Evie Shockley

(Nashville / Tennessee / United States)

Where is it Clean


when your mother can rise from her place
on the pew during the early service,

early enough that the sun barely fills the sky
with its weak straw, but row after row

in the auditorium is flush with folks who want
to be home before the football game gets underway

or hate the slower pace the later service takes
but still got to get their god on

before starting a new week: when she can rise
and tip down the aisle, three-inch heels

pointing a warning at hell through the plush
mauve carpet, smile and nod at preacher,

who is sitting on the pulpit's little throne
with his bible beneath his palm, a man thick-chested

and stout-bellied with moral authority, whose face
gleams with crushing benevolent power:

when she can give him a pleasant nod,
and circle around behind the microphone standing

like a thin silver trophy between the heavenly
floral arrangements, give a firm tug

to the hem of her suit jacket, and lean over
the dimpled nob, the ribbons encircling the crown

of her broad-brimmed hat quivering with each
breath, the crisp white paper in her hands

held out at arm's length from her customary squint,
her eyes scooting back and forth,

between this document and the village of worshipers
fanning themselves and waiting on her voice:

when she can stand there and coo, good morning,
praise the lord and introduce her reading

as a poem by my daughter, a quick look
at your beaming father, then take your words

between her lightly pinked lips and raise each one
to the light, before god and these witnesses,

enunciating like she learned to recite from the fourth-
grade primer in her schoolhouse's single room,

sending sound through the vowels
like a bell: when she can do this, can rise and walk,

and smile and read and have the church say amen -
then you can safely declare: it is clean.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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