Mudlark Flash No. 96 (2015)

from The Witness
Poems by Kelly Fordon

These poems were written in response to the 10,000 pages of testimony against the Catholic Church gathered by the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which I first read on the Center for Constitutional Rights website.  KF

The Victim’s Testimony | The Witness #1
Confessional | The Witness #2 | Bump and Bite
Paperweight | Reckoning: St. Paul | Let’s Talk
The Witness #7 | From the Ancrene Wisse | Hush

The Victim’s Testimony

I’m stuck in this file cabinet.
Who wants to finger me?

My words are onion paper thin.
Easily crumpled, easily tossed.

In French class I say, 
“S'il vous plaît ne faites pas ça.”  

Shower me with holy water 
and I scream like Beelzebub.

The first robe is always white 
but the outer one changes 

like his performance. It was purple
that day to remind us of our sins.

As if I could forget.
As if God could. The light

above my box is always red,
which means stop, a word 

I use more than any other.

The Witness #1

The Witness has recurring dreams
of tidal waves. Waking to a 30-footer
crashing through the bedroom window. 
The Witness likes the sound of the player
piano in the living room; for hours it scrolls
through jittery jazz sets. Sometimes 
The Witness jumps on the bed. For short 
bursts, he forgets about the approaching
storm. The Witness loves the creaking 
stairs and the sound of family members 
flipping in the kitchen. The Witness 
has survived another night. If he had 
a super power, he would take on the witch 
doctor who roams the streets scattering
magic pellets. The Witness loves the phrase 
“to each his own.” In class, The Witness 
sings “Joy to the World” and Johnny conducts 
with his hands although there are no other 
performers in this pit. Eighth grade brings
sorrow, the lone robin on the tree branch 
outside the classroom window in February. 
Miss Fleming in her flat black shoes. Norman
Ringling in his wheelchair, his ever-present 
nasal drip, his silly jokes, the way he grabs 
hold of The Witness’s wrist to share his latest 
nonsense rhyme. The Witness still loves the feel 
of marble, he loves the incense, the God that 
materializes genie-like when the priest pours 
first the water and then the wine into his goblet. 
The Witness’s job is to replace the empty 
cruets. Years later his job is to squeeze his eyes 
shut until he can hear the dodge ball thudding 
against Eleanor, or Elizabeth screaming out! 
in Four Square, the way the woods glowed 
with lime green leaves in the early morning light 
and the house was sometimes suffused 
with the smell of strawberry cake, 
happy days, so short-lived.


I slipped in between the folds 
of the curtain and sat in the dark hot box 
examining my conscience and waiting 
for the screen to slide open and the keeper 
of the keys to materialize. When he did, 
his was not the face of a stocking-faced burglar, 
or a postman, or the creeper who used to circle 
my block in his white van, but it was not 
the face of God either. 
God would not have fingered a clump 
of pellets, while peppering me 
with allegations. He would not have said, 
“Are you sure that’s all you’ve done?” 

When I was little, I saw a supposed saint. 
She was the marquee attraction 
in the basement of a famous church. 
In her glass coffin, she lay with her hands 
pointing toward Heaven, rosary beads coiled 
around her waxy fingertips. It was chilly 
in that temperature-controlled room. 
According to the sign, she’d been lying 
unmolested for hundreds of years. 
Good for her.
One touch and I turned 
right to dust. 

The Witness #2

The Witness is just like you and me.
Most days he doesn’t feel like saying 
anything antagonistic. Most days 
he’s happy with toast and tea, a little
bit of television, a stroll, but every
now and then The Witness is struck 
down mid-jaunt.  Every now and then,
The Witness tumbles down the stairs.
The water in the shower comes out
scalding hot. The Witness’s hair 
falls out in clumps. The Witness 
can’t remember his name, he can’t 
even get out of bed. Shake it
off? There is nothing he would like
more. If you run into The Witness 
at a dinner party, he will not bring 
it up. He’ll listen to your suburban saga
politely. He’s been known to suck 
down a shot of vodka, a snort or two.  
In other words, he could be you.
If you had witnessed it. If you 
were on your merry way one day 
when you were very small and everyone 
around you was very very tall.
The Witness can not talk about this
like a normal person, which is why
they sometimes lock him up, 
they keep him under observation. 
Like a faucet that’s lost a clot, 
he can’t seem to make the images stop.

