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.

Confiteor
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
   times.”
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…

…Congress
…the Federal Reserve
…AIG
…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
   punishment

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

I confess that I hate the concept of
   purgatory
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.
Amen.

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