Thrift Shop Confessional
Old carts squeak down re-sale aisles
"One of," "two of,"
Sometimes "three of" items
Tempting treasure-sifting shoppers,
Women seeking up-brand names at low-brand prices...
Our wives, followed by their husbands,
Acquiescent, but quiescently seeking
Seeking a thrift shop oasis.
A cast-off dining set beckons,
Sturdy enough, if a little battered,
To make us solemnly content to wait
Carted clothing trundling
Off to fitting rooms.
He shuffled up with a foolish grin.
"I think I'll join this convocation of
My wife is a shopper...
She'll close the place down."
I moved a chair and gave some space;
Strangers become brothers in this place.
Five minutes on,
I knew he was a vet:
Army, Vietnam Nam...
"I don't like to think about it,"
Cleared his throat,
"Never can forget."
I turned to look at him.
"A little girl came running,
With her hand behind her back.
She only stood this high," he said,
And showed me with his palm her height,
"They carried grenades that way...
All of 'em...couldn't tell which ones...
Sergeant told us, 'Don't ever check...just shoot.'"
The voice trailed off....
I sat sweating in a thrift store,
Captive of my own politeness,
Half a century,
Half a planet,
Transported in his words
into a soldier's Hell.
"So I shot...
Nothing else to do."
A total stranger staggering
under the weight of having
Murdered his Albatross....
Of having carried this thing,
Inside him all these years,
Of finding me,
The unsuspecting thrift shop guest
Who'd listen to his lonely tale,
Perhaps so he could earn some rest....
I, his unwitting Confessor,
Uncertain what to say,
Certain something must be said...
Certain nothing could be said...
Sat dumb, but understanding
The wisdom of confessional dividers,
The private comfort of two booths
Where prayerful exchanges
Intersperse uncertain silences,
Present in the overhanging need:
Demanding sorrowful returns,
Impending memories of sorrows...
And lonely trudgings home....
(Connections with Fr. Laurence's "Riddling confession finds but short shrift," in Romeo & Juliet, and Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner")