by Kristen McHenry
Shows up during lunch rush at the Deli Express.First Place WinnerThird Place Winner
Slips beside me into the booth, a chummy ghost
As I eat cheese toast and gulp acidic coffee.
It happens so fast I don't notice him at first.
He smiles at me, as soft as laundered flannel,
Then he's humming in my heart like a blue lotus.
And just like that, it's done.
After the years of sour cramping in my throat,
The perpetual grit of rage that dimmed my sight,
A lit novena for each tendril of revenge:
God, lead me to forgiveness; please God lead me out
Of this black canyon that echoes only pain.
(But not today, not just yet, let me linger still).
Next, the neatly-typed, imaginary papers
Stating: “I forgive, I forgive” — those stern contracts
That somehow never took; non-binding, useless screeds
Thrown out of court for lack of a credible witness.
The fresh herbs and tinctures did nothing, either,
Though I longed to swallow forgiveness like a seed.
The fact is that in the end, it came on its own
With such ease, and through the tiniest of spaces.
I knew then the difference between choice and grace.
Outside, the rain continued on, and the people.
Inside, my coffee tasted just as bitter,
But I drank it in a different universe.