THE NUN'S TALE

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



A MODERN ADAPTATION OF THE PRIORESS'S TALE FROM CHAUCER'S CANTERBURY TALES

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THE INTRODUCTION TO THE NUN'S TALE

"Bravo!" the bartender cried. "Well done, I say!
I recognize them all! That's just the way
We carry on, we folk of venal sin,
All fully liable for the fix we're in!

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



"But Sister, now it's your turn next to tell
A tale for us, if that would please you well."
"Well it would," the nun said with good cheer.
And so began the tale that you shall hear.

THE NUN'S PROLOGUE

If you will just bear with me, I will pray
To God and Christ, and to the Virgin Mother
Before I start my tale. It is my way
To ask for Heaven's help, I know no other,
Though most of you, I realize, would not bother.
But I have little talent and less skill,
And so I must add faith and hope to will.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



O Lord, whose word across the Earth has spread,
And whose love encompasses us all,
The living and the still-awaiting dead
Who shall arise the moment that You call;
And Christ, Whose sacrifice reversed our fall:
Please help me tell this modern miracle
With feeling, grace, simplicity, and skill.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



And blessed queen, who loved your martyred child,
Yet knew the sacrifice for which He came,
Knew that on your soul Heaven had smiled,
Yet knew how sharp would be a mother's pain,
Help me, too, I pray, this tale sustain
Of a mother who would lose a son
Who'd save his killer through his martyrdom.

THE NUN'S TALE

In Chicago there lived a single mother
Who had one child, a boy named Lionel.
She had just one, she could not have another,
And so, perhaps, she loved him far too well
For both their good, as shortly I will tell.
She made a meager living caring for
The elderly, as poor as she was poor.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



She would not send her child to public school,
For the local one taught little and cared less,
Ruled by gangs, ubiquitous and cruel,
Who would for sure cause Lionel distress.
And so, with little, she had to do with less,
And sent him to a Catholic school, though she
Was not religious, nor wanted her child to be.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



But little Lionel soon fell in love
With the Virgin Mother, and prayed each day,
Looking up towards Heaven, where above
His ceiling, cracked and peeling, angels lay
Their heads upon her lap, or oft would play
Their harps and sing, full of love and joy
That touched the heart of this unearthly boy.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



Often he would sing a childish song
That he was taught in school, that went like this:
O Mary, Mary, Mother of God, whose Son
Shall save all who believe in Him for bliss,
Come to us, and all our sorrows kiss
Away, as once you did for God when He
Was still a child and sat upon your knee.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



He sang this song on his way to school
In his little sing-song childish way,
And also swinging when his mother Jewel
Would take him to the park to romp and play,
Until the toughs who to that park did stray
Could stand no more of it, and took offense
At words that spoke of love and innocence.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



They planned to silence him, but only when
His mother wasn't sitting right nearby.
They had to listen to him until then,
Sick to death of words that did not lie,
Though at the time, they could not tell you why.
Their hearts were hard in preparation for
A life of vicious crime and outright war.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



One day Jewel was sick and could not go
Downstairs when Lionel desired to play.
She felt bad for him, he wanted so
To be outside, and so she thought that day
She'd take a chance and let him have his way.
So down he went to his beloved swing
Where as he swung it was his joy to sing:

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



O Mary, Mary, Mother of God, whose Son
Shall save all who believe in Him for bliss ...

Yet now the toughs could see he was alone,
Which was a chance they did not want to miss,
And so surrounded him, and spoke like this:
"Shut up, you little bastard, or we'll kick
Your freaking ass! Your singing makes us sick!"

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



But little Lionel, now scared to death,
Never having had to face before
Such brutal talk, could scarcely take a breath,
But whimpered in a way that somehow bore
Resemblance to the song he sang no more.
"We warned you!" one boy said, whose name was Chris,
And smashed him in the temple with his fist.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



As Lionel fell off the swing, the boys
All crowded round him, making sure that none
Could see them kicking him, and made some noise
Like cracking jokes, so none could hear him moan
Until they stopped, and he lay like a stone.
"That'll teach you," Chris said as he spat
On him, "to sing a stupid song like that!"

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



Little Lionel, with sightless eyes,
Just stared up at them. Nor did his chest,
As they watched it, either fall or rise.
Chris dared touch him, for the final test,
Ear to heart, to put all doubt to rest.
"He's dead," he said. "The little bastard's dead."
And then, in anger, kicked him in the head.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



Chris carried him in the middle of a crowd
So none could see the nature of his load,
Urging them to joke and laugh out loud,
Taking care that none of Lionel showed
Until they got the body safely stowed
In a dumpster, where, throwing him in, he leaped
In himself to bury him down deep.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



When Chris climbed out, they heard a voice sing this:
O Mary, Mary, Mother of God, whose Son
Shall save all who believe in Him for bliss ...

