They came from outside the community
with eyes trained on me.
They were looking for what I was writing
amidst an ugly heartbreak
and disappearance from our Catholic community.
They had to know I was in a terrifying spiral.

So what of the separation of art from artist?
Thirty poems are not easy to write.
Fellow poets know this,
but maybe not the outside critic.

If you are back,
you (possibly plural)
will know who you are.

Last year, I wrote a poem
about a girl I met at a bar.
There were several voices in my ear
telling me write about this or that
for my next poem in June
when she snuck in with the sweet suggestion
to just write whatever I wanted.

The poet in me jumped at the thought
what if I wrote a love poem here on the spot?
I didn’t, but I let the idea morph through the night,
collecting life details and dreams,
a secret crush and the recognition
I was never going to be with this girl,
and that was the poem I wrote.

To the critic, had you read
beyond the title and first few lines,
it should have been clear it was a poem
about respecting another’s life decisions
(which you know I have struggled with)
and preemptively letting go of what would never be.
It was not, however, a poem reflective of me
trying to move on from an ugly break-up too fast,
so there was never any need to tell her that.

I apologize for singling you out,
but nobody’s actions exist
in isolation from the rest of the world.
Everybody was letting me down at the time
and there were other failures
from within the church community:
the kind of thing that makes it difficult
to trust my spiritual well-being
with anyone.

Last year, I wrote a poem
about a one-night stand.
I was talking to a friend who was breakinh apart
because he thought the girl really liked him,
going into the night with the wrong expectations.
He uttered the words we had sex once, so…
and his voice trailed off in regretful loss.

The poet in me jumped at the thought;
how easy it is for people to hurt
others so profoundly
even unintentionally.
I wrote about that,
but to make it more impactful,
I switched it to a first person perspective,
attempting a poem about conscientiousness
because I have been hurt in such ways.

To the critic, I understand
what a one-night stand looks like
in our Catholic circles,
but you must also remember
my life has been a journey you know so little about.
You have always known me to be a writer
and we make fiction all the time,
woven through our truths. 
I would hope you would ask the author
about what’s going on in his fiction
before you spark another rumor
further casting stigmas
on an already broken man.

By the way, didn’t Jesus say
if one of you has a problem with another
to take it to them first
before the church?
You would do well to know what you believe.

Also, fun fact, the girl and guy in this poem
are the same girl and crush in that other poem.
Funner fact, she eventually texted back.
Funnest fact, they’re married now.
Hell of a year.

I also wrote several poems
about the spiritual struggles
I was not only having, 
but that you were adding to.
I wrote a poem last year
about how nobody was listening,
how I was getting no support,
how I was spiraling.
Did you reach out about those poems
or did you just focus
on what you thought I was doing wrong?

Is this not something we as Christians say all the time;
to be wary of taking what the Bible says out of context?
To be careful not to only look only for what we want
instead of the truth it’s nestled in?
Look at what we have done to the world by acting
only what we think we know
without involving the God we believe in.
How we have hurt so many people by not taking the time
to really understand what Jesus was saying
about how to be a decent human being
practicing love and forgiveness
even if we don’t agree with the perceived sin?
Instead, we have let hate make mockery of the Gospels.
We’re not taken seriously.
If I mention God around certain people,
I lose my credibility.
I know my poetry is significantly different from the Bible,
but the core lesson about context is still shared.
People get hurt when we start cherry-picking the lines
and if our carelessness can do that to our own people,
how much more can we do damage the world?