"I don’t want to be folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie." —Rainer Maria Rilke

How close did you come to being arrested?

I wrapped in tinfoil a lump of hashish the size of a ping-pong ball and placed it in my back pocket. The lump of hash in my back pocket slipped my mind until I approached customs at the border. To the right and left, tourists were emptying their pockets. I carried a maroon-fringed Greek-style bag, which I lay down on the metal table as nonchalantly as possible. I flirted in three languages–French, German, English: Oh please, will you stamp my passport? Then carefully, smilingly, backed away till the crowd folded in behind me.

What good is confession?

A brief airing, like prying open a ground-level window. I confess to stealing hair curlers and a pencil sharpener resembling a TV.

I confess to disgust I held in my heart. For Tom and Mark and Chris and Kenny. For disgust is the flip side of a crush.

Sharing a secret can be a form of boasting, or a wish to throw off a great weight. How does a priest bear so many secrets at once?

"What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak.... It was born in the moments when we accumulated silent things within us." —Gaston Bachelard        

Some people use confession as a means to go on sinning. If you fill a lie with a tincture of truth, it's easier to tell. When I lie, my listener looks away. When I tell the truth, my listener looks away.

"But this I know, or think I know, that idle people are often bored and bored people, unless they sleep a lot, are cruel." —Renata Adler


What is the greatest cruelty you’ve ever inflicted on another human being?

For three months, I served as “older sister” to an eleven-year-old named Kirsten, easing her passage into the school. We exchanged letters in advance of her arrival. I imagined straight blonde hair, blue-eyes, pale Nordic skin. But in fact, when Kirsten stepped off the bus, I saw an overweight loser, dressed in a man-size denim shirt and loose pants. Did I look Kirsten in the eye even once? No. Did I ignore her after showing her around and then talk her down to all my friends? Oh yes. Did Kirsten want to sit next to me and did I tell her no, I was saving that seat. Did I want to push her off a cliff, her social weight unbearable.

"It is no accident that boredom and cruelty are great preoccupations in our time. They flourish in a single region of the mind." —Renata Adler


What good is confession?

As soon as you’re finished, another secret rushes in to fill the gap.

Is there such a thing as a good secret?

During his hospitalization in Waldau sanatorium, Robert Walser bent over tiny squares of paper on which he scribbled something the staff assumed was secret code. It had to be pencil because the use of a pen caused severe cramping in Walser's right hand. Walser’s hand hated the pen but the pencil was an acceptable alternative. Walser named his new writing process “the pencil method.” The script filled the surfaces from edge to edge. The orderlies assumed Walser was writing a diary in secret code so no one would be able to peer over his shoulder and stumble upon his secrets. But this was no secret code. It was no diary either, for Walser never kept a diary. In fact, the many slips of paper contained stories written in miniature, not-so-terribly-secret handwriting, with curious abbreviations.

"The secrets we choose to betray lose power over us."—Louise Glück


What about your dream?

Picture a single-level hut called Gartenhaus, named for the rows of lettuces and onions that surround it. The yard dips slightly in the middle. This, I vaguely remember, is where the grave is.


She wore a nightgown, hem sloppy with mud. A bloodstain below her hips, but perhaps she was only menstruating. Why wasn’t she struggling? Next thing we knew, we were scrambling to cover her up. Did I touch her? Was I wearing gloves? Was watching a crime? Did someone touch me? With gloves? No one knows what I know. Or, the knowing ones, the murderers, have scattered east and west and dare not speak. I’ve hunted for them on Facebook, but they are not open to new friendships. There is a grave in my brain the size of her body. Visible during a cat scan, if I ever needed one. Then all bets are off.

Is that your secret?

There’s the story you tell, and the one that actually happened, clinging like a folded bat. What happened is what matters.

Keep quiet and no one will have to forgive you.


SARAH GORHAM is a poet and essayist, and most recently the author of Alpine Apprentice (2017) and Study in Perfect (2014), the latter selected by Bernard Cooper for the 2013 AWP Award in Creative Nonfiction. Both were published by University of Georgia Press. Gorham is also the author of four collections of poetry— Bad Daughter (2011), The Cure (2003), The Tension Zone (1996), and Don’t Go Back to Sleep (1989). Other honors include grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and three state arts councils. She is co-founder and editor-in-chief at Sarabande Books, an independent, nonprofit, literary publisher.