From Marie Howe, What the Living Do ( W.W. Norton & Company)


"Buying the Baby"


In those days you could buy a pagan baby for five dollars,
the whole class saved up. And when you bought it
you could name it Joseph, Mary, or Theresa, the class took a vote. But on the day I brought in the five dollars
my grandmother had given me for my birthday something happened
- a fire drill? An assassination? And if it was announced
Marie Howe has, all by herself, bought a baby in India and gets to name it, it was overshadowed and forgotten.

And if I tried to picture my baby, the CARE package
carried to her hut and placed before her, as her sisters and brothers
that image dissolved into the long shining hall to the girls’ lavatory.
Even in my own room, waiting for Roy Orbison to sing "Only the Lonely"
so I could sleep, I couldn’t conjure that baby up. The five dollars I gave her would never reach her. I knew that:
because I wanted my class to think me good for giving it.
Spiritual Pride the nuns called it, a Sin of Intention,
sister to the Sin of Omission, which was
the price for what you hadn’t done but thought.

Sometimes I prayed so hard for God to materialize at the foot of my bed
it would start to happen;
then I’d beg it to stop, and it would.



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