I went to see Preacher on Saturday and he told me
to go to hell
with the rest of the yellowbellies.
Walked to the park with the sun on my face.
I played tag with the other children,
who were just getting old enough
to understand the power of color.
Every time we passed over a wet spot, the water would
soak into my shoes.
When my feet got cold I ran home to mother,
she kept the house warm, always.
Told me to wash the filth off my legs,
ironed my white church dress, kissed my cheek.
On Sunday we went to church
Preacher was in his white robes,
his pale, knobby hands raised to God as he
cried, wept endlessly,
prayed for our souls.
He said we had all been saved,
looked straight at me.
I could only think how strange
my black hair and narrow eyes must have looked
under God’s careful scrutiny.
Next Sunday there was a baptism.
I knelt in the water and let Preacher
clasp his hands around my neck and push me under.
For a few moments I saw the world like He must have seen it
washed out, everything a murky blue,
watery and fluid, but even better
me, my movements magnified
in the thick undercurrent of the river.
A small head underwater
I watched as the rushed flow stretched to
That quiet Sunday afternoon
I was looking for mother
and I opened a small, dusty room in the old church.
I found Preacher still in his white robes.
The way his hands were thrown up,
I almost thought he was praying.
Mother was next to him, her beautiful
dress lying on floor, at my feet.
Preacher saw me, pushed mother off as easily as
cleaning the filth from his legs.
My mother was bared open, naked, cold.
My legs were still wet from the baptism
but I let her come to me so I could throw
my too small, too skinny arms around her.
That day, in the slow cooling dust of evening,
I wondered what God had to say about
A white man and a yellowbellied woman,
A preacher and a housewife,
A woman finding warmth in the arms
of a girl.