Chris Abbate

Cleanliness
by Chris Abbate

It is next to godliness, they say,
like the Sunday afternoon I saw my aunts
in the unbearable heat of that summer
stripped down to their underwear
cleaning the house their sister had just bought,
which my mother described as a God-awful mess.

It was a photo negative of how my pre-teen eyes
were accustomed to seeing them–
a jigsaw puzzle of skin and girlish under-habit,
the ivory sweep of their shoulders, navels, and thighs
as they stood on step ladders and chairs,
bent over boxes and twisted into corners and nooks.

Difficult to imagine then, that beneath their piety
were the gentle landscapes of their bodies–
the primal vessels of my cousins,
the loose ends of them rippling in delayed reaction
to the back and forth motion of their arms.
A femininity that was at once confusing and alluring.

If our souls are on loan to us from God,
as we were taught,
then all that was tangible of my aunts
must have been theirs–
the parts I imagined my uncles
traced with their hands at night
as they peeled back layers of darkness.

Besides, I had never known God
to reconcile nakedness and attraction,
the body’s function with its form.
For all we were told he could do,
I had never known him to consummate flesh.
Never seen him give birth.

 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 23, Issue 1.

Chris AbbateChris Abbate’s poems have appeared in Connecticut River Review, Chagrin River Review, and Comstock Review, among other journals. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net award and has received awards in the Nazim Hikmet and North Carolina Poetry Society poetry contests. His first book of poetry, Talk About God, was published by Main Street Rag. His second book, Words for Flying, is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press.

See all items about Chris Abbate

Visit Chris Abbate’s contributors page.

Leave a Reply