Monday, October 17, 2011

Act of Contrition

By Joseph Hesch

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.
I don't know how long it's been
since my last confession, least to a priest.
I must have sinned, because I feel
so guilty, like I'm a bad person,
despite what my shrink says.
You told me not to tell, that no one
would believe me and, besides,
what you did was an expression of love.
Yeah, that's what you told me.

Don't you remember, Father? I was eleven
and you asked me to serve the 7:00 o’clock
all alone. You said you thought I was ready.
Just you and me. Partners, you said.
Afterwards, you put your arm
around my shoulder and told me
what a good boy I was.
You asked if I would like to get out of class
to help you do those funerals,
ride to the cemetery with you and
hold your Holy Water wand.
Remember? That's what you called it.
Teaching me what you said a young man
without a dad needed to know.

No, wait, I want you to hear my confession
because I got really bad after you told me
you didn't think I needed you
to "mentor" me anymore. You found a new boy.
You left the parish all of a sudden
when they said you got sick and had to go
to New Mexico to get better.
And now you're back. Are you better?
I wish I could get better.

The doctors tell me it'll take a while
to get well, that the pain and guilt and
confusion may go away after I confront
my problems and realize they weren't really
my fault.
My fault.
I was the one who kept coming back,
who did those things you said were okay,
who hurt all those people -- Mom, my girlfriends,
my ex-wife and my kid.

Heads-up, Father, 'cause I've been having
these impure thoughts and I don't want to die
with them on my conscience.
Not that kind of impure. Taking a life impure.
Really? You're absolving me?
Who absolves you?
Is God going to forgive you your sins?
Because I don't.
My name? You mean which one am I?
You'll find out when the cops
come to hose out the confessional
and find the note on my body.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for this sinner and at the hour of my death.


A little late, but I decided to post this lengthy bit of writing I did Saturday night in response to the prompt proffered by Sheila Moore and Kellie Elmore for dVerse Poets Pub's Poetics feature Taboo Subjects: How to be Fearless and Nothing Less. The prompt was to write a poem on a subject without censoring your pen for the sake of status, personal opinion and/or judgment. Not sure why, but this long beast happened. Terrible subject that's gotten closer to the surface of me. Don't wish to represent myself as a survivor. I'm not. But i know a couple, just as i've known (up close) a couple of the perpetrators. Nevertheless, I wrote it and put it away, not editing it, not planning to post it. But I was convinced to do it Monday morning. And now I'll share it with the poets at dVerse's Open Link Night, which I'm hosting this week.


  1. wow I personally know of a person who went through this particular situation and years later he still struggles it taboo because it's the church or because it's abuse? It's wrong in every ones eyes yet the church turns a blind eye some of the time if there is a god I hope they get their penance ...sorry( for my rant ) ! You put this across really well thank you for sharing x

  2. Well voiced and excellent read, clear and word placements precise. Thank you for sharing.

  3. oh man...turning my stomach man...shaking in you know i counsel kids that have been kills me every time...and when one of authority int he church or otherwise uses their power to mask their sickness it is all the worse...eroding is not their fault, the vicitm but oh do they think...dang man...great write...

  4. These priests bring shame on the Catholic Church who seem to 'hide' them rather than treat them as the perverted paedophiles they are. It's the victims who feel that deep sense of shame, for the rest of their lives. A powerful write, Joe. Hugs to you for saying it and for being a voice for all those who couldn't find theirs. x

  5. wow, a brilliant, strong and telling poem... so vulnerable. This subject really makes me upset... church is a safe place for many and to know some of the most disgusting and "unholy" things are happening in there is just sickening... amazing write.

  6. This is really powerful and so sad. Amazing write.

  7. Really a great voice here and the imagery definitely moves a person to loathing a few out there.Sad and well written.

  8. Yes this scandal pretty much capped my disgust with the church I grew up in...well it was the penultimate reason for turning my back on it and pretty much religion altogether. The real topper was to see a young, innocent boy evicted from St. Peter's basilica simply because he wouldn't allow them to destroy the small penknife his grandfather had given him just before the old man died. A man in an Armani suit called this fifteen year old boy the most outrageous names, words that shouldn't be used in a back alley much less in the colonnade of the seat of Christianity. That was what tore it finally, and irrevocably for me.

    Excellent piece. How real to write it from the POV of a victim...and there are so many and the men who hid them...monsignors, bishops, cardinals & popes.

  9. Wow
    Joe, this is your best piece yet. You didn't censor, you just wrote. I just love it. I think the whole world needs to see this one.
    Thanks for your gift.

  10. Potent and affecting, as a survivor I commend you for speaking the truth. We need to all speak our truths or the abuse will never end. You have my abiding respect.

  11. Wonderful write and brought anger in me instantly.. those wicked men try to appear holy but these are most wicked who uses innocent children. and sway men and women..Thanks for sharing.. Liked it unedited

  12. I'll break the ice, Joe. You've always been able to use words as if they were the points of spears. This is powerful medicine, and certainly a Taboo where we come from. This grabs you from first to last.

  13. Joe, you put a poem to all of those silent lips, and I think you nailed the exquisite torture of faith and abuse, patriarchy and pederasty, and the sort of life-long confusions such initiations wreak. The ending is pure devastation -- to find out, so late, that the confession was to the ghost of a life. A prayer that sears every ceiling through Heaven. (BTW, I think every poem is a prayer, or as close as many of us can get to it.) - Brendan

  14. well penned joe...always getting so angry..makes me feel sick when things like that happen ....good to approach these topics...
    ...and thanks for hosting tonight joe

  15. Powerful image Joe... wasn't quite expecting the suicide, but was thinking he was there to harm the priest.... It's hard to imagine what a victim like that must go through, but I think you did an excellent job of putting the reader into that pain.... Beautiful....

