On March 22nd, 2018


Playing church, we baptized the kittens
in the rain barrels, over and over.
They never wanted plumbing,
my grandparents, even after their children
were grown and able to pay for it.
Six gallons of water per flush,
my grandma would say, and shudder,
and shake her head. Boiling rain water
on the stove for our bath in the metal tub,
she carried the kettle out behind the smokehouse,
making ten trips or more. Watching the steam rise
from the gushing spout, we wanted Mr. Bubble
but instead we got Pine-sol added to our bath water.
No bubbles, but a hypnotic, medicinal scent
that soothed our bites and lacerations
and sent us to bed warm and fresh
as Easter, the skin beneath our pajamas
smooth as the plastic eggs opened in April
by greedy hands searching for a sweet
or a fifty-cent piece. I hoarded mine,
but she spent hers as soon as she could.

That summer, when my sister returned from
Girl Scout camp, Grandma said we were too big
to sleep together anymore, and I was moved
from the bed to a cot on the porch. I hated
my sister then, hearing her hum the gospel songs
we sang to the kittens, in that big feather
bed all by herself while I tossed and turned
on the thin, metal-boned cot. Certain
a tarantula would jump up onto me, I
remembered all the creatures we had found
and tormented during the day. Their sounds
would haunt me at night, the itching returned,
and I lay awake for what seemed like hours,
Power in the Blood a far-sounding echo beneath
bullfrogs and night birds and something I
couldn’t identify buzzing near my ear, growing
larger and more menacing through the night,
while my sister, I imagined, couldn’t be
bitten, couldn’t be touched, was not afraid,
and something was swimming in the rain
barrel beside my cot, and there was no moon.

Published in Switchgrass, 2017

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