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By Robyn Sykes
Winner of the Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival Poetry Prize, 2012
The church was packed like sandwiches, and boy, we got it straight:
if we don’t tell the truth then we won’t squeeze through heaven’s gate.
In fervent supplication I engraved it on my heart
and knelt to promise Jesus I was now his work of art.
I crossed my heart in sacred oath to die before I’d lie;
whatever the temptation, I would hoist my conscience high.
I polished up my halo and my harp, but down the street
Miss Brown was walking Buster, both immaculate and neat.
She gripped my fingers tightly, saying, “Rob dear, how are you?”
My promise was in danger but I bravely saw it through.
Instead of saying “Well, thank you,” I didn’t fudge a bit,
“I’m crook with flaming gastro and my sex-life’s up the … pit.
“I guzzled so much wine last night, I’m scared of what I’ll hear,
then compromised my health again with slivovitz and beer.”
She looked as if she’d slap me and said, “Drinking is a sin,”
then wiped her dainty fingers, flung the tissue in a bin.
My mother’s friend of 50 years, her dedicated chum,
then tottered off to gossip, to describe how I was scum.
I reassured my trembling self of treasures piling high,
where truth retains a value, in my mansion in the sky.
My mother’s rage was so intense it splattered like a blot.
“You didn’t have to detail all the orgies and the pot.”
Her judgements left temptation ringing loudly in my ear;
oh Satan, get behind me, for the truth I will not fear!
My buddy phoned an invitation asking me to tea.
“I’ve bought a little skirt,” she said, “now come in here and see.
I really want the truth, you know,” she smacked me with a kiss,
“I’m nervous of my bum… does it look big in stuff like this?”
She asked, so I informed her, and because she was my friend
I blurted the entire tale, not stopping till the end.
Not only did her bum look big, her muffin roll hung down,
her hair would suit a monkey and her make-up fit a clown.
Her eyes were icy glaciers, her words were sprays of mace;
she shoved me out the door before she slammed it in my face.
Our dinner was forgotten as our friendship fell in flames;
instead of seeking truth, she called me “pig” and other names.
I called the priest and begged a resolution for my plight –
“When truth will burn like hades you can bet there’ll be a fight.”
“You silly girl,” he spluttered. “Lies are white as well as black.
The white lies lead to heaven, it’s the black ones cause the flak.
“I’m colour blind!” I shouted. “How am I supposed to tell?
Do lies come like a rainbow, maybe tangerine as well?”
“The white ones,” he said patiently, “are told to save a friend
the pain of knowing truths they’d rather plasticise and bend.”
Then finally I understood; for purity to grow,
we simply have to judge how much our friends will want to know.
I tell you that’s not easy, for your friends will lie to you
and say they want the truth, but it will only cause a blue.
When someone asks you, “How are you?” say, “Well thanks, how are you?”
for most don’t give a fig about your health or point of view.
And if a lady questions the dimensions of her bum,
a lie will save your bacon; if you can’t lie, just play dumb.