Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Poem by Patrick Lawrence O'Keeffe

The Shame

Donny Bellose
in oversize brown shoes
whose ill-fitting clothes
bore the tincture of rags
fetched me from the playground
back to the cafeteria to
First Graders’ lunch table supporting
a wet dish-cloth sheen
and a solitary half-cup of milk.
It wasn’t mine.

Sister Saint Ildephonse
arms crossed under regulation bib
gray-eyed me over the line in her glasses.
Shrouded wing slowly unfolded
extended an accusatory finger.
She pointed at the cup.
It wasn’t mine.

My insistence drew her approach
her upraised chin and two gray eyes
enlarged through close-up
half-moon sections of lenses.
Coarse fabric of her habit
inches from my face
threatened envelopment
in dark mystic pleats and female folds
perfumed in erasure dust
and confiscated gum.
It wasn’t mine.

Young man—refuse not your cup.
Hovering above—hands on hips—
words parsed through teeth and lips
pronounced the shame
a poor farm child
wasteful of the charity given him.
I grasped the vessel and closed my nose.
Accepted the bitter assault
forced to consume
lukewarm liquid leftover.
It wasn’t mine.

Poor farm child?
What would Sister know
of my family’s wealth?
Of Princess the black-face Jersey
whose abundant udders
morning and afternoon
in the musk of oats and summer silage
tendered pails of pure silk—
favored one kept back from the dairy herd
my father had been forced to sell.
Unable to prolong the struggle
constricted throat at long last opened
relieved my breath of its denial.
And so I smelled the ragged smell.

Patrick Lawrence O’Keeffe is a poet and freelance writer. Raised on a Pennsylvania dairy farm, he resides in Port Clinton, Ohio, with his wife Karen. Published materials include humorous Op-Ed essays in the South Bend (Indiana) Tribune, book reviews in the Morrow County (Ohio) Sentinel, poems in the Blue Lake Review and Erie Wire, and self-published works of poetry and fiction. When he is not machining crankshafts on the evening shift, he scribbles verse and stories in a red pocket notebook. A participant in the Firelands Writing Center, he reads his poems at Mr. Smith’s Coffee House in Sandusky, Ohio.

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