The following poem comes from Gerry LaFemina’s forthcoming collection, The Story of Ash. His latest collection, Little Heretic, is available here.

Night of Atonement

My trespasses I’m well-acquainted with—
they sit at the bar & share among themselves
ribald stories, while neighbors I don’t recognize

walk in groups from synagogue
agog in their laughter. Forgiveness is theirs
this evening, & how I envy them,

just one more transgression for St. Pete’s ledger.
Here’s another: the young couple, he in his yarmulka,
she in white tights—

the way he looks at her as if
startled she’s beside him, that she laughs at his jokes:
I envy that, too. And another:

I’ve likely had too many
mojitos tonight because it’s summer’s end,
because I’m missing someone

I once believed I’d marry, how I hoarded
the silver pieces of her laughter,
wiped the slivers of each hurt away, &

studied the frequency at which her body shivered.
Everywhere, the faithful with their Torah,
their reluctant prophets, their joy.

When I still lived among the faithful the confessionals
were phone booth sized, as if I could call
seeking absolution for lust

even though I knew I’d sin again
gladly, willfully—those terrible months of
desire fulfilled, unfulfilled, what

does it matter? I’d rise from the pillows,
press my forehead against the window’s cool glass,
the lit tapers of stars wavering,

night traffic with its monotonous homilies.
I prayed for satisfaction, not forbearance
or resolve: what the young nun had,

she who each night closed St. Joseph’s Church &
each day prayed in the back pew
for parishioners, priest, & novitiates.

Despite her perpetual, dimpled smile, she wore
sadness like a wimple. Once, after a date
gone wrong, I left a bouquet beside her—

six fire-and-ice roses, baby’s breath.
It didn’t matter the petals were already
wilting, she thanked me & blessed me, &

I bore that gratitude like a memory of a kiss.