Oriana Ivy

IN THE CAULDRON
 
You should be ashamed of yourself!
I heard again and again
from teachers, parents, strangers.
Now and then even a dinner guest
would thunder at me with the voice of God.
 
I can no longer remember why—
did I spill tea or stain my dress?
Did I break fine porcelain?
How could people who’d survived the Nazis
be so offended by a child?
 
I couldn’t answer that when I was nine,
when I imagined myself in hell
in the same cauldron with Hitler. That lethal
mustache and I, a sign around my neck:
She should be ashamed of herself.
 
At confession, the old, hard-of-hearing priest
demanded, "Louder!" when I counted off
"dirty thoughts" and other
deeds of darkness. Then he hissed:
You should be ashamed of yourself!
 
A young priest came, only once,
but once is enough when salvation
burns through the night like a comet.
He listened to my sins, my meticulous account
of the mild swear words that crossed my mind,
 
muffled a chuckle and said, “One Our Father,
One Hail Mary, and pray to God that all
children be as good as you are.”
His voice grew even softer as he blessed me:
“And will you also say a prayer for my soul?”

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