Bath

 
 
 
She mops a washcloth down his spine and scrubs 
 until his bones glow with the inner light of porcelain
and when his Haloed hair bursts into foam
he holds his nose and dunks beneath the soapy gloom 
ears flooding with signals 
the pipes transmit like microphones.
  
  
the boy can hear another city, the one below  
where wind coils when it isn't howling,
 can  hear Purgatory boil 
up through the manholes, a river flushing souls 
 into the underworld, tomorrow's news 
bawled at the crossroad of subway and sewer. 

 

If he were accidentally to swallow here 
the water would taste like silver 
off a dead man's eyes. Upstairs, 
the mute émigré waitress he secretly 
adores sings naked in the shower,
the newlyweds from Mexico

 

rage about dinero, next door 
a newborn wails like a Black Maria, 
while in a hidden room, a crazy old man 
won't stop repeating "the goddamn, the goddamn!" 
And then the boy comes up for air,
 eyes  burning, rinsed hair silky, his hands 
wrinkled, Busha says, as prunes. 

 

Overhead, the bare bulb fogs with steam. 
She jerks the plug, the drain 
gulps a vortex of gray bathwater. 
It's time to rise before it sucks him down, 
to stand calf-deep, lacquered with Ivory,  
smoldering before a faucet that trickles.

 

a cool stream at which Busha washes him  
first gently in front and then behind 
in a way that no one else will ever wash him. 
The moon, too, must be fogged above  
misted lamps that bleed into reflections  
on the marbled pane.

 

He swipes abstractions in the sweat, 
finger painting night 
while Busha towels his hair
 as if reviving a drowned sailor
the sea has graciously returned. 
Don't worry, Busha, your grandson is clean 
 
for Saturday night: 
ears, navel, nails, inspected,
teeth  unstained, cleansed as baptism
 leaves the soul, pure enough to sleep -
as you  instruct him - with the angels,
 cleaner than he'll ever be again.

 

 
 
 

From Streets In Their Own Ink [FSG)