Saturday, December 4, 2010

Read This or I'll Bump Off My Cat

This is the Best Thing you'll read all day, possibly all week.

So says my (biased) therapist (a New Yorker subscriber), who wants me to submit what follows (to the New Yorker). I wouldn't really bump off my cat. That was just a reference to an old postcard I have: Under a photo of a friendly-looking pooch, with a gun held to its head by someone out of frame, was this header:

Buy this or we shoot the dog.

(Sorry. I thought it was hysterical.)

What follows is a true story. To prove it to you, I took the photo above.

The Last Sliver of Soap

Here I stand in the white shower stall
warm water thrumming on my back
holding the last sliver of soap on my palm,

a thin, pink, oval broach, end piece
of the bar I salvaged 100 days ago
from my dead mother’s bath. I anoint

my body with it this one final time,
beginning the rite — unchanging rite —
of showering, raising my left arm

to salute the God I serve, raising then
my right arm to salute the strength
He gave me, rubbing the last sliver

of soap between my palms. Leg up
next, as if to step up to an altar,
honoring the march of days in a life.

With a stone’s smooth polish, soap
glides over my belly and breasts
blessing the lives they have nourished,

and in this rite I remember the day
my old mother yelled Shit! in the shower,
withered butt sagging and dignity pierced

as I and the aide conspired to cleanse her.
She hated the shower, demented but clear
that washing her body tormented her soul.

I hear her, and see her, and she is alive
as the last sliver of soap slips in my hands.
This was her brand, her ceremonial bar

night in and night out, preparing for bed,
emerging anointed, blessed be the day.
I pause in the shower to savor her then

holding what’s left of a relic of soap
the final memento I claimed from her room
the morning she died, a used bar of soap.

100 days later, the bar is a shard, last tie
to her body now buried in dirt, and she
requires no cleansing but I baptize myself

in the name of my mother, a holy bond.
The last sliver of soap in my hand is
sacred and I’ll save it, box it in velvet

tuck it away with a note, an intimate
totem of the woman she was, some earth
and a heart before God washed her away.


Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Absolutely therapist is helping me simplify, keeping only what's useful or that has sentiment to me. I still have...his cologne and a photo long before I knew him (and a lot else, I have only just begun). But one of my love tokens to him was to always put out a new bar of soap when one became a sliver...

Hope said...

This was incredible to read. Wow. Just wow.

Rachel Fox said...

Such an important part of our lives - the washing, the water! My Bus poem a few weeks ago was all about my Mum's last bath (I had to help her of course - it was here) and it is an image that will stay with me till my end. I remember just watching her letting the water run through and over her hands. She just sat there like a little girl really. Powerful times.

Peter Goulding said...

I think you should submit this somewhere Chris. Terza rima at its finest. (ps. not a cat lover, so...)

Marion said...

this was a perfect read for me. I'm glad you're keeping the sliver of soap. I'm only now, three and a half years after my mother's death, throwing out old things that remind me of her, Things that don't the last cheque she wrote and her cheque register. It's time for me to let it all go now.

Kim A. said...

This is truly a psalm from your heart and a pure tribute to your mom. Absolutely the best thing I have read this week..and probably this year (apart from your other works of art!). Yes..submit it...


Scott said...

just beautiful Chris, what a memorial, a moving release of love for mom.

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...


Myrna R. said...

I thoroughly agree with your therapist. Submit. It's beautiful and it will be nice for many to read.

The Bug said...

This is beautiful - lovely & heart-rending. My mother always took baths, never showers, and I always think of her when I slip into the water - especially if the bubbles smell of honeysuckle.

♥ Boomer ♥ said...

Tears. I understand. Totally. With my mother's ashes, I buried a piece of soap, a tube of her lipstick, her silk nighty, her slippers, and other small slivers of her life. What is it about the holidays that bring memories back so vividly, happy and sad, and that stop us in our tracks wherever we are? I loved this work from your heart, and I know it is real.

Argent said...


Karen said...

I agree with your therapist. Submit this to somewhere! It is perfect.

e said...

This is a fabulous testament to the mother-daughter bond as well as loss.

Your cat is a beautiful gift. She will probably be annoyed to see this post title.

Indigo said...

Heartfelt, Deep...Words fail me. My MIL passed away three years ago Dec. 2nd. She was the only mother I ever knew (for 4 very short years) and I miss her so very much. This brought her alive in so many ways. Thank you! (Hugs)Indigo

Grace-WorkinProgress said...

Really beautiful. It seems we start and end our lives being bathed by other people, if we are lucky it is someone that love us.

the walking man said...

Go ahead and rub out the cat. Cat people as i have noted before just ain't quite right in the head. At least that's what my dog says.

Totalfeckineejit said...

So raw and deeply personal , I found it a difficult read. You really should send it off and all the others, they are all so good. A first collection is ready.

Titus said...

Wonderful writing. Absolutely loved the juxtaposition of the sacred vocabulary with the secular, and that brilliant profane.
Intimate and yet you opened a door that let a reader step through.

big Jenn said...

My thought is with your grieving heart. Your grief will be your mothers gift to you because the wound will open you heart beyond measure. Much love to you, Jen

Magpie said...

I love how you find the spiritual in the everyday. Submit it, do.

Syd said...

Very moving. My mother also hated her baths. She would protest and protest. She liked them when she could get in and out of the tub on her own but once the aides offered to help her, she would yell NO.

Marla said...

Yes. Submit it. Then frame it in a place of honor next to it's reason for being.

This is AMAZING!