“Though Your Sins Be Scarlet”

Listen to David Biespiel read this poem.

It didn’t start with the phenobarbitol or the reefer,
The ironweed or the magnetic force of a gentle woman.
It started with a voice saying return that I could not hear,
And the nineteen Amidahs did nothing for transgressions.
Scarletted-up—all those years—I fiddled and giggled
And got muscle-bound as a deaf dreamer, a striper,
A pressed-against pirate, got teary and ripe with the scuttled
Worry coming back again and again, and no winners
To speak of, no vintage TV to settle in with like sins
Of the zodiacal light or kissing cousins or crummy laws.
I haven’t been called a weak sister, and I don’t mean to, that’s plain.
But the rummy tumblers, the bloody knuckles, I’ll crawl
For them. I’ll crawl. And the cutting up and the swear words—
Such crimson no wool can wrap around. Look unto the lamp black
And see givers and campy gents and you’ll forgive anything hard.
I have. Remember? It was just after she left, burning the last wick.