Poetry by Lynne Constantine: “Confiteor”

Lynne Constantine is on the faculty of the School of Art at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. An interdisciplinary artist and writer, she has, in other moments of her varied career, taught medieval English literature; headed two nonprofits; freelanced as a journalist, speechwriter, ghostwriter and book reviewer; co-authored a book on migraine; and co-founded a communications consulting firm.

I met Lynne earlier this month at the Ollom Art Festival in Northampton, where she gave a lecture on aesthetics that concluded with the wise and funny poem below. In her lecture, Lynne described the shift from classical aesthetics, with its idealized representations and universal theories of beauty, to modern aesthetics, which honors wabi-sabi, “the perfection of imperfection”. With the advent of photography and film, we no longer need art to establish a consensus on how things look or should look. Art can turn inward to express the artist’s psychological response to her environment, without having to hold up that response as the sole correct one.

This lecture reminded me of my own turn towards experience-based theology, and away from the arguments over the one “right” interpretation of doctrine. So it seemed fitting that Lynne ended with this creative reworking of her Catholic upbringing. Rituals and images remain stubbornly embedded in our subconscious despite our conscious rejection of the belief system where they originated. Perhaps this unresolved tension is one of the imperfections that our art must express, accepting that the rift between these parts of ourselves may never heal.

by Lynne Constantine

Confiteor deo omnipotenti
I am here to confess

I do not know how long it has been
Since my last confession
But I’m here now
And I’m hoping for absolution
For whatever can be absolved

I confess
that I am not the person I want to be

I confess
That I have made up statistics
In the heat of an argument
Which have turned out to be true
Because so much of this shit is predictable

I confess
To pretending not to understand
what the homeless vet in the street asks
   me for
and for that I am grievously sorry
and for the fact that he’s in the street I am
   grievously sorry
mea culpa

I confess
To making up sins when I went to confession
   as a teen:
“I laughed and talked in church six times,
I took the Lord’s name in vain two hundred
I made them up so I could get absolution for
   all the other sins
That I wasn’t going to be telling the priest,
   that old pervert.
For this one I’m not really sorry
But I probably need forgiveness anyway
For something
Mea culpa

Absolution is a beautiful concept
But I confess
That I am not very forgiving
Especially when forgiveness is not followed
By a sincere effort to amend your life…

…the Federal Reserve
…Fannie Mae
…banks too big to fail
Are you making a sincere effort to amend
   your lives
After screwing the entire world
And then getting paid?
Do they make a penance for that?

I confess
That as a child I cried for hours
when I found out
that people don’t really turn the other cheek
I am noisy when I am inconsolable
I may cry right now
Mea culpa

I confess
That I want to believe in hell
For racists
I confess that I would like to pick their

I confess
That I want to believe in heaven for
   the poor
And for my dogs

I confess that I hate the concept of
It’s a do-over for mean, petty people
Who should have turned the goddamn
   other cheek
And amended their lives
While it could have done somebody
   some good.
But that’s just me.
Mea culpa.

I confess that I am stubborn and proud.
I confess that I cry at stupid capitalist
   manipulative commercials.
Damn you Hallmark.
I confess that I can have a nasty mouth.
I confess that I am not as kind as people think
Nor as generous as I could be
Nor as ready to forgive
As I would like to be forgiven.

And yes, I would like to be forgiven.

For these and all the sins of my past life
And all the sins I will be committing
And repenting
And committing
And repenting
I ask absolution.
I promise to go forth and amend my life.

New Writing by Conway: “City Elegy III”

While my prison pen pal “Conway” waits for news on his petition for early release, he’s been dreaming of returning to work on those motorcycles and racecars he loves. It’s been almost a year since California repealed its harsh “three-strikes” sentencing law for nonviolent offenders, but my friend’s case is languishing due to the usual bureaucracy and the slow and inconsistent work of his public defenders. The prose-poem below comes from his ongoing series of odes to urban car culture.

