ATONEMENT FOR THE SELF
By Jasmine Griffin
I am exhausted, from creating a world.
A world that protects me from the world I know.
A world that tells me it’s okay to love who I love and to hate myself in equal measure.
One of splendor and shame, where everything that isn’t of the norm remains unspoken and so there is silence. Blissful and broken silence that gives no voice to the images in my head.
A world that shows me how I’m going to die (more than likely by my own hands) and one that shows me how I want to live (free and by my own rules).
A world of weakness where I speak softly for fear of being heard and of light where I shine so brightly it can almost reach the service through the mud of negativity and the nightmares of failure.
Of hope that has me on my hands and knees praying for the will to survive and depression that keeps me in bed for days and has my apartment so cluttered that I may not see the floor for weeks.
One that is ugly and thriving and mine.
I did not rest on the seventh day, though my eyes were heavy and my body was limp. I did not rest. There was too much to atone for.
I locked myself up in a closet to pray.
Sprinkled rice on the ground and knelt down on my knees.
Clasped my hands and bowed my head.
Murmured confessions softly as a lullaby all the things I dared not shout.
Ignored the serpent at my feet that whispered, “Even the most devout can be broken.” I knew that already. I was that. Shattered beyond repair.
I prayed on screams and in whispers. The prayers I needed to be heard much more than things long kept secret.
I prayed the rosary three times. Then once more for good measure. I’m not Catholic, just wanted to cover my bases. As I said before there was much to atone for.
I wore only white, hoping it when make me pure, though my skin was too dark for the world to believe it so.
Cursed the blood on my hands when it wouldn’t wash out.
Where had it come from?
The cuts on my wrist that had long since healed?
The scars that stripped my skin reawakening.
Had the wounds reopened when the feelings that caused them refused to go away?
I killed my true self and hid the body under the label that society had given me.
Buried it six feet under and then stomped it down two more feet for good measure.
It was better that way or so I was told.
Mustn’t stray from the expected.
Must be the Mammy, the daughter, so strong and unfeeling.
Must take the pain with my head held high. Be the mule of the world like all my other black sisters!
I don’t need no man but God! Don’t need no woman but Mary but not Magdalene. Never Magdalene (oh but her kisses are so sweet)!
Out, damned spot! Wash until the hands are red and raw and the thoughts go back to the shadows where they belong.
I am a virgin. But I am not Mary. Too dark for that. Not pious enough. The only things conceived in me, immaculate or otherwise are rage, depression and anxiety.
Can this darkness be my savior? Can I be baptized in screams that only reach my own ears without drowning? Can those worries that steal my sleep die for my sins?
There’s nothing virtuous here. Sorry to disappoint. I am no saint. I am my own maker and what monster have I created?
I whipped myself in penance, a lash for each time I had desired a man.
Five for each time I had desired another woman.
Six for each time I had spoken out of turn.
Nine for each time my eyes remained open when others would have them be closed. After a while I stopped counting.
I bled but I did not feel. Oh but I wanted to feel. Wouldn’t it be grand to know what feeling was, even if it was an ache so raw it tore me up for the inside. But as a black woman I am immune to pain. At least that’s what they tell me.
I am a strong black woman who don’t need no man. No man but God! No woman but Mary! Never Magdalene (no matter how soft her skin)! Hallelujah! Let the church say Amen!
As I lay to rest the world I had spent so much time creating, my prayers finally stopped. Had they been ignored? Or have they been answer? By me? By God?
My world is not dead or lost, just open. Bleeding out in spite of my best efforts. Leaking out into the real world.
When had I stopped being afraid? (I had not, not really).
My truth risen from the grave. (Still trying to surface that last two feet).
When had I been gifted the blessing of exploration? (Still in secret, always in shame).
The blood finally washed clean. (Hands rubbed raw but I finally feel the ache).
When will deliverance come?
Forgive me Father for I have sinned.
Am I wrong to want to be at rest?
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.
I am your child, and I am what you created.
Forgive me, Father. For I have sinned.
About the Author
Jasmine Griffin is an avid reader and emerging African American queer author. She is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing at Wilkes University. At present, she’s also writing on her first novel, Blackbird at a Crossroads, which incorporates African mythology, African American folktales and Southern Crossroads lore. She enjoys reading paranormal, fantasy, historical and speculative fiction. Her favorite authors are Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Neil Gaiman and Ursula K. LeGuin. A Cincinnati native, she resides in Amelia, Ohio with her feline familiars Honey and Oliver.