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Then, as Thy self to leapers hast assignd
With hyssop, Lord, thy Hyssop purg me so
And that shall cleanse the Leapry of my mind
Make over me Thy mercys streams to flow
So shall my whitness scorn the whitest snow
      To eare and heart send sounds and thoughts of gladness
      That bruised bones may dance away their sadness

–Psalm 51, Miserere mei Deus
Mary Sidney, The Sidney Psalter


Great harridan of my heart     who is to say
you knew anything at all     Once         I bargained
with a man the whole night long to call        what thing hung
between us love            as though by scraping the rough
from a coconut    it could be    a carrot         I thought
I understood how much I hated     myself    It is not
easy to see the peony hang its scented head        No
I willed the petals fall        my palm     almost
full of unassuming     gloaming pink          an occasional
ant across my stem of a wrist         What
I could not see     I knew     I could not see          What
woman     believes she has the turrets     of God
beneath her rattlebox of skin               The flag     I flew
for so long read        I’ll erase myself if you want me to



Let them have the dancers. I’m in love with the woman in Le tub,
her russet sponge, russet hair. Russet jar delicate as a teapot, filled
I want to imagine, with oils of gardenia, flowers from the family
of Rubiaceae, not the bitter leaves of Labiatae. She is a careful
woman, russet yarn between her needles on the counter. You, too,
loved her. Would’ve been easy with each hatchmark to deliquesce
her body with water but you did not give a glistening—you gave
the tub, simple iron sphere, opening up & out, the sempiternal
turning head, her body dry, ginger-ashen, like someone crouching
to kiss a new land, saying Praise be, saying I believed, & the small
of her back knows how what is poured over her from the mouth
of the pitcher will rivulet. I see the hairbrush, the towel. Later,
soaking in bronze, she practices the Portuguese she knows,
grips the tub’s rim, O Degas. Asks over & again Como ser limpo?



My father’s the woman in the striped dress, holding my waist
tender as an oblong bread. My mother, too, her right hand
rinsing my foot in the bowl. My beloved’s the woman leaning into
the child, her lap a honey possum’s marsupium: their heads
so circular, asymmetrical, even the cholera washed away. Degas
& Cassatt both imitated the bathing women of Japanese ukiyo-e
prints at the École. It has nothing to do with me, but now this one
of Cassatt’s few nudes is me. Do you understand? I am Woman
Bathing, not   safe as The Bath, my dress    unbuttoned   to the waist
my back etched carefully as the pitcher on the roiling carpet. Any
water in the tub’s an avatar. She    the miraculous drafts(wo)man
said the medium made her do it: plate-drawing requires  strict control
as the surface  mercilessly retains every mark  See what marks remain
the clean  lines  of my nebbish back   the undoing of    my stains



For each of the years I was perdido as a pebble   in the basalt
of lithosphere    it was not which Caravaggisti I liked best but
whose brutal themes   I   could bear     not Gentileschi’s Judith
or Ribera’s Bartholomew    but for early Velázquez so entranced
with his  Seville water carrier     ripped sleeve      swarthy
forehead      the goblet of water   the shadowy hand   the russet
poncho        How could I have missed         the russet
poncho Who   could save me from loving     the droplets of water
on the earthen jug     from thinking    Diego       give me
this genre scene     the plebeian    like me   every time
you give     his ancient body       beside the boy           who stares
at the rend          in the sleeve       he will take      the goblet
& drink what the carrier brought on his shoulder to them
like a  constellation       sloshing toward   Bethlehem



It was Bathsheba   on the roof in the tub   but David who pleaded
Cleanse me with hyssop &    I will be   clean
Bathsheba   whose name I remembered      because
of the tub  when I was not old enough to understand   what
the King wanted of her         BATHSHEBA      we call to you
centuries of women who both       knew & didn’t know
better         Believe me your voice   had you had one to speak
in holy text       is mine     is the Black-throated Green Warbler’s
whose song     even without words sounds         wanting
I know what you wanted    I hope as much as the aspergillus twig
shaken    for purification         I hope   he loved you
as someone  has begun   to love me    When we’re apart he says
Put your hand close to your face     he says    Your fingers brushing      
your forehead    Your palm          hovering your mouth             It’s me



Mary  Mary Countess of Pembroke    sister of the Queen’s fallen
you proffered this translation    this paraphrase     lines that perhaps
as you had Laura speak through   Petrarch   you give this woman
something of her own      (the male Black-throated Green Warbler
has been known to sing 466 songs in one hour to call a mate) for
it is not let the bones you have crushed rejoice but that bruised bones
may dance away their sadness    It is after all   to lepers God has been
assigned their purging   part cedar wood   part crimson yarn  pair
of doves   hyssop    Rabbinic commentary offers You    were proud
like the cedar  the Holy One  Blessed be He  humbled you like  this
hyssop that   is crushed    by everyone   At the crucifixion    I lifted
a sponge of vinegared wine  on a branch  of hyssop   So who’s up
for being ground like mint  or white sage     What’s     the chance
you take         to give     only & not   only     then   we dance



June’s last     rainstorm        a jay
perches on the ledge beneath our roof
to wait the entire                  heady
shower out             I too sit here & think
the roof could stand
for anything     but the ledge
the ledge is definitely you Josué & now that I have come to this
I must     finish it         I am not       the blue jay
at all
I am
the rain                                                        Given this
tell me
how could the bird in the cove
be     anything but      our love




*please note that due to spacial constraints of the Word Press format, the spacing on this last section doesn’t fully reflect the poem’s true format. To see the full poem in proper format, pick up an issue of Colorado Review Summer 2011


About the Author

Susanna Childress’s first book, Jagged with Love, won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry and the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award; her second book, Entering the House of Awe, was published by New Issues Press. She lives in Holland, Michigan.