Bump and Bite

A shiver of sharks 
                        a boy raped by four priests like
                        snapping a locker room towel
into the prey
                        passing the mashed potatoes
to determine
                        Are you done yet?
whether it’s edible
and sometimes they
                        fruit on the counter
take a bite just to see
                        left out and forgotten
if it’s tasty.


In Church,
mental rigor mortis.
The day long and wintery.
Who is hiding underneath
those billowing robes?
The sermon lasts
a century. Nails
in my palms.
A boy in a serge jacket
fashions a paper airplane.
The tree’s skeletal digits
tap the stained glass.
God is not a gold chalice
or a small glass carafe
you upend.

Reckoning: St. Paul

In all the churches of the saints
women shall keep silent, subordinate.
It is shameful for a woman 
to speak in church or outside church
and if a man wears a gown 
of vibrant colors and holds 
a golden chalice aloft and God 
originates within him, then,
by all means, hand your child 
over to that man, don’t fret,
don’t picture him donning 
his white robe, cinching
his penitent’s belt. If your child
is lighting the candle of the Lord
and that man puts the candle out,
then the candle is out. 
Be subject to one another 
out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, be subject to your husbands. 
For the husband is the head 
of the wife, as Christ is the head 
of the church, his body.
Husbands, love your wives, 
just as Christ loved the church 
and the priest loved me while 
my mother covered her head, 
fiddled with her flower, 
tossed it like a bouquet,
to be cleansed by the word,
so that I might be presented 
without spot or wrinkle or any 
such thing. We are members 
of one body, defiled, demoralized, 
shame-filled. The mystery 
is a profound one, how you 
let it go on this long.

Let’s Talk

Let’s talk church
climate, let’s talk 
seminary formation, 
power relations.
The long-term effects 
of prolonged exposure. 
Sin and guilt. 
Let’s talk mortal sin.
The gravity 
of consequences,
The perceived 
the sacristy 
and its secrets,
crimes and 
canon law, 
of removal, 
refusal to report, 
civil dissonance,  
aiding and/or
The fear of scandal,
the culture of secrecy,
a parent’s 

The Witness #7

The Witness went back there.
Same two steps up to the altar,
same candles, same long wicks,
the space behind the altar,
the many grooves in the oak seats,
the way the light filtered in blue,
the rooms in the back 
where everyone lined up. 
The robes felt like sheets sliding
over the body, the rope had a ball
on the end, the people had their eyes closed 
singing about loss and redemption, 
services interminable,
the only place to find God 
was in the blank stares, 
the way the head
sometimes separates 
from the body,
how if you look carefully 
you will find that people 
are just floating heads 
transported by a trunk 
and appendages that soil easily.
But the head can leave the body; 
it’s been done: 
people with headphones, 
people staring into space, 
people with their heads down 
praying, chanting, 
missing everything—
where do they go? 
Where did The Witness go? 

From the Ancrene Wisse

My Dear Sisters: 
If any man longs
to see you, ask him 
what good may come 
of it, since I see 
many evils in it 
and no profit. 
If he is importunate, 
trust him the less. 
If anyone is so mad 
as to put his hand out 
towards the window curtain, 
shut your curtain right up. 
Likewise, as soon as anyone 
gets on to wicked talk 
that has to do with foul love, 
fasten the latch straight away, 
and do not answer him at all.


Nothing happened,
the fish suffer too,
the hook in the gill,
the yellow heart,
how did this happen?
The mind is not free,
it’s catapulting, 
the world 
is not listening,
it’s cold out. 
I have been alone 
in this reliquary 
Let me out.

Kelly Fordon is the author of two poetry chapbooks, On The Street Where We Live, which won the 2011 Standing Rock Chapbook Contest, and Tell Me When it Starts to Hurt, which was published by Kattywompus Press in May 2013. Her short story collection, Garden for the Blind, was published by Wayne State University Press in April 2015. Her website can be found at

These poems are part of a larger collection that will be published by Kattywompus Press in 2016. “The Victim’s Testimony” appeared in The New Poet, 2013, and “Confessional” was a finalist in the Midwest Writing Center National Poetry Contest and was published in Off Channel, 2011.

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