Purgatory

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Purgatory

We sat in the back seat arguing
about mortal sin, seams
of steaming upholstery creasing
backs of knees, nice
dresses, car an oven
waiting for Celeste’s
mom stopped to get something first
at the BX.

Even Celeste’s freckles haughty–being Catholic,
she felt she knew so much more
about such things–the classification
of sin–laughing in a funeral parlor one, but way worse
dying without
first communion.

But she was only two
and a half.

She shrugged shoulders boney
as chicken wings, confident
of her stuff–her whole family
somehow scrawny, seven kids and dad a pilot,
Vietnam.

The actual place smelled so thick–of dark
and wax, flowers that came
from a shop (refrigeration and
pollen stilled
by spray)– that I feared that I
might sneeze, Celeste
laugh, and then me too, both damned

forever– until I saw her–Dolly–Dorothy–
as molded as her nickname petaled
in satin white, lips pinked
into a rose bud like the nips
of the smallest bouquet by her head–a card that looked
like embroidery on
a bib–“Grampy”–in looping letters.

Celeste’s mom’s plank-back shook–a loose board
stepped on hard, as Mrs. Kerner, Dolly’s mother, appeared, her face
shining as if washed with water from a frozen
bucket, Celeste and I carefully not looking
at each other–it wasn’t that
we would laugh, but the idea
that our throated chests
could move at all, our eyes, our unbound
suntanned legs, felt
like a sin in that room, surely
mortal.

*******************************

The above is a draft poem for dVerse Poets Pub’s Poetics prompt by the incomparable Brian Miller to use more detail in making a scene.  Still away from home but have my computer at last (have been relying on mobile devices, which are fantastic in many ways, but not like a computer.)  

Sad, as we all are.  I’ve tried to stay away from TV coverage; unbearable. 

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14 Comments on “Purgatory”


  1. I enjoyed every word of this. Wonderfully done

  2. Mary Says:

    Wow, just wow. Your details have made this piece rich and have brought both yourself and Celeste to life in this piece. You have shared the sadness, the humor, just everything……. I can ‘see’ in your words a child’s perspective, and (ha) most of my friends were Catholic too!

  3. Sabio Lantz Says:

    Love the exploration of sin
    and this line: “shining as if washed with water from a frozen
    bucket,”

  4. brian miller Says:

    this is a really rich piece k…the boney chicken wing shoulders…very tangible description…the afraid to laugh for the damning makes me smile….that is natural though, we all find ourselves in different places in those moments…love the little gramps tag as well….

  5. janehewey Says:

    really great poem, k. I felt lucid then tense, almost holding my breath with “our throated chests” and completely relieved at the “our unbound suntanned legs” I thoroughly enjoyed your character details and found myself remembering I have been in that hot car, many times.

  6. Grace Says:

    Great character lines K ~ I specially like the frozen moment of the last stanza ~ My lines are stumped from the tragedy ~

  7. claudia Says:

    wonderful capture…the details…the scent..the conversation…i felt like i was right there…and of course…tried not to sneeze..


  8. There’s a rawness to this, emotionally, but also the simplicity of the childview, which tempers it–children have the intensest emotions, but like summer storms, they are forces not comprehended, as quick to pass as they are strong. The sense of this place, of so many foreign quantities,is as a place of sadness, but also of bafflement, the contextual just not really there. I think you did an excellent job of showing the detail that would be focused upon, and omitting the shadows each one holds that come with age. Glad you have your computer again, k–definitely a lost in space feeling without it, I think.

  9. Sherry Marr Says:

    This poem – and the story – is truly a wowzer. So well told and captured, the details, the emotions, the way young children feel about such events – “the throated chests”. Perfect.

  10. Luke Prater Says:

    wonderful exploration of sin, innocence and a thrilling childish daring to flaunt

  11. David King Says:

    A brilliant image.which had me putty in your hands. And there were more to follow in this totally enjoyable piece. It’s warm and the detail is enticing. If it were a novel it would be a page turner.


  12. magnificent picture freeze! Motions of a thousand waves beneath ! BEAUTIFUL ! Deborah


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