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
from Castaway, by Katherine Riegel