On the way to church
my mother took a Kleenex
and scrubbed me with her spit.
God knows what mysteries
lurked inside her lipsticked mouth
But even the woody scent of varnish
on the chairs at Sunday School
never lingered half as long.
The sound of hymns and half-tuned
pianos, the upright and the eight-year-old
wedged into God’s corner classroom.
Dizzied stanzas and standing up to sing
drained the blood right out of me.
The Baptist felons who pled out
and took the deal—salvation, saltine
crackers and orange Hi-C—shared a cell
with Jesus for an hour. We did our time
and waited for release. Poor Jesus
was not so lucky
The waters of baptism
and all the hallelujahs of parolees
were no match for the preacher in his
waders, always eager to reel us in. No nets
for these disciples. In this church it was
strictly single file. I must have been a fish
too small to keep and clean. My sins were never
washed away and finally yielded not to truth,
hosannas of the righteous or the damned,
but mother’s spit,
dabbed gently on a Kleenex
and applied quite vigorously
to the glory of God