Sheela Free

Casual Prayer

Thwack thwack went Sr. Juanita’s cane
across my pre pubescent knuckles,
thwang thwang jangled the notes
C minor C major-
the black keys resembling the tartar
between her terrifying teeth,
the white ones her jagged canines
“Focus focus”
her passion cried.

Thwack thwack
went Sr. Juanita’s cane
across my hungry hands
tearing the dosa in the hushed lunchroom.
her eyebrows joined furry in a single line
just like the sautéed cilantro strings
caught in my throat.
“Manners manners”
her passion cried.
“Use the knife and fork,
Eat on time, eat on time.”
Tick tock
to her flock.

Thwack thwack went Sr. Juanita’s cane
across my humble hurting hands
Telugu sputtering, foaming
at the corners of my native lips
in the raucous break room.
(Like her many brown starving converted orphans
tucked away behind the school
recoiling from the zeal glinting in her eyes)
“English only, English only,
at Saint Joseph and Mary’s”
her passion cried
her thin lips sealed with fury.

Noonday sun
tropical heatburst
humble hands locked in prayer
for over an hour.
knees bent with transgression
in the chapel pews
begging for mercy
from the day’s errant ways
Sr. Juanita watching like a hawk.

Evening came in a rain of tears
on the big yellow bully bus
piano book tucked away
behind the shame for all to see
jeering, mocking,
“Sr. Juanita’s pet fool, Sr. Juanita’s pet fool.”

Night came in the folds of home
at last.
Knees on the ground
once again,
“Dear Daddy
Who Art in Heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those that trespass against us
And deliver us from all harm, evil, and temptation
For thine is the kindness, compassion, and joy
Here on earth as it is in Heaven
Dear Saraswati, Goddess of Education
And all things good, help me please
Om Shantih Om.”
Casual prayer of a 6 year old
stiff with terror.

Morning came with soft mercy,
Grandpa (dead daddy’s dad) softy urging
“We’re Hindu and can pray to Christ too
you know.”
Tell that to Sr. Juanita.
The tears gushed thick and troubled
misery spilled out slowly, then hurriedly
out of silent sealed lips.

Recess came with force.
ethereal in his blinding white muslin dhoti kurta
his forceful turban balanced by the weight of his judgeship
gently reminds Mother Superior
that God hurts not a fly.

At night, the casual prayer continues
as the piano plays in the grieving heart.

One thought on “Sheela Free

  1. Powerful imagery, especially in the first two stanzas. Can picture the young child’s perceived tormentor and how she must have looked to the speaker in her mind’s eye.

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