Pentecostal Sweethearts

Sin once,
so the shame was on you.

And the eggs were a bit runny that morning…

But it’s time for me to go now,
before the lightning starts to flicker.

When I was twelve,
I would sneak into my aunt’s attic
and try on all her old dresses.

How many people talk about drowning
themselves in a mirror like it’s quicksand?

Sin twice so the shame was on me.

Centuries ago, the ocean was a kenning.
Bodies meant nothing to you without their heads;
wax lips strung to a melting pulse.

Those lines were the longest we ever had to write,
and desperate, like gardens growing at a pubic rate.

Communion day, while you were being callously
fingered by a man who played the guitar…

Only I know your stories.

Only I can make these verses seem thin
like your faith towards the end.

Supplement a greedy hard-on with a voice that said,

“I want you to be happy.”

And as the sweat dripped off your bones,
just for comfort, you imagined yourself as a man.

Sin thrice, and the fourth time meant telling your mother.

Lord, for what we’ve done,
they’ll have our tongues.


John Leonard is a professor of composition and assistant editor of Twyckenham Notes, a poetry journal based out of South Bend, Indiana. He holds an M.A. in English from Indiana University. His previous works have appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Sheila-Na-Gig, Fearsome Critters: A Millennial Arts Journal, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and Burningword Literary Journal. His work is forthcoming in Mojave Heart Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, and PoeticDiversity.  He was the 2016 inaugural recipient of the Wolfson Poetry Award and 2018 recipient of the Josephine K. Piercy Memorial Award. He lives in Elkhart, Indiana with his wife, three cats, and two dogs.