Reading the Bible at Nine
When my father asked how far I’d gotten,
I was still in Genesis. What I loved
about church was the deep blue of the ceiling
sparked with silver stars. The hymns
would hum me to sleep, or sway me
as I knelt. The wine bit my tongue
and the wafer stuck. What I liked about Jesus
was that he touched lepers, overturned
moneylenders’ tables, spoke with Samaritans,
wasn’t afraid. I was nine when I asked
to be sprinkled with baptismal water.
Each week after I shed my singing robes,
I would seek, in the low-ceilinged
basement, the doughnut table.
The bite at the center was pure custard.
I went to church without parents.
I never found God or his fearless son.
The bread and wine did not become flesh.
But a few sweet bites.
I always thought my body would stay, even if
I treated her badly. Who else would want her?
I criticized her skin, heavy arms, the way she looks
in dresses. Made her straighten her teeth. My mother
told me, keep your options open, but now
I see I have no other options. I tell her I’ll treat her
better, whatever she wants, silk sheets, whole days
at the spa. I won’t make jokes in public at her expense.
At night, I tremble. The doctors can’t say why.
But I know: she’s shaking her head, waving goodbye.
Jane Hilberry’s books include a volume of art criticism/biography titled The Erotic Art of Edgar Britton (Ocean View Books) and two collections of poems: Body Painting (Red Hen Press) and a collaboration with her father, Conrad Hilberry, called This Awkward Art: Poems by a Father and Daughter (Mayapple Press).