What I didn’t know before, a parable.

What I didn’t know before, a parable.

Seven hail Marys and five Our Fathers.

Contrition woven into the indications and contraindications,

the conditions of my youthful acts that were impossible

to read as true transgression—their numerous causes,

effects and countereffects didn’t sting the conscience.


I was shy and obedient, dutiful, so had to say something

in the darkened confessional now and then.

As required for an altar boy.


I remember the story of Joseph who deserted his father

and wore a frivolous coat.

The exodus from Egypt, why there?

I remember Jonah.  Did he strike a fire to see by

that spooked the whale?

Why the flood and its enduring mystery of precious cargo,

was there a bee’s nest tucked away in the rafters?

Do all fair questions have a pertinent answer?

Seven hail Marys and five Our Fathers.


From the altar I prayed for peace in Vietnam,

for the USSR to come to its senses, for family, grades.

I looked for a girl I had a crush on, but never acted.

I rang the bell and filled the gold chalice with water and wine,

helped at communion and said penance in a parish

that decades later became known for a maleficent priest.


Who would have known until Newsday broke the story—

worse, it happened during my tenure.

The priest in charge of the altar boys?

No. Never.

I had my suspicions.  I shall never forget the look of horror

on one boy’s face who never showed up again.


For years we simply thought the priest was transferred

for falling out with a senior who felt threatened

by a charismatic upstart driving a flashy two-door convertible

that only favorites rode home in.  I wasn’t one.


Years later parents asked if I wanted the transferred priest

to officiate my wedding.  No.

Why?  Because.  Didn’t feel right.

Then, we didn’t know, did we?

Seven hail Marys and five Our Fathers.


Why didn’t they ask an altar boy when he got caught?

What did they think it would engender from those gazed at intently,

while awkwardly being helped to don and straighten

a black and white cassock for mass.

Maybe truth?


When the story broke the then retired senior told us

he wanted the other to be kicked out of the priesthood

but was firmly rebuffed, told to keep his mouth shut.

That’s why he didn’t say anything.


Look at it this way, you spoke only when spoken to—

the usual way of children—and of weakness—

the befitting quality of sheep.

Seven hail Marys and five Our Fathers.


A great grandfather was a Jew who converted

to barely escape increasing antisemitism in Europe,

with his small family in ’29 or so.

When Hitler was crowned chancellor in ’33 the world tore apart—

so many drank his cool aid in country after country,

leading to war.  Roots ran deep.


He came to the U.S. but died in a PA steel mill—an accident—

ill-suited for manual labor—the only way to feed his family.

It became nearly impossible for others to enter,

not even to feed the jaws of industry and war,

so women pitched in.

Anyway, conversion made me eligible to serve as noted.


These days I’m like an exile from the inevitable past,

it’s what keeps you going, safe from your own.

Among the tricks you learn to be invisible,

the hidden part of becoming.

Over the years, a rabi said I was a Seeker.  Perhaps.


Though winged means beneath the shadow

of unattainable heaven.

The heart is born to be wounded, burdened by memory.

And thought is curved like the earth,

its reach is a mass subject to gravity.

The sun is enthroned, flying into the face

of the sun diminishes—consider Icarus.

Nor am I new to this or a new kind of agent.

Or child without voice or shadow.


Seven hail Marys and five our Fathers, altogether familiar.

Each time I’m thinking of a needle and thread piercing cloth,

tying the frayed fragments into a living tapestry.

So complicated yet simple, I know I don’t have answers.


It turns out everything’s fine, just fine, maybe the same or worse.

Thus, dreaming goes on, blind to the wings that see,

all the things that are really not acceptable.

Is this how to honor the resurrection?

Why we keep secrets so long?

I used to think truth was elemental, like air or water,

not an illusion.  Now I’m humbled, on my knees.


There are times when all the world shifts like sand

draining away.  This story makes me uncomfortable,

in such a way complicit.

The way life hurls, continuously, hellbent.

The way its whatever mess goes, the us, the hurt,

the shock that breaks.  The aftermath of baubles and trinkets

and eye candy strewn about like confetti.

The questions I learned to ask.


But what makes one seem happy, as if it were all another way?

The liminal star, in an ocean of stars.

The miracle that shatters the unwieldy secret

we’re really meant to be something.


Maybe I should have tried harder.

I’ve spent a lifetime searching for some elusive answer.

What I didn’t know before, and maybe for the first time, believe.

Doing the math, there is no shortcut home.

Seven hail Marys and five our Fathers.

Stephen Cipot

Garden City Park

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