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3rd Place Poetry Winner: I’ve been trying to learn the act of love - MoAde M. J.

First, to feel it

It was in surviving that I forgot how to feel

I thought. But no

It was in these rites: Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation.

An initiation that taught me

My body was not my own, I learned

With the bishop’s every invasive and degrading word

That he, a strange man, knew more than I what was right

between my legs

The Lord be with you

And with your spirit

I don’t remember my First Communion

A membrane segregates the times

then and now

When I lift it up, my hands shake. It has become hard, Like wood

Sometimes it is a locked door

Although I’ve seen the pictures, I only remember fear

Humiliated by the dress, the priest, the watching eyes

All the Angels and Saints, and you my brothers–

I shut the door

I stopped wearing dresses

For two years I didn’t cry

I gave the bishop’s words a chance, as my mother had asked me to do

But a chance was all it took

Through my fault, through my fault,

through my most grievous fault

And even though I disobeyed decrees,

They embedded like shards in my heart

Have mercy on us, O Lord

I tell my mother that the snakes St. Pádraig drove

out of Ireland were women-worshipping pagans

She tells me the Holy Spirit is a woman

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker

of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen

of all things visible and in-visible

The last time I asked politely if I could leave

The boy told me no

This is my body, which shall be given up to you

I told him no too, but of course, meekly

Because suffering like Jesus is holy, is sacred

He who eats me shall live because of me

The bishop knew better than I not because he was

a man of God, simply because he was a man

And now I‘ve forgotten how to do it. How to love

Sometimes I pretend I never knew

There’s the membrane, this door, an ahistorical

mess of contradictions

In truth, it was a door I built to slam shut

Perhaps my father expected to marry a free woman

But she had been through the same rites as I:

initiation into compliance, silence, the holy act of suffering

You formed man in Your own image

and entrusted the whole world to his care,

Perhaps my mother expected to marry a man

who could suffer at her side. Perhaps a Godly tyrant

so that in serving You alone, the Creator,

man might have dominion over all creatures.

I built the door because somehow I knew

these rites could break me

I knew I had to forget until I was old enough

to undo the spell they cast upon me

In this body, offered up to you, Lord and your bishops and your priests

and your sons, my brothers

who presume to know more about what is right

This is my body

not because they are men of God, they barely bother to invoke God,

This is my blood

but just because God made them men

Do this. In memory of me.


MoAde M. J. is an undergraduate student at Syracuse University studying Political Science with a minor in African American Studies. Their work has appeared in The Write Launch, Absynthe Magazine, Stellium Literary Magazine, and Mom Egg Review. They are passionate about gardening and the future of ecological design. They live with two roommates and a cat.

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