study for your church exam


it's 9:00 on a sunday morning

and instead of being home with my beloved Pop-Tarts and my homework that I wouldn't be doing anyway

I sit here in a church with cheery stained-glass windows depicting sad stories with the sunny, smiling faces of saints

and thousands of baby-blue flowers, cut from the ground they once breathed in, gathered into massacred bunches, and shoved into bright, happy pots and littered about the altar

and the grand centerpiece, hanging from the ceiling, an enormous statue of a broken, bleeding man with dead eyes and no pupils

with a face depicting a story I've heard a thousand times but never really understood


but today I decide I'd like to understand


so I sit in one of these long polished wooden pews with the back of an envelope and a golf pencil in my hands

and I listen, as if I'm in class again, just taking notes

but instead of answers

all I hear is the sniffling of old women into musty embroidered handkerchiefs

and the wailing of children who aren't smart enough yet to shut up and listen to Jesus

and the moist, heavy breathing of the man on the stage into a tiny microphone on his collar in the long silences that last after he's run out of things to crucify his congregation for


and I don't hear any of the answers to my questions like

what am I even doing here on this earth and

where is my money going after I toss it into these little golden dog bowls

and most importantly

who the hell is God and what gives him the right to create me just to make me feel like nothing more than a sack of filth waiting for hellfire to consume me

the heavy-breathing man with the microphone doesn't tell me how to love myself

in fact, he doesn't tell me how to feel loved in any way

he just tells me that I don't deserve love and I'm lucky that I get it at all


so instead of being joyful and spreading the good news of the Lord like he orders me to

I go home and bury myself under a quilt stitched together with tiny, heavy memories

I store all my sins in a bottle around my neck

and wait for a calendar date to spill them out onto the floor in front of a priest in a purple robe who doesn't even know my name

or otherwise I just flip the cork off the bottle and drink down the sin myself

stomach empty, fasting on nothing but the wine of my guilt

the wine the priest calls God's own blood, but I know, I know it came out of a bottle

and I don't see why if I just drank enough of that holy blood I wouldn't get drunk enough to be called a sinner


but these questions don't matter

because unlike a classroom or some kind of seminar

the priest doesn't pause at the end of his lecture and ask the audience if they have any questions

and even if I were to raise my hand

the congregation would probably assume I was just trying to reach up and touch the statue of the crucifix above me


and maybe I am

because maybe

if I could just get close enough to look into his eyes and see some semblance of a thought or a dream or even just a pupil

I would find the answers to all these noisy unattended questions rattling around in my ribcage


or at the very least

I would just learn to shut up,

to paint my eyes as stained-glass windows with watercolors made of dyed teardrops and false happiness

and to drink my wine until I'm drunk enough to forget the sins around my neck,

like a good Catholic would do


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