You are five years old,
and your knees ache
from kneeling on the
cold floor of the church,
and the teachers tell you
not to complain because
Jesus suffered with nails
driven into his hands and feet,
and your pain is nothing
compared to that.
You run your hand along the wood
of the pew and catch a splinter
in your finger, and you smile
because it hurts, oh God, it hurts,
but now you’re closer to the man on
the cross, now you are experiencing
more pain like he did.
You leave blood on the church floor,
and your knees creak when you stand.
You are seven years old,
and they are telling you
that you were born into sin,
that there is an ugliness to
your soul that you cannot
They tell you to confess your sins
to a man acting as God,
even though you are a child
and the most wrong you have ever
done is forgetting to pick up your books
from the kitchen floor.
You tell God this, and a priest laughs
and says that your sins are washed away.
Your mother tells you that you are clean now,
but you do not remember
feeling dirty in the first place.
They put a gold cross around your neck,
and it’s the prettiest thing you own.
You are twelve years old,
and you pray because
you are a good girl
and you think that your
father will smile again if
He does not, and you try
to cover your bruised knees.
You are fourteen years old,
and you ask questions in class
because all the lessons and Bible verses
have stopped adding up and you don’t understand
how God could always love you, but still let you burn.
Your teacher tells you to read it all again.
The cross around your neck feels heavy.
You are fifteen years old,
and there is something dark inside of you,
something that lives in your bones
and makes you feel like you are drowning,
makes you feel like there is no escape.
You still pray, let some desperate plea
claw its way from your throat as you wait
for salvation to end the pain,
for God to take it all away.
You turn your skin into a lattice;
you stop praying eventually.
You are sixteen,
and you arrange two cigarettes
into a cross, and the boy lying
beside you tells you that he never took
you as the religious type.
You kiss him, and he tastes
like communion wine and nicotine.
You pretend that you feel whole,
that you aren’t spilling out of your seams.
You tell your father that you don’t think
you believe in what you hear at church
anymore, and he says that he doesn’t
know how he raised so weak a daughter.
You do not tell him that you still dream
of sleeping forever.
You are seventeen years old,
and you believe in yourself.
You believe in the universe pulsing
beneath your skin.
You believe that salvation comes
from your own two hands.
You feel complete,
and your knees have stopped creaking.