Editor At her age she chooses from the library only picture books? They’re what her mother likes. So, she reads to her mother. The mother isn’t illiterate. They talk about the pictures. Soon the girl will read to be left alone. ** With her hair drawn back tightly, her brow furrows. One time she turned in her folder with the draft still in it: the child’s paragraphs marked up in bold you can’t say this, pages webbed with insistence, script-nets over the flares. ** In the end does the mother or the girl… You’ll have to read their Chapter Ten. What is more threatening, a match book, a high fever, a loaded gun or a pedophile? More threatening to whom? Even teaching is lying – What’s a paragraph when you’re taught it’s two sentences? ** The third grade teacher typed what her students had written. It did not take long or much paper. She cut the stories of each student into slender strips. Look everyone, your stories are on the board! Please go up and read them. The girl in the longer skirt was confused. How could a story fit on a strip? Her story spread to half-a-humiliating page. By now she knew better. What’s a story? Don’t ask. (When the ending had yet to be her own.)
Bad It was all their fault, my mother taught, Look what we lost. Paradise! Eternal life! So eating an apple is good, that’s why it was in my lunch. School is good, but eating an apple from the Tree of Knowledge was not. Being naked was not bad until they knew they were naked which happened after eating bad apples. But what does knowing you’re naked mean to a kid? I blamed the snake for being snaky, not the lady. I wasn’t to touch the part of my body where the fig leaf went unless I was wiping it clean. I had to pull my pajamas up over the seal of white, cotton underwear. My mother eyed the bare legs of other girls: They’re asking for it. Asking for what? When a girl loses her innocence I want it to be for her protection. A good woman often ends up unrolling herself at the foot of the door each day. Being good is confusing. Look at all God’s children snuffed after jumping into strange cars to save lost puppies.
Justice I watched how hard, how much my mother slapped my four-year-old sister for going into her make-up bag, knowing that if I hadn’t lied, she’d be beating me. My mother was cruelest at her weakest, for no one in our home ever deserved such burn and shame. I was sickened for my sister, but relieved. She wailed, barely understanding. She hadn’t fiddled with the eye pencil, nor snapped the thin lead that I undid from its case. I couldn’t get the thing to go back in. No one saw. It was my word against any sibling, spoken simply with an ease separated from fear or panic but motivated by both. I was determined at age seven to not be brutalized for curiosity. My primal ape was taking shape with its shadow guardian angel tweaking the needle on my juvenile, moral compass. My first Catholic chance at martyrdom blown, I proved capable of anything unjust for justice.
Crucifix It’s impossible to wear the resurrection around your neck on a gold chain. We don’t even know what it is to resurrect – we only start over. But we do know suffering, and we’re attached to it which explains why the image some may hang above a bed is a man getting tortured. If you’re Christian suffering has worth, is embraced, like my mother bearing her cross and not divorcing it, because Christ, she says, endured far worse for us sinners who deserve the burden of His suffering. As a child I read about the lives of martyrs. They made me curious – one little lie and they could have lived. I’d white lie if it spared me a beating. Didn’t they die for a kind of pride, a sin? Didn’t we need them with us, like a team needs great players to win? What is worth dying for when you get to do it anyway?
Trap If a hummingbird flies in through an open door, it may find itself less trapped than the woman observing him. The bird will obsess overhead in the recessed skylight, its brain but a bean of instinct. This is the light. This is the way. This is religion getting the girl who cannot escape or arrive without sinning. If this wild finger of flight finally perches, too spent for propelling and panting through its needle beak, it’ll resemble the first woman to whom the girl clung, who clings to her now, who taught her everything she has yet to unlearn. She will not scoop the bird with her hands for a tossed and injured freedom because if there was one (good) thing to be learned from the Church besides purity, humility, passivity and sacrifice, (And please draw a line through those last two.) it was patience. She’ll look around, pull a lid off a storage box, wave it up, down, forgetting to question why divine creation would allow any being to be in charge of who gets what, of life, death, of the arms behind the breeze that will blow the bird down from its trap until it sees a better option.
M. Nasorri Pavone’s poetry has appeared in River Styx, One, b o d y, Sycamore Review, New Letters, The Cortland Review, The Citron Review, Innisfree, Rhino, DMQ Review, Pirene’s Fountain, I-70 Review and others. She’s been anthologized in Beyond the Lyric Moment (Tebot Bach, 2014), and has been nominated for Best of the Net and twice for a Pushcart Prize.