Thursday, March 24, 2011

Uniforms

[image from google]

for Poets United Thursday Think Tank prompt: Uniforms

Their black and white robes
inspired fear, and awe.
Stern faces
peered out
from wimpled headdresses,
fierce, scolding.
Our consciences
boiled hotly
with our millions
of real or perceived
transgressions.
Even thoughts were
"occasions of sin".
Even dreams.
Especially our dreams.

"Your bodies are good,"
one lectured us,
which made us feel
hotly ashamed
that we even had bodies,
too uncomfortable
to think about
in a room full
of adolescent
boys and girls.

We wore uniforms too.
Hated pleated ones
with no style.
When we knelt on the ground,
our skirts must cover our knees
or we were suspected
of being "fast".
When I grew taller,
I couldnt say

I had no money
to buy a new skirt
and could not ask
my mother.
We were poor,
a shameful secret,
to be kept from my friends,
though the four
small cold rooms
we lived in
likely was a clue.

Once the fierce
angry little nun
who taught us music
fell off her stool,
so vigorously
was she conducting
the choir.
There was one
collective
indrawn gasp
of horror.
It was as if
Jesus had fallen
off His cross.
We were so obedient,
so in awe,
we did not move,
did not break ranks.
Her eyes flashed fire
and moral outrage.

No one would
have dreamed
of tittering.
She got up,
straightened
her tilting wimple,
climbed back up
onto her stool and,
shakily,
we continued
with our song.

Once at midnight Mass,
one of the Knights of Columbus,
a short rotund bald little man
with a shiny face,
self-important
in his Knights outfit,
dashingly and theatrically,
with a flourish,
aimed his sword at its sheath, 
and missed;
he had to try again,
somewhat chastened,
while the shoulders
of  the other Knights
shook gently and
some hands went up
to cover their mouths.

We saw
what nuns wore
at night
when their habits
came off:
on the clothesline
hung white
full-length
voluminous nightgowns,
and caps for their
shorn fuzzy heads.
Just seeing them
made us
uncomfortable.
They seemed
not to have bodies.
And, if they did,
we couldnt bear
to think about it.

At Mass, they sat
in contemplative rows,
reverent, but distracted,
their eyes piercing us,
wriggling in the pews.
We were
utterly mortified
if one of them
had to click
her clicker
to admonish
one of us.
Hot lava pouring
over our heads
with shame.

The rulers they carried
in the classroom
were to be feared.
They hurt,
across our knuckles.
There was never
a sound in the classroom.
There was total discipline,
that never, ever
eased.

The young priest
who said early Mass
one winter, caught
a terrible cold
that turned to pneumonia.
He kept on saying
early Mass,
us waiting in the pews
while his thin body was
wracked with
spasms of
exhausted coughing,
me watching
his upturned
radiant face,
so prayerful,
so dedicated,
above his  robe
of green and gold.

A uniformed world
designed to remove
individuality,
squash it,
raise us up
as a faithful
homogeneous flock.

The minute we reached
the exit,
at graduation,
we fled that world
with Godspeed,
and not one clue
about life
in the real world.
Lambs to the slaughter,
but frisky and
feeling our
newfound freedom,
we kicked up our heels
and cavorted,
those few moments
when it was
still and truly
ours.

17 comments:

  1. What freedom you finally felt, even if transitory!
    I learned a bit about catholic school from this well-written piece, Sherry.

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  2. I enjoyed reading this, Sherry. What a school life. I don't think the children are ever the problem.

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  3. Oh Sherry, what memories you revive. I too went to Catholic school. What a great write.

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  4. Sherry - I was just about to say the same thing as Kim (great minds and all that...) Wow. Just. Wow.

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  5. Oh thank you for reading and commenting. One thing my life does not lack is fodder for memory writing:)Not enough time in the world to get it all down!

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  6. I so agree, well written, felt like I was a fly on the wall, observing the order, the habits of this life! Your memories are so vivid, I truly feel the burn of shame~ Great Job!

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  7. So fun to read all the memories here. You could make a little book of this. Could even make each stanza or story a separate poem. Nice writing.

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  8. Oh Sherry you discribe this era so well...so regimented and cold...luckily I only went 4 years to a school like this...then the rulers only showed up at Catechism in a church classroom freezing cold and forever remembered...bkm

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  9. “Once the fierce angry little nun who taught us music fell off her stool….there was one collective indrawn gasp of horror. It was as if Jesus had fallen off His cross.”

    This and many others went on to remind me, like for the others, about growing up a Catholic. We peer through the same lens.

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  10. These types are banned from the tired monk temple!

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  11. Oh my goodness! What horror for a child to feel such shame all of the time! You describe this so well.

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  12. I enjoyed your nun memories, Sherry. Though not Catholic, I have had some nun memories too. Actually good ones. An 80-something-year-old nun taught my daughters beginning violin. She was strict, but loving. Wore a habit. The girls learned. Sister N willed them too, and one did not disappoint Sr. N! I went to visit her when she lay dying in hospital bed, held her hand, thanked her, hoping she heard. Hundreds of violin students, past and present (including my daughters) played at her funeral. It was one of the most moving funerals I've ever seen. She was buried with her violin.

    I did always wonder what nuns wore under trheir habits. Thanks for clearing up the mystery.

    A wonderful reminiscence you will be glad to have written...

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  13. Though I've read about nuns and Catholic school, I've never sensed the absolute repression in those accounts that permeates your piece...how stupefying! No wonder your Wild Woman comes out to play so often now...she has a whole childhood to make up for!!

    I was so timid and repressed a child that they would have drummed all the spirit out of me. How wonderful that you had your writing to escape into...:)

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  14. I enjoyed reading your poem. It is a world apart. Mamma tells me about strict teachers she had and i think of all what's she's told me about them while reading your poem.
    During those times, everyone was repressed. I feel sorry for those poor nuns. Their duty was to propagate repressive society while being repressed themselves.
    It's hard to imagine all this in times like these but your poem gave me a hard hitting insight.

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  15. Sherry,
    You have more than captured the ideas of unifroms and those who wore them.
    I too had nuns as teachers during my education and my memories are not good. Fear was the overwhelming memory of those days of innocence.
    I liked the image of their 'long volouminous nightwear'!!!

    I'm not sure if you have ever heard of, or watched a film called The Magdalene Sisters.
    That is a film to 'put the fear of God into you', with regard to nuns in Ireland.
    All Good wishes, Eileen

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  16. This is great! My husband mentioned that he had a tough time in the "real world" after graduating from a catholic school. He felt he had been sheltered way too much. I had not thought of the nuns habits as uniforms but of course they are, just like the catholic uniforms of the students.

    http://judyidliketosay.blogspot.com/2010/12/there-came-day.html

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I so appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
Thank you so much. I will be over to see you soon!