“Holy Water” by Mi-Mi Monahan

Mi-Mi Monahan


Her mother makes her dinner every night.
We sit at the table and say grace

with hands pressed
like clenched thighs

and I pray they can’t tell my mother
doesn’t believe in god

and doesn’t cook. So I eat
all the peas off my plate while she complains

over the two bites she’s forced to take
for a piece of pie that her father made.

Her mother sits on the edge of the bed and smiles
before the hem of her nightgown glides across the room

to flick off the light. And I pretend
that I know what it feels like to sleep

in my own bed, to have my own room
and my own door on my own floor of a house.

Like I haven’t had to make myself small
enough to fit in a single bedroom apartment

with my mother
for most of my life.

Like my mother hasn’t joked
that my first bedroom was a closet.

Her father takes us to church and holds my hand
as the congregation sings. And I hum along

like I know the words, like I believe.
Like I was never taught

that sometimes fathers let go
and don’t come home.

After the beach, we race down her street
kicking up sand with our feet

eyes flickering and hearts tingling
down to our knees.

We make it to the outside shower
and let ourselves get close but blame it on the cold

She closes the door and peels off my bathing suit
from the wet silk of my skin. And I untie

her strings as the tips of our toes meet
in the heat of holy water

baptizing our 12-year-old bodies.
Washing away the sea between us

with the sticky of saliva
and the wet

of slippery hands pressed
between clenched thighs

motioning to god
to come here

and listen
to the gospel hum of girlhood

to place his ear
to our shower door

and taste the steam, sweet
as Eve’s peach.

After the shower
we dry ourselves off

and I thank Jesus,
we are not that different.

from Rattle #69, Fall 2020


Mi-Mi Monahan: “After my grandparents passed away, I was asked to walk through their house for the last time. I cracked open their front door like an old book and stuck my nose between the pages of stale air. Since that day, I started writing poems that smell like home. Every poem is a bookmark. I write poems to save my own place.”

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