Meanwhile, in prison reform news, the FCC finally capped the exorbitant phone rates that were preventing many prisoners from maintaining contact with their families on the outside. Such connections are crucial to keep them from re-offending. Donate to the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice at Nation Inside to thank them for their decade of work on this issue. (Don’t be put off by their unfinished website.)

City Elegy III
by “Conway”

No musical sound true as traffic, has moved these senses so strongly.

Lost songs echo endlessly in this ear’s memory.

Low rumble at idle, or burn-out then roar away.

How can one hand, or foot, hold back the temptation of acceleration, without testing all limits?

I have dared to invoke those hidden horsepowered reins just straining to be released.


What does anyone know. Anyone who has not conspired to call upon an unstrained throttle. Especially the song. A mechanical throat that’s been closed for too long sings. (A reborn derelict.)

Oh to behold the hollow night growling. Deep as an empty stomach. As another restored machine announces its hunger.

An ancient frame vibrates in anticipation, twists as it shakes off the crusted rust of ages. Then unleashes the force of factory-born flame harnessed free-wheelin’ thunders voice, as it bellows out loud a groundpounding — Move!


Momentum begins, as adrenaline purges each driver to quicken forward movement. Pushing gravity beyond simple attraction. Like: an ancient call into battle.

A charge on horseback towards the final clash of combat, or competition. When Hannibal’s men came tramplin’ in on elephants. To crush all those who dared to oppose.

But, even those beasts proved their flesh, to be almost as weak as man.

So, man made machines, cherished steeds became formed from metal. Each iron horse or motorized chariot was forged of stronger stranger magic.

One machine can release the sound of a thousand horses, hooves pounding at full charge.

Or, cruise by slow with the rhythmic thump of drumbeats parading by, like armored knights in their glory, celebrating a victorious return.


This is what I imagine; This is what I hear.

During another power-filled night of hot rods and motorcycles.

The music of oil pans dragging down hard streets and avenues.


I salute all those passengers, who have lost their lives, in the ultimate pursuit of velocity. Those who have sacrificed their flesh to a crush of twisted mangled metal.

I do not count your sacrifice in vain. You! Who knew the danger and felt the pure rush of living unstrained.

You, who attained the last great flash of life without regret.

You, whose headlights form a constellation of stars, up above the Earth and everywhere else.


I cannot see your vehicle, you’re now too far to recognize.

But your light shines down, like the traffic I still hear.


I wonder; Are you still racing up there? Is this the sound the Cosmos creates. Is that just one huge Avenue of cars, trucks and motorcycles?

Are all those demolished vehicles polished and rollin’ again — Rolling into view, down the Avenue. Cruising with the Gods…


Celebrate Poetry and Dance at Ollom Art Festival Aug. 9-10 in Northampton

This weekend in Northampton, I’m hosting a literary reading as part of the Ollom Art Festival, an interdisciplinary event on the theme of Body, Mind & Heart. Please join us!

Choreographer John Ollom and Ollom Movement Art celebrate the release of his new book, Internal Landscapes, with the Ollom Art Festival on August 9-10 in Northampton, MA. This multimedia event includes the premiere of his show “Prisoner of My Projection” at the Academy of Music Theatre, short films, visual and performance art installations, and a literary reading hosted by Winning Writers.

Come to the Neilson Library Browsing Room at Smith College at 4 PM on August 10 for an hour of poetry and prose by Jendi Reiter, Diana Holdsworth, Ellen LaFleche, Lesléa Newman, Charlie Bondhus, Robert F. Gross, and an excerpt from Internal Landscapes. Proceeds from the festival benefit Diabetes Education. Purchase tickets from the Academy of Music website.

John has been a great influence on my creative process. Inspired by Jungian depth psychology and ancient myths, his work centers on finding one’s inner truth and overcoming shame.

For a glimpse of his teaching style and Internal Landscapes, his original method of “archetypal movement that leads to art creation”, watch this 5-minute video by Emma McCagg, whose work will also be on display at the festival.