Katie's Voice

All My Sins

220px-Calhan_Colorado_High_School_Cafeteria_by_David_Shankbone

 

ALL MY SINS

 

–by Katherine Riegel

 

My sins live

in a high school cafeteria.

The young ones aren’t quite sure where they are yet,

they’re wondering if they belong here at all;

they have a fresh-picked look, they are

nerdy in their innocence, they have so much to learn

in the school of guilt. Of course

 

some of the new ones

come in older than they seem, knowing more, wanting to hang out

with the cool kids: those who had sex

in the front seat of a car on a residential street at 3am,

who wore a tight

mini-skirt and no underwear to a bar, casually

mentioning this to a married guy just before

he threw a dart that totally missed

the target, the leather-jacketed punk who smoked

cigars in the garage with the boys just to

piss off the host’s controlling wife. Sluts and partiers,

all of them. We know where they stand—

in the back, nearest the windows, always half a step

from blowing this joint.

 

The earnest sit together as if at a study group,

telling themselves over and over again: I did not walk

my depressed student down to the health center

to see a counselor;

I never returned the book an acquaintance lent me, it sits

surrounded by shame on my bookshelf even now.

 

The oldest ones have been there long enough

to get bitter, to go through the stages

of rationalization and denial—Yeah, I rode on

when my brother said, Wait!

and didn’t notice he was not following until

he appeared an hour later, pushing his bike while the chain

drooped uselessly, but he

was always tricking me

into slowing down so he could go sailing past.

How was I to know this time

he was in real trouble?

 

Worst of all are the lies, sitting at an island table no one will approach,

playing chess. Where were you

when I called? one asks, and the other snickers,

I was getting my hair cut, while she moves the knight

like a knife across the board. Another mutters,

Thinking? Oh, nothing. I was just

thinking about the moon.

 

It’s getting kind of crowded in there

after all these years, and nobody ever eats.

I want to give them

some other kind of future, free them

from the oppressive puke green walls

and the clocks that are always wrong,

let them go live out their lives in some

college town somewhere

that’s just interesting enough

to make you never want to leave but not

so challenging you can never rest,

 

but I admit

I don’t want to meet

any of them some day

on the sidewalk, walking

a dog or carrying a laptop, and have to stop,

and talk, and hear their answers

to the question, So, what are you up to

these days?

 

from Castaway, by Katherine Riegel