A poem for Yom Kippur

How Divine is Forgiving?

by Marge Piercy

It’s a nice concept
but what’s under the sculptured draperies?
We forgive when we don’t really care
because what was done to us brought unexpected
harvest, as I always try to explain
to the peach trees as I prune them hard,
to the cats when I shove pills against
the Gothic vaults of their mouths

We forgive those who betrayed us
years later because memory has rotted
through like something left out in the weather
battered clean then littered dirty
in the rain, chewed by mice and beetles,
frozen and baked and stripped by the wind
til it is unrecognizable, corpse
or broken machine, something long useless.

We forgive those whom their own machinations
have sufficiently tangled, enshrouded,
the fly who bit us to draw blood and who
hangs now a gutted trophy in a spider’s
airy larder; more exactly, the friend
whose habit of lying has immobilized him
at last like a dog trapped in a cocoon
of fishing line and barbed hooks.

We forgive those we firmly love
because anger hurts, a coal that burns
and smolders still scorching the tissues
inside, blistering wherever it touches
so that we bury the hot clinkers in a mound
of caring, suffocate the sparks with promises,
drown them in tears, reconciling.

We forgive mostly not from strength
but through imperfections, for memory
wears transparent as a glass with the pattern
washed off, till we stare past what injured us,
We forgive because we too have done
the same to others easy as a mudslide;
or because anger is a fire that must be fed
and we are too tired to rise and haul a log.

From Available Light

2 Responses to “A poem for Yom Kippur”

  1. amy Says:

    well, sure. What kind of masochism is forgiveness when you’ve still got the shiv in your side? You do that for children, not other adults.

  2. momzom Says:

    I started out Yom Kippur thinking about forgiving others (particularly the family members who were grating on my fast-weary, caffeine withdrawn nerves). But what I found much more challenging, and what, at least in the Orthodox liturgy is more central, is being sorry, sorry to G-d for my own sins. I can spot the sins, flaws, shortcomings, failures, lapses, blindnesses in others a mile away. My own sins are harder to identify, which is perhaps why the liturgy (again Orthodox version, I don’t know what the other liturgies are like) keeps returning to a long list of them. A deeply felt “I’m sorry” particularly to an abstraction like G-d, who isn’t standing there demanding an apology so that domestic life can resume its flow, about something that someone else may not have really noticed (but surely sensed, surely found a coldness or an absence), about something that only I really know about, is much harder to me than an “I forgive.” I’m coming to realize that I am NOT one that’s more sinned against than sinning. It’s weirdly humbling and empowering.

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