Baptized at ten

given too soon a clean heart a

shiny new spirit

so much left of me to make filthy.

When I turned teenager

my mother tells me to wash it well not

to walk around in the world


Tells me drink it girl,

it tastes the same when it’s cold.

I’ve learned to clean things

more than once. Learned to cut the

grease with lemon and soap.

Wrung around my hands are many cloths a

single rag for a dozen tasks

forbade to throw it away until it was holey

everything used past capacity.

A pastor promised me

the protection of a God cloaked my

greased and braided head

with water from a private basin.

Grown now, and swishing in my hips

I compound all that is sweet into an anchor

discovering in the deep sea, there’s another sea

saltier than the first.

I convulse in the brine of my tradition loitering

among the shovel and skillet

devoted as an acolyte

offering the allegiance of my only two hands.

Laura Neal
Latest posts by Laura Neal (see all)