May 1999

Robert Collins

Robert Collins Robert Collins has appeared in Cimarron Review, Connecticut Review, Southern Poetry Review and Prairie Schooner. His chapbooks include The Glass Blower (Pudding House) and Lives We Have Chosen (Poems & Plays), winner of the Tennessee Chapbook Award. He teaches at University of Alabama where he edits the Birming ham Poetry Review.
Last Confession     Click to hear this poem in RealAudio

Excused from the class for as long as it
will take to salvage my immortal soul,
I wait in line with scores of other students
to make what just might be my last confession,
the queue of shivering penitents winding out
the vestry's copper doors and down the street.
From 100,000 feet, the glossy U2 photos
clearly show atomic silos being built
as the President describes the growing crisis
on TV, preempting the prime-time line-up
of situation comedies and westerns in which
unruly Texans shoot it out at the OK Corral.
We're certain any moment shrieking missiles
will rain down from the heavens, leaving
us unshriven and consigned to endless fire
more terrible than any ICBM might bring.
Morning finds me back in line, reexamining
my conscience as the crisis deepens,
convinced all the wrongs I told the day before
couldn't possibly all I have committed
when a single mortal sin will do me in.
In my private reconnoitering I haven't counted
them correctly or exposed them where they lie,
poorly camouflaged, primed and ready to be
launched in swift retaliation at a moment's notice.
As the slat shoots back, I kneel in panic,
disguising my voice, telling the same sins over
and over, no matter how I stammer unable
to find the words perfect enough to save me.

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Robert Collins: Poetry
Copyright 1999 The Cortland Review Issue SevenThe Cortland Review