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Chelsea Wagenaar

Honorable Mention 2012 Utmost Christian Poetry Contest $100

About this Poet:
I am currently a first year PhD candidate at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX, where I study literature and creative writing. I received my bachelor's in 2011 from the University of Virginia. Besides writing, I love to be outside and go running, as well as cook, read and play the piano. My manuscript was a finalist for the Brittingham/Pollak poetry prize, and it is currently a finalist for the 2012 New Issues Poetry Prize. My poems have appeared most recently in Greensboro Review and Harpur Palate.

About this Poem:
This is the fifth in a five-poem series, though it might expand more. I got the idea from my mentor, Lisa Russ Spaar, who has a beautiful Penance series in her book, Blue Venus. The series was especially compelling to me to write, and challenged me greatly in my faith, to reflect on God's mercy for us, the fact that He requires no penance because of the work Jesus accomplished on the cross—and yet we often still feel the need to "punish" ourselves, to refuse grace simply because it can't be earned. So in the series, I delve into the heart of penance, and try to explore a number of situations and relationships where guilt can become a crippling issue.

Penance V

To live in the body is to die in it—
we emerge, slapped into this afterworld,
and already we are whittled down,
flecked, hour by hour, away.
Though perhaps this is a fate I’ve invented
because of how neatly it would explain everything?
Yesterday I took two photos of you—in one,
you bend over to rifle through an old box,
light quickening with the sinewy tremors
in your calves. In the other, you are wearing
just blue jeans, clean shirt pinned between chin
and chest as you fold it, quiet. Your shadow
looms large behind you. What I mean to say is
I am compelled to translate you into a space
I can return to. You do this, too—that thing
with your hands in the dark, not finding me
so much as making me. All touch is a recitation,
though the body so quickly forgets. Which is why
Thomas had to touch the wounds, new
and softly scarred, proof that the body was life
and death. His unbelief suddenly lucid, articulate.
Good morning, you say, though I know it is only
because there are no names for what you feel most.
Forgive me for how I don’t know you.

Copyright ©2012 Chelsea Wagenaar