Henrietta

by | Aug 9, 2022 | Issue Twenty-Eight, Poetry

Henrietta wonders what haunts me

It wasn’t his whoop into the deep end, or how his mother had punched out her cigarette, one eye slit in the smoke, before plunging in to save him. And it wasn’t their legs churning like chum, or how I inhaled the sky and dove under. No, it was her dress unwrapping in a slow-motion strip tease, the two sides patterned gills undulating beside her. Her nakedness beneath. I had never seen a woman undressed, unless the dark teepee under my mother’s punishing girdle counts. Then his mother’s thrashing legs, and what was between them—horrible, beautiful, red at its heart, pale brown strands like beach grass shimmering.

Henrietta questions my faith

Henrietta’s face stays patient, as some scribbled drawing stashed in my synapses unfolds. Before the images, splintered voices, suppressed glee. Motel 6, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Five evangelists in bathing suits, waist-deep in the pool. Four men, one woman. God makes a sixth, with a dramatic slant of light. What sins did this woman in her sensible skirted swimsuit commit? It doesn’t matter. She’s ecstatic, quivering. The pastor’s hand rests on her head, another on her shoulder. She clutches her nose, eager for rebirth, oblivious to a rotisserie on the cracked cement near the deep end, each spoke an ellipsis of green chiles, their scent burning in the air.

And wonders about old lovers

I used to swim with the mother of an old lover. We’d pack lunch for the beach, then wade out past the waves until we could no longer feel the rush of sand and broken shells. Once, bobbing in easy surf, we talked about her son who no longer wanted me. “My son is a fool for not loving you,” she said, encircling me in her sea-chilled arms. It was the closest I had ever felt to anyone. I kissed her shoulder.

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