This week’s poem in the Catholic Poetry Room is by Marjorie Maddox.
Fingernails scrubbed clean as latrines
in the army, this symbol
of a man dirties his thumb
with our sin, the powdery ash riding high
on his pores, not sinking in
before he sketches the gray
of our dirt-birth across a brow
we were born to furrow.
Listen to the sound of forgiveness:
the crossing of skin, the cult-
like queuing up to explode
in ripped whispers, “Lord,
have mercy, Christ, have
mercy, Lord, have mercy.”
And we want it. And we take it
home with us to stare back
from a lover’s forehead,
to come off in a smear on the sheets
as we roll onto each other’s skin,
or to wear like a bindhi this medal of our not winning
each day we wake to the worlds
we are and are not.
And when we wake too early
before the light of just-becoming-day
sneaks in on us, and we stand, toes cold,
in the tiled bathroom, still lonely, deceived
into piety, scrubbing away the grime of our humanness
like fierce fierce toothbrushes on latrines
in the army, there it is still,
raw with our washings:
the human beneath.
Winner of America Magazine‘s 2019 Foley Poetry Prize and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published 11 collections of poetry—including Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize; re-issued 2018 Wipf and Stock); True, False, None of the Above (Illumination Book Award Medalist); Local News from Someplace Else; Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award)—the short story collection What She Was Saying (Fomite); the children’s books A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry (2008) and Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems (2009); Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (co-editor; PSU Press); Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry (assistant editor); and 550+ stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. The recipient of numerous awards and Pushcart Prize nominations in both poetry and fiction, she gives readings and workshops around the country, including at Franciscan University, LeMoyne College, Wheaton College, Penn State University, and elsewhere.