atonement By Natalie Hampton


My sister thinks I’m a saint
and falls to her knees when I pass.

I remember what belief felt like:
pews and bowed heads and lips

peaked with desires. Church was a place.
I think it smelled like mildew or maybe

that was the bathrooms I hid in when
the sermons got too long. The summer

before second grade, I went to a church
camp. They played familiar songs on

banjos, the strings snapping halfway
through. We sung along and they

changed the lyrics away from sex and
drugs to praying and bibles. One of the

counselors was a high school student.
He liked to hold my hand between

activities. I wonder how he’s doing now.
I think his name was Alex. Or maybe John.


My mother thinks I’m a demon
and surrounds my room with salt.

She took three years of Spanish in
high school and retains nothing but

the curses. With her white accent, she
tells me to go to hell and I pretend

not to understand. At church camp, they
told me if I didn’t accept god into my

heart I was going down below. They said
my Jewish friends, my Muslim friends,

my Atheist friends would all have a place
there. I spit in their faces and they sent

me to the corner where I cried until they
felt bad. Next time, I’ll throw salt back at her.


My father thinks I’m an angel
and never dares to come close.

I’m made of light, in his mind,
delicate matter that burns at

the touch, and maybe that’s why
he stays away. He still writes

me letters on my birthday, and
every other December, I stay

at his new house with his new
mortal family: he doesn’t have

to be afraid of them. He can touch
them, hold them. My sister doesn’t

remember him, not his face or name,
and I don’t tell her either. We were the

only family at Church cleaved in two,
and I heard people whisper that

the bible condemns divorce. But that
union birthed an angel, so even

if temporary, I say we deserve a temporary
reprieve. Can we ask the saints for that?

First appeared in The Lumiere Review (June 2021)

By Natalie Hampton


Natalie Hampton is a rising junior at the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in the Creative Writing Department. She has been recognized at the National level of the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition and by the Harris County Department of Education, the Young Poets Network, the Pulitzer Center, and Ringling College of Art and Design. She serves as an editor at Polyphony Lit and Cathartic Literary Magazine. She has taken online workshops and classes with Iowa, Brown, Sewanee, and Ellipsis Writing.

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