I was the child who loved calla & fritillaria───
dried, fresh, not just their fragrance but their bee-stung
bodies prayerfully folded into dusty skin.
I was the child who walked limp-limbed, scent-drunk,
with the smell of spit on my hands, swearing:
Relinquish me of my desire to be sunlit, beautiful.
They sat in vinegar water, blooming
past their time, their mouths open, white roaring
tigers perched high on the mantle top
in the robe room in the old church cellar:
1975, Georgia Avenue, DC & I moved swiftly
on my tiptoes, stealing a petal & a stem, wiping
dust from their long, knotty tongues on to my lips───
what was I to do with such big wet lilies?
I was a fire-eater, a witch: I opened
my eyes during the humming benediction
& tipped down to the cellar, stopping time,
dropping the prayer book, its pages fluttering
& I laid my body in the moist dark
of the robe room, closing the door tight,
eyes not used to the dark. . .eyes wet, alive. . .
breathing quietly, taking stems in reed-like
halves to wet my lips. . .
When the Deacons found me, their arms reaching,
their faces molded into black masks,
I was honey-eyed, softly burping.
They called out my name in the darkness
of the robe room & probed my mouth
until the flaking bits & evidence were found
& they whispered in my ear:
‘Girls have names like flowers. . .
Boys have names you can yell. . .
What is your name? Do you know your name?’
But all my secrets were silent & heat
flowed through me like fire in glass.
1999 © Tree Turtle