(This poem is for M.S., who, as a young girl, wanted to be a nun, and would have been a beautiful nun. And also for R.M., and all of the other countless casualties of Vatican II and its aftermath.)
One Hail Mary
Did you pray the Rosary
as a girl?
Were you given pretty Rosary beads
for your First Communion?
Did you have a favorite nun
in Catholic school?
Was it Sister Margaret
or Sister Mary
or Mother Catherine?
What did you do when they all left —
when you came back from summer vacation
and all of the nuns were gone?
And you didn’t know where they went until Janice,
always the busybody,
in hushed tones whispered in the stairwell,
that Sister Margaret was living with her boyfriend,
and Sister Mary had run off with Father O’Connor,
and you didn’t know what any of this meant
but you knew it was bad,
never to be talked about again in public.
What about your Italian grandma?
Did she still wear her lacy black mantilla
to church when the other ladies
stopped wearing theirs?
When did she stop going?
When they brought in the dancers,
and the drums and guitars?
Was your family one of the first
or one of the last to leave?
Did you go to one of the other churches in town —
to the spanking new evangelical church
with the velour cushioned seats
and the minister who still preached
about hell and the devil and sin?
What happened to you then?
Is that when you married the man
who drank too much
and you drank too much with him?
And you divorced him
only thinking a little bit (not too much)
about the Church teaching against divorce?
Is that when your eyes grew cold
and your thoughts bleak,
and your body started seizing up
in a blind rage
when anyone said anything
about the Catholic Church?
When you started lobbing insults about
“those pervert priests
and why aren’t there any women priests?
And why doesn’t the Church join the 21st century
and support gay marriage;
isn’t it about love anyway?
And why does the Vatican have so much money?
Why don’t they give it to the poor?
Pope Francis is okay,
but the one before him —-
what was his name? Cardinal Rat’s A___,
Couldn’t stand that man.”
Why are you so angry now–
Is it because in moments of silence
when the sheen of the new day
dissolves into night
and you’re alone
you remember that young girl
in the white Confirmation dress
cradling your shiny new Rosary beads,
and your grandma’s radiant face
and your priest uncle’s proud smile
and how you felt special,
a child of God —
and now. . .
Do you ever pray the Rosary
in the middle of the night
when darkness overtakes you,
and the unbroken silence
feels like a death sentence?
Do you pray just one Hail Mary
just one Hail Mary