I discovered
the sameness
between a truth
and a lie, between
being incomplete
and whole.
The doing and
the undoing could be
the same act, but
I don’t remember
anymore what I’ve
been forgiven for.
I’ve tried water,
memorized lines
which kept me
afloat, but I’ve gone
under each night
with my hands
locked, unable to
drag my head out
of its counting.

12 thoughts on “Penitent

  1. oh my goodness! our thoughts went to a similar place in our past! I love what you did with the thoughts. Opening line is very strong and I really like:
    Between points
    of light a mouth
    does the enumerating,

    1. thank you! i appreciate it. it is rather curious that the prompt made us think of the same thing. it’s the immediate image that the word “shame” conjured in my head. thanks for reading!

  2. This is absolutely clear and evocative of a young man, behind the confessional screen, counting his sins.

    The last lines are very telling: “I don’t remember/anymore what I’ve/been forgiven for./I’ve tried water,/memorized lines/which kept me/afloat, but I’ve gone/under each night/with my hands/locked, unable to/drag my head out/of its counting.”. How can penitence mean anything if it’s by rote, expected, ritualized? it becomes something you just do to clean your slate without understanding why. I believe organized religion bears any truths out way too simplistically if one is not careful, and then those truths mean nothing. And the young man’s words are very evident of this in your poem.

    Very well done. And welcome to WWP.


    1. Thank you, Nicole. Yes, I wanted to express the almost contradictory aspect of that specific ritual, which is at once powerful for some and empty for others. The obsessive sense of shame that the young man feels upon scrounging up all his wrongdoings.

  3. I thought the poem really opened up with the confession about the girl which blossomed like many red vines (lovely)..this is an incredibly complex writing (in a good way).

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