  16. I like this a lot, the dramatic progression is very effective. I'd really like to see it fleshed out more as a prose monologue.

  17. Ugg! The writing, brilliant, the feeling left behind...ugg. Well done Joe....taboo or not, a potent piece that shows more than just your versatility. Ugg!

  18. Great story and love the many angles you've weaved in here. When I was a kid I used to serve as an Altar boy myself, and I remember getting out of class to do funerals and then they had a midday mass back then too. I was wondering how you'd keep going with the piece, but the manner you did was definitely a turn I didn't anticipate, and I love when I leave a piece both pausing to contemplate and eager to return to see what pieces I missed. Amazing read, thanks

  19. my abuse came from my dad, not a priest...but he was a preacher...the scars never really go away, do they :(

    Powerful write, you are brave to share it, thank you

  20. Beautifully simple story speaks with a strong voice - Love this Joe, you've written about a difficult topic with a light touch that makes it all the more powerful

  21. Powerful writing. On an important subject. Too many stood silent.

  22. A difficult and sensitive topic which you wrote very well. It turns out they are just infallible as the guy on the street - shameful.

    Thanks for sharing this ~

  23. We were thinking the same thing Saturday, about men in ministry who abuse their power. So awful but the worst part is that the story is not unique as it should be. Some wounds will always hurt a little even after healing comes. Thank you for eloquently sharing this. It is sad and true and innocent and brave and I love that you stayed strong to share. Thank you, Joe.

  24. The deep pain of such an experience you have expressed all too well. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  25. Oh my, Joe-- I hadn't read this when I posted mine, which comes at the repression and hypocracy of the church and our upbringing. This is compelling and beautiful and tormenting. This sings and speaks for many of us, I believe. Give yourself a hug for tackling this immensely difficult subject however close to the bone and the bon homme it might be. And forgive the humor in my write-- a look back at a onetime mortification that was spirit-destroying at the time. xxxxj

  26. wow, such a tough subject to tackle, but you did it really well, the visceral reaction was there all the way through, the unfolding of events that tells the story.
    so much brutality in this world, that against children is the worst.

  27. Joe, I've been sitting here for 20 minutes, staring at my screen. I understand this.

    You allowing this pain and anger to surface, to be stirred up so that it flows out of your pen into the light... is a sign of life... and strength... great strength. He didn't get that part of you, Joe.

  28. such a fantastic piece with a strong voice so well penned and yet it is sad to me at the same time but I did enjoy so much reading this

  29. Fine poem, working through, speaking through tortuous and scarred avenues of the soul that no one should have to walk. Why this is tolerated, and on the scale it is, is a tormenting question for our society, and that it is most widespread amongst those who profess to have all the spiritual answers for 'sin' is more than an outrage or a scandal, it is the sin itself. Thanks for speaking out.

  30. Ugh - a horrid situation we've all been exposed to from the media for decades now. The U.S., Europe, it seems to be a global problem, and still there's rarely enough responsibility taken over it. A tortured piece for a miserable aspect of our world - as Patricia noted, it's a tough topic to tackle, but Joe, you bloody well did it. Makes the heart reach out to all those that have suffered as such.

  31. this anecdotal poem affects me greatly; so, w/o going into a Tirade over the whole priest-pedophile thing, I shall reserve my commentary strictly to the piece itself.

    It's good, in that the piece leads me on, up to the point of the turn -- leading to suicide.
    w/the ''Head's up'' line, I began to think the molested victim was about to do the perpetrator in; but Alas! it was himself.
    good anecdotal poem. thanks.

  32. The depths of the pain you probe in this one is unspeakable, but you spoke it for all of those who, perhaps, keep it bottled up inside. This is a good example of how spontaneous, unedited writing can be so effective. I'm so sorry for those who have had to face such horrendous abuse of trust and power in their lives. I feel like these abusers hurt not only the victims, but all those who are a part of the church who were impeccable.

  33. An incredible write Joe ~ unedited feelings bared ~ how many must live with the pounding silence and gagged from the abuse suffered by those who should have protected and cared ~ so many feelings of hurt and gross betrayal ~ of position and trust ~ utterly powerful and incredibly brave and honest write ~ salute you ~ for accounting, wording, going 'there' and sharing so perhaps others may too have a voice ~ may they too have their accountability ~
    Hugs Lib

  34. I could hear your Catholic voice in this one

  35. Powerful piece, Joe. One of the good things about being writers/poets is we can bring these issues to the surface. The second step is for the church to admit that they know these offenses take place. Then maybe the pews won't be so empty.

  36. It saddens me, all these facts coming out about priests that have used their positions for abuse. Right in nearby city a story came out a couple of years ago. How hard on the children to carry that guilt through adulthood. I was raised Catholic in small VT town. Can never go back to viewing the church in the quite the same innocent way. Thankfully the priests I grew up with seemed to be decent, hoping they were what they seemed. You did an amazing job writing this in first-person. Thanks for sharing.

  37. Oh my... this was emotionally trying to read. The horror of such acts is beyond my comprehension yet I was cheering the child to go on as he was confronting the abuser. Wonderful work, Joe.