Ceremonial gymnasium—two hundred children lined up
like empty cups on the yellow-wood bleachers that folded
open from the wall like a fist, released. The smoky bite
of incense pouring from the censer never could overcome
the pervasive sweat of adolescence; buzzing fluorescents
drowning out the sound of the penitential act. From my place
at the back—where the unbaptized lot tended to settle,
rooted in our original sin, out of the way—the scriptures
were a crow’s song. Come spirit, flame tongue, sacrifice
and a list of demands. I watched as my schoolmates held
their mouths open for the Host. In class, we were allowed
to take an unblessed wafer, to feel the way it melted
against our soft palates, down our throats—how I wanted
to understand the taste after the Word was made flesh.
I carried grief in my belly
for nine months—breasts swollen
with milk. I heard a heartbeat
where there was none but my own,
saw a blinking presence in the salt
lake of my abdomen. It wasn’t
a mystery to the doctor who sliced
a smile across my lap, who told me
about a dog nursing a row
of stones. Nature plants its ghosts
inside us sometimes. Still, at night
I sing lullabies to the empty air.
Moon lilt, sloping to the shore—tonight
the lake is quiet as a glass of water set
by the bed. Midnight thirst, throat smoked
like straw catching. Matted grass pulsing
like tongues underfoot. Are you here?
Is it quiet? Can I tell you now, there are
bodies sunk in this lake? Let me show you
the chimney ghosting ten feet deep. Before
I came to the water, I was told a man wrapped
in barbed wire was thrown from the bridge.
Even the most beautiful things are full
of our blood. This holler is heavy with sacred
stones and broken glass; its mud was once
a valley—like prayer, waves fall back against earth.
Anna B. Sutton is a poet from Nashville, TN. She received her MFA in Poetry from University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she worked for Lookout Books. She is a co-founder of the Porch Writers’ Collective in Nashville, web editor at One Pause Poetry out of Ann Arbor, MI, and on the editorial team at Gigantic Sequins and Dialogist journals. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Barrow Street, DIAGRAM, Weave, Tar River Poetry, Sundog Lit, Pinch, and other journals. She recently received a James Merrill fellowship from Vermont Studio Center.