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
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.”