THE LINES AT ST. PAUL’S
by James Valvis
The nuns lined up the boys on one side, girls on the other.
We lined up knowing God loved us and Jesus was God.
We lined up understanding our place in heaven was arranged.
We lined up as boys and girls, but that was all that separated us.
Not once did we line up according to appearance or wealth,
or according to size of our breasts, or the strength of our biceps.
We didn’t line up as Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites.
Never lined up as fats and thins, prudes and sluts, gays and straights,
We didn’t line up as believers and doubters, saints and sinners.
To the nuns, we were all sinners who were trying to become saints.
To ourselves, we were all saints who would like to one day be sinners.
They lined us up and marched us to recess, lunch, the bathrooms.
They lined us up, all the girls pretty and smiling,
all the boys tough and smirking, like it would always be that way,
like those perfect rows would go on forever and ever and ever,
like if you simply followed the person in front of you
you would get to the place you needed to be,
and for a while you dreamed it possible,
maybe you all did, even the nuns,
until one kid stopped suddenly
and the pushing started.
(“The Lines at St. Paul’s” was originally published in First Class and is reprinted here today with permission from the poet.)
James Valvis lives in Washington State with his wife, daughter, and cat. His poems or stories have recently appeared in Arts & Letters, Atlanta Review, Crab Creek Review, Hanging Loose, LA Review, Nimrod, Pank, Rattle, River Styx, and are forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, Fractured West, Kill Author, Midwest Quarterly, Night Train, New York Quarterly, Pinyon, Sierra Nevada Review, Verdad, and many others. In addition to being a multiple Pushcart and Best of the Web nominee, a novelette was a storySouth Million Writers Notable Story. A poetry collection, How to Say Goodbye, is due in 2011.
Editor’s Note: Ah, the allure of order! The ease of being just another member of the flock! When we have no choice, when we are told what to do, life is simpler. But the easy road is more often than not the wrong road. Today’s piece functions as a philosophical commentary as much as a poem. With brilliant moments like “To the nuns, we were all sinners who were trying to become saints. / To ourselves, we were all saints who would like to one day be sinners,” and “like if you simply followed the person in front of you / you would get to the place you needed to be,” this poem contemplates the human condition in modern times, within the framework built around us by religion and society. A huge topic deftly considered in a few swift clean lines.