Shibboleth

Poem By James Mills

Conscript stain of ash
glowing bruise-black,
ingrained by broad-thumbed priest.
Head stamped passport
to a Catholic redoubt,
leaving no room for doubt
which foot I kick with.
In oily paste I almost taste
this tribal scar branding me,
handing me
for one more year a clear
notion of what I am.

Who I am seems unimportant
so long as I stay congregated.
Hourly the scab of ash encrusts,
sloughing from my skin the thin
sins I have acquired and I am
mired in penitence for what
I did - and failed to do.
It leaves the holy ghost
of a mark,
pulsing as it cools
and healing begins
on that boyhood brow fevered by
this hot assault
on skin too thin.
Too thin
to bear this scorching faith.

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Some remnant living in muscle memory
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I spent last night in my valley.
Green and peaceful, it is.
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A zillion miles of night
caress the little star.
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Out of what has gone before
We hang by threads of destiny;
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A slope of rising road
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Tethered to a stump of memory
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