“Call Me Father ” – A Poem By Anu Elizabeth Roche.

Call Me Father

TW: Child Sexual Abuse. Dedicated to hundreds of victims of abuse from pedophile priests, the world over.

 

He hasn’t stopped praying.

Not since the day his mother

found a pair of

bloodstained shorts in the wash.

 

The only one he’d

forgotten to burn

in his back yard.

 

Their ashes scattered

around the roots of a cherry tree

in a church courtyard.

He hasn’t stopped praying, this

little nine-year-old with glasses

clinging to his mother’s skirt, wondering why

she hated so much the feel

of his clammy hands on their

lily-white softness.

 

But he is alone now

He is praying.

 

All the way

to the confessional,

a suffering naked Jesus

hanging on a cross

right behind him.

 

(saying I know what it feels like to feel the wind on your bare skin

and not like it. I know what it feels like to be told you asked for it

the moment they rip your clothes off you. I know

what violation

feels like)

 

Outside, the cherry tree

sheds teardrops the size of petals,

teardrops the colour of blood,

the teardrops it shed

the day he cried stop!

His hands haven’t stopped

shaking. His knees haven’t stopped

knocking against each other.

 

Clickity-clack everytime he passes that

cherry tree — still

he hasn’t stopped praying.

 

Last night he’d slept

and prayed, prayed and slept, sometimes

he did both at once.

 

By morning

his pillow was soaked in saltwater

and his bedsheets in urine.

 

He burned them too.

Father forgive me

for I have sinned.

 

I don’t know

what my sin is —

but I have sinned.

 

That’s what he said Father.

He said I made him sin.

He is grateful

for this wooden block

that stands between them.

 

He could be

no one. He could be anyone.

 

Anyone lucky enough

not to possess

this little quivering body

that would fight back

only in his head.

 

Anyone but him.

 

Freedom. Speech.

Blessed anonymity.

 

It pries open his eyes

and loosens his tongue.

 

Father nods at every second word.

The altar-boy’s room, he says,

The changing room.

Sometimes his bedroom. He never mentions

the cherry tree.

 

The biscuit tray empty a brown rim

round the insides of a teacup a painfully beautiful

sunny day outside but his clothes smell

of damp dungeons and cream robes stained off-white lying discarded

on the ice-cold church floor his fists curled his eyes

shut tight his spirit pretending to dance

beneath disco lights and following the waning scent of

cherry-blossom perfume a hundred miles away, his legs

hanging from a table in the corner of a

room dangling like a dead

limb

 

and the words he would

ask him to say. Shh.

Quietly,

you wouldn’t want

your Papa to hear.

 

And then.

 

When you orgasm,

call me Father.

He doesn’t search the dictionary

for the definition

of orgasm.

 

All he knows

the moment he hears it

is that the white-hot pain

stinging in his loins

now has a name.

He feels safe

saying this.

Father, he says,

my hands go clammy

every time

I hear that word.

 

Then don’t say it,

he says.

 

He smiles.

This priest

won’t be

like him.

His words are lava now

descending slow

spreading thick

a low rumble threatening

release.

 

He doesn’t stop speaking.

He can’t. All those

gold-tinted afternoons believing

that only if he kept his eyes

shut tight enough

didn’t engrave the outlines of that face

on his brain often enough,

didn’t fight back often enough —

for one precious lifetime,

this would not be real.

 

All those years.

Father is quiet.

 

When he speaks his voice

is a low rumble.

Five Our Fathers, ten Hail Marys.

Recite the Act of Contrition. If you don’t know it

learn it off

by heart.

Forgive.

 

Just as he is about to leave

Father tells him

to tell his Papa

to they’ll need him to drop by

next Sunday.

 

Tell him to drop you

at the church courtyard.

Close to the cherry tree.

He freezes.

He doesn’t recite

anything that day.

No Our Fathers.

No Hail Marys.

Doesn’t learn

the Act of Contrition.

Doesn’t tell

Papa.

 

Never

stops

praying.

Father sees him next

on Sunday, with

a naked Jesus groaning

right behind them.

 

(Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachtani!)

 

My God

My God

Why hast thou forsaken me.

Father closes the door.

The boy

stops praying.