I. Sacrament

For my First Communion I received
a bible, its cover embossed with a gold
J in scripted ink; a rosary, pink
glass ready for my contrition;
and a scapular, an ugly word
for an ugly thing, brown cloth
patches connected by what looked
like a shoelace. I dangled it
over my palm. I examined its ends:
a Mary, maybe, and a man.
I didn’t understand. I tucked it into
the satin purse from which it had come
and left it there. The rosary, though,
I looped on my bedpost
and covered in prayers, my small
fingers working the promise
of the beads.

II. Scapular

It belongs on the shoulders,
a gentle yoke hidden beneath
the clothes, along the clavicle.
Catholics consider it
a Sacramental, something that
prepares a person for grace,
mostly from Mary. The internet
says that when Mary appeared
to St. Simon in a dream,
she draped a scapular
from her porcelain hand. She made
a promise: He who dies in this
will not suffer eternal fire.

I had always
had a thing for Mary. I just
related -- if anyone could understand
a kid knowing nothing, it was her -- so
in high school I took it and put it
in my car console, just in case, and there
my scapular witnessed my sins. I confess
that over its habitation I kissed
a girl, gave blowjobs, cried, smoked
cigarettes, drank too much, loved
a girl and two boys and maybe another.
I carried these shames in my bones.

III. Communion

It’s called the acromion
and for as long as I can remember
I have wanted to put that curve
of bone atop a woman’s
scapula in my mouth. That
round end of a shoulder begs
for a sign of devotion --
to skin pink and smooth as glass,
to skin brown and freckled by sun --
neither one the host but still
a magical charm
under my tongue.

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About the Author

Jan Edwards Hemming holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU and a BA in English from LSU. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Los Angeles Review of Books Blog and elsewhere, and her poems “Bird” and "Oven" were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She teaches creative writing in New Orleans, where she lives with her wife and two cats.