Sister Monica Tells Me She’s Leaving The Monastery
by BETH EDWARDS
    WINNER of the 2011 46er Prize
They all have their place.
They begin in the laundry and work their way up.
After 30 years, she’s the infirmary nun.
In the last months, she’s let her hair grow long,
concealed clothes in the barn,
mapped out a plan with her uncle.
They will carry her bags down back stairs
during Vespers and drive out of town.
She leaves this place to take care of a mother who needs her.
She waits for her latest knee surgery to heal,
she waits for Sister Benedicta to make her final vows.
I wonder how Mother Superior will react.
She’ll denounce her publicly and privately wish her well.
She’ll wish she could have been the friend to hear this.
I sit listening, called over while finishing dishes.
Why the secrecy I ask.
Mother believes I have a profession.
I look into the air through my hands,
knowing I would not exist if not for Sister Monica
and the years we made bread together in the bakery.
So many things arrive to carry us through life,
so many years she and I marched up and down the halls, carrying loaves and singing.
I turn toward the light in the window because it seems to be listening.
A life’s work ends in silence, grinds down to refusal and excommunication,
as if she were dead. She will not exist for her sisters now.
There is nothing worse in life than not existing.
I try to tell her what she means to me, and the rest of what I feel
is a sound that comes from my eyes.
In this clumsy, ordinary hour I realize I will never see her again.
Don’t lose your fight, she says as she moves away
toward a staircase in the cloister where I’m not allowed —
like a street in a beautiful district of town where I often hear laughter,
what sounds like children playing in the distance.
BETH EDWARDS lives in Boulder, Colorado, and has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works professionally as a writer and has taught English composition and creative writing. She is the current winner of the Milton Kessler Memorial Prize for poetry through Harpur Palate magazine in Binghamton, New York.