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a voice over the PA: “today is amnesty day”
all lost and found items returned for free, you don’t need
to pay the paltry fine for your irresponsibility or even make the trek to the back
of the office where god knows what’s been done on the
copiers and in the gym shorts you have to wear if you
well, lost yours.
with a hint of humour, all debts erased, all mistakes forgiven.
at lunchtime there’s a veritable buffet table
of things too insignificant to always remember but too important to forget forever:
sticky water bottles, tasting like melted plastic
hair ties and empty wallets and rings and dog-eared novels, tetanus to the touch
even the heavy ancient textbooks which aren’t even our own
(as the teachers say, similar to our souls,
they’re only on loan.)
there’s always a crowd poking through the piles, always a few happy reunions,
no charge.

when i was young i feared very little:
hell, and losing things.
i’m still careful with my belongings
even the unimportant pens
even the eraser that smudges
even the lint lining my pencil case.
inevitably whenever stationery gets misplaced, i grieve like a shepherd who lost his sheep.
needless to say, i never partook in amnesty day, because
i never lost anything other than my mind
or time
or the faith i had in tomorrow.
for five long years a group of us dwindled down like boys out on the front,
scared senseless, then shell-shocked, then slowly shedding sanity,
resigned to a life spent counting our losses; the difference was the general
lack of shrapnel, and that i had the pleasure of watching myself die.
sliding down a colour spectrum of black and white,
on one end there were my best friends, who played princess and pirates
drew horses and flowers and other pretty scenes ripped straight from pre-adolescent cartoons
all the way up to tenth grade, and probably still do.
and on the other extreme, the angst-ridden teens,
lining their eyes dark like raccoons
rebelling against their parents by pounding on bathroom stall walls
cutting themselves in class because they liked how the lacerations looked,
not because they needed assurance that they could feel.

there is no purgatory they said
limbo is a dance they said
your soul lives on after its death:
heaven is where you experience all you denied yourself on earth,
and hell is dante’s inferno with some suitable modifications, and depending on the century,
might either include Everyone Else, or the more interesting people. but interesting? who wants interesting?
who needs interesting if you tithe twenty-percent, give or take, no give always give,
render unto caesar, render unto god.
you’re better than good, they tell each other: you’re better than Them,
better than the tyrannical terrorists skulking around the middle east
better than the coy-eyed politician tearing apart the constitution.
in chapel on thursdays they never did have the heart to outright say everything you love
is going to burn in an elaborate renaissance-era allegory,
but the implication was there.
so if you love someone don’t let them suffer they said don’t wait till it’s too late
when they’re gone when they’re dead you need to save them now now now
quick save them from god’s closing door, save them from the metaphor.
or more importantly, save them for Jesus, or else all He endured was for
nothing.

on judgment day, my old friends, will you look straight ahead, eyes averted, indulgence in hand,
pity when you realise you know so many of the condemned.
my old teachers, will you anticipate validation for every split-second decision you ever made
about who was undoubtedly damned
when you render unto caesar what is his, when you render unto god at any cost, do you ever stop and think on what you’ve lost -
no don’t spout that testimony crap, you’ve never sacrificed more than a monthly income.
never been thrown to the lions.
never had to kill your son.
you were spectators, you did not tear apart with your teeth no you encouraged the beasts.
die you voted choose if they die or live it’s the only way there is no in between
so we must judge by their fight-
but you never had to build the coliseum at all.

(i didn’t understand until i had someone to lose:
does true love mean allowing the failures the wretched the sinners to suffer the consequences,
or does it mean rejecting the mere idea that you would
ever be forced to live without them, as dictated by some lines in leviticus?)
so you’ll forgive me, i hope, if i say that i’d be
more than delighted if while we’re standing in line,
amid the nervous chatter, the wailing, the premature gnashing, there’s a voice on the PA:
“today is amnesty day.”



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