By Mariana Rivera

We carry our sins on our chests,
and I’m transformed into some kind of saint
when friends confess to me on
the nights that made us feel at ease
or the days that pushed on their weight
making it too much too carry,
or when the drugs kick in.
One homeboy sits beside me every few weeks
with a new story resting on his tongue.
He fiddles with the bandanna that lives within his back pocket
as he tells me what tasks his carnal has given him now,
and what trouble he has found,
like when his fists stared into the face of another boy’s pocket knife.
Or, how since then those fists have become friends with tire irons, waiting to meet a less fortunate man’s shins.
This is when I notice the seemingly permanent glare on his face
that wasn’t there two years ago.
When I ask him why he has strayed so far,
he tightens his jaw before muttering,
“That’s life for a South Side Kid.”
In my newfound sainthood,
friends find redemption in my understanding
and they appease with every
day, week, month, year, old tear they allow to fall in front of me.
The men in my life cry the biggest, and heaviest tears
because learning to be vulnerable is difficult
but all we can do is open up
once the bottle between our ribs gets full,
so I take on the form of a priest.
I listen, and I tell them
that redemption is not unattainable,
that a better life is not unattainable,
our dreams are not unattainable!
And to have faith
in themselves, in their strength
and in each other when we take one another as makeshift angels
when we have no one else to guide us.
Two days before Christmas, another friend and I drove up the A,
with tears in our eyes and warmth in our hearts.
We stared at the city lights and wondered why it’s gotten so hard to be sober
yet still filled the car with clouds of our troubles.
He told me he missed his father,
his brother,
his life.
Everything he needed to say to them
evaporated with the smoke, but still rings in my ears.
We poured out our souls
and wished that the future came with headlights,
so we might have been able to avoid all of our wrong turns.
But I am always here,
and you will always be there
everytime we get lost.
I didn’t know that I could find a compass in the hand of a close friend
until I watched the boy who became my brother, take in everyone who believed we were destined for nowhere.
Within the lighthouse that was the small space between his four bedroom walls,
this brother of mine told us all his stories
and taught us all how good it felt to connect.
I left his lighthouse each day carrying the gospel he spread by accident;
that our salvation lives inside of us,
Closer and closer to heart.
See, I don’t remember the last time I went to church,
but I have never felt more holy than on long nights
and early mornings with the homies
when we discovered we were our own gods.
Our lives and our mistakes will never leave our fingers,
because there’s a great burden that comes with our freedom
when the line between right and wrong sometimes fades.
So, we write our own scriptures and try to walk within the light
but we’re still trying to figure out
where to go in the night.

I wrote ‘Sins’ as a reflection of the importance of vulnerability and having close relationships throughout hard times, especially for youth from marginalized backgrounds. When your identity is criminalized it’s easy to slip through the cracks, and a lot of people don’t understand that, but it takes a real toll on our spirit at times. It’s about trying to be good but being weighed down by the world you’re apart of and finding others that help you cope with this.