THE MATH OF GIFTS THAT ARE NOT WAGES
For all that we have left undone, father, forgive
is my favorite phrase to pray.
For all that we have done is too exact
but that a lack of doing damns, also, adequately
makes the mercy more amazing.
So I was happy on Assateague at midnight—
on black water—
or so the spirit seemed—
to be alone in my own liturgy
(for all that I have left undone…)
until I recalled the sins
I could have, along the way, enjoyed
and I wanted that pleasure, in the end,
that I denied myself,
to count among the all I’ve left undone—
to even things, so to speak, out.
You walked also with me with your
shoes on and neck bent
and said nothing.
The moon was, that night,
slopping her mouth-water
across the face of the sea
and that’s not the way
to love but the sea kept nodding patiently.
So my God receives me
and not always, I say
a little sadly, but when the waxing
surface of your face makes
your feelings clear
a love leans forth in me
in which no behavior is saved.
Then I don’t know my own head
from the tethered boat.
I don’t know the straight road of sand
from your throat.
Heidi Lynn Nilsson’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, AGNI, and American Poet. Her first full-length collection, For the Fire from the Straw, is forthcoming from Barrow Street Press. She teaches life skills and literacy classes at a homeless shelter in Athens, Georgia where she lives with her husband and three daughters.