Sunday, August 17, 2014

Unforgiven, 1817


"These were his last words; for soon after, he expired, and there remained a corpse, truly horrible and revolting to the sight. Consider, what must have been my feelings!" - Father Geronimo Boscana

You are one of the good neofitos. 
As a boy you learned Spanish and Latin,
knew your catechism,
never missed Mass,
always confessed.  You believe
what you are supposed
to believe: in sin, punishment,
Satan, the Padre’s lash
and the authority of the Church
over each inch of your Indian body. 
You are the perfect convert.

But a strange sickness
takes you, convulsions so fierce
three men can’t hold
you down on the bed. 
I come to you then,
with my holy water,
my oil, ready to receive
your final confession,
eager to save your soul.
And you refuse.  Your
mother and father beg,
mi'ijo, take the holy sacrament,
it will strengthen
you against the devil’s
enticements, help you
bear this suffering. 
Your friends, no slouches
at confession themselves,
whisper, it takes away
all your venial sins, even
your mortal sins if
you are truly sorry.  

To no avail - you scream
profanities, curse God,
the Church, all the rituals.
It is the fever talking, I tell
your parents, he is out
of his mind, insane
with pain.  My son,
I urge, will you not
confess your sins?
save your soul from the flames
of Hell?  Satan’s words
pour from your mouth:

I do not want to!  Having lived deceived,
I do not want to die deceived.  

I anoint your burning
forehead and hands with oil
made from olives you
had helped to pick and press,
but I can do no more. 
You weep with fury,
and then you die. 
We cannot know
the will of the Lord.  But

in my cold bed tonight,
I think of martyrs
and saints who would not
recant, though beaten,
savaged, burned alive.
How we admire
their conviction,
scourge ourselves
to emulate their faith.
I think of you, my
perfect convert, aflame
with mysterious fever. 
I wonder:
which one of us
is the true believer?

Deborah A. Miranda

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