It was Lionel, it could be none
Other than he who sang, the only one
Inside the dumpster, from where the faint voice came,
And so Chris sighed and jumped back in again.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



Digging down through garbage, he got to where
Lionel was buried, but the singing
Stopped, and all he saw beneath him there
Was a dead body. There was no point in bringing
It back out of the dumpster, or in swinging
Over the side himself, and so he stayed,
Hoping he'd hear nothing, but afraid;

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



And then, clearly, once again heard this:
O Mary, Mary, Mother of God, whose Son
Shall save all who believe in Him for bliss ...

Coming from the body, which alone
Could be the source of that uncanny song.
Amid the garbage, Chris got on his knees
And prayed, "O God! Dear God! Forgive me, please!"

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



And sweet forgiveness came to Chris's heart,
But with a price that he would gladly pay,
A love from which he could not bear to part,
That sang from little Lionel as he lay
Amid the garbage. Again Chris knelt to pray,
To Whom he did not know, but he knew this:
That somewhere beyond death lay life and bliss.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



Chris waited for Lionel to sing again in vain.
Instead of miracles, there came a shout,
A voice possessed, calling Lionel's name,
Desperately a woman crying out,
Lionel's mother, Chris had little doubt.
"Here!" Chris called. "He's here! Here in this bin!"
And Chris stood up, garbage all over him.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



Jewel turned to see a motley specter rise
Up from the dumpster, dripping bags and slime,
Motioning down as if to some lost prize,
A monster making do with pantomime
As though in horror at some ghastly crime.
And then she knew, and screamed a scream that tore
The sky in two, till she could scream no more.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



Years later, she finally visited Chris in jail
Where he was serving life without parole.
He was strong and healthy, she was frail;
His life was full of meaning, rich and whole,
While she was still in mourning, sick of soul.
"I cannot give him back to you," he said.
"But he's in Heaven. Don't think of him as dead."

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



"There is no Heaven!" she almost growled in pain.
"Only life here. And after that, just nothing.
You took from me all that I had. Refrain
From pep talk, please, or fairy tales, the puffing
Up of truth to salve your conscience. The thing
That is true is that you killed him! That fact
Is all there is. No talk can take that back!"

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



"I wish you could have heard his body sing!"
Chris said. "It was a miracle, no doubt
Of that. One that would my lost soul bring
To Christ and love and goodness. Hear me out!
My call for your forgiveness was not about
My need but yours. It came to me in prayer
That in your suffering, I should be there.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



"It is a cruel irony, I know,
That murdering your son was my salvation.
Can I thank God for it? The fatal blow
Gave life to me, a pure abomination
That brought about the grace of revelation.
I would share this with you, that you might hear
Your dead son sing to me of Mary dear."

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



"You brought me here to preach to me?" Jewel cried.
"To save my soul? Wasn't killing him enough?
I have to see you smug and satisfied,
Full of this pretense that lets you slough
Off guilt so easily? I'd like to stuff
You full of just one breath of what I feel,
So you might know one second that is real!"

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



Chris wept at this, and suddenly Jewel saw
The truth behind the miracle of grace,
Something passionate and ever raw
That lived untenanted by time and place.
"Please, please don't cry," she said, and wiped her face.
"Of course I forgive you." And then they wept together
For Lionel, for themselves, and for each other.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



Then Jewel went home, filled with grief and love,
Renewed by the sweet moment of her tears,
While Chris, chastened, prayed to God above,
Tormented by the salience of his fears.
"Was it real?" he asked. It had been years
Since the miracle that had saved his soul
And made his life harmonious and whole.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



No answer. So to Mary then he prayed:
"Dear Mother of God, did I really hear that song?
Or was the death of that boy just delayed,
And I have been deluded all along?"
No answer whether he was right or wrong,
As though a door had been slammed shut above,
And he was left with nothing but his love.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



He got up off his knees within his cell
And looked around him, where he'd spend his life,
Fit punishment for killing Lionel:
No home, no kids, no wandering, no wife;
No safety but his prowess with a knife;
No Heaven, faith, work, worship, guidance, goal;
Just love within the precincts of his soul.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



If that's the case, he thought, I answer this:
O Mary, Mary, Mother of God, whose Son
Shall save all who believe in Him for bliss ...

Embracing what I have and what I've done,
Forever free, forever not alone!
He knelt again to pray. We leave him there
In joy and silence, wholly rapt in prayer.

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