Regarding My Prolonged Absence from Church

Two poems about growing up in the American South by Alison Pelegrin

Spanish moss hanging on a row of trees

Regarding My Prolonged Absence from Church

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Louisiana Bildungsroman

 Awake, asleep, I don’t know what I was
in childhood, feeling things deeply
or not at all. It was a bad time for secrets.
Kudzu laid hands but failed to cleanse me
of the cruelties I exacted and received.
When I asked to ride a horse on my birthday,
I did not mean tracing circles on an invisible lead.
I wanted my steed mean-spirited
and wild, scattering clamshells up the levee
to race cargo ships and rust-bottomed barges
the Mississippi shouldered above my head.
How can it be so easy to force water
to change its shape? The wicked girls next door
called through the fence, begging
for me to join them in the pool. As quick
as I could scuff down the driveway
I was there, frantically trying
the locked gate while they laughed.
Likewise, I followed my brother
to the skate ramp, well-aware that a broomstick
was coming for the spokes of my bike.
I remember braiding a ribbon
in my ever-damp ponytail for the occasion
and afterward recording the long sad tale
in my diary, which I then hid in plain sight.

Regarding My Prolonged Absence from Church

My leavetaking began with an Irish goodbye
that felt like a journey to the underworld.
The gimmicky sermons made me groan,
and I already had one foot out the door
since they voted to allow a horror movie
to film inside–altar, loft, pews stuffed
with imposters. So what if the money
went to organ repairs. Just like Christmas,
Easter–I couldn’t unsee the vicious faces.
When some Buddhists came to town
and taught my sons to paint with sand,
I loved that they never turned to see
who followed as they walked to the river.
Not one word was spoken. I blamed the devils
of sixth grade that time I left small change
for a waitress at the bottom of a water glass,
but it was me revealing the poverty
of my own soul. Try explaining that to the choir,
or singing with such a stone in your mouth.
It was much easier to recognize the pauses
between cypress trees as holy ground, and walk away.

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