Catherine Pritchard Childress

Sunrise Service


Easter Sunday, still dark morning, 
Creedence Clearwater Revival booming
insurrection across the hall at parents 
shamed by daughters singing “Bad Moon Rising,”
dancing in satin underwear, twisting hot
rollers into each other’s hair.

Frocked in robin’s egg, violet, daffodil,
Mom purchased at Hill’s, we retaliate
with bare legs, big hair, and black eyeliner
heated to a white-hot point with the tiny Bic 
I kept between cellophane and soft-pack
of Marlboro Lights.

Smoke ascends from the window, masked
in clouds of White Rain, Secret, Love’s Baby Soft, 
perfuming the sloped roof where summer 
will find us oiled in Johnson’s and iodine, 
careful to hide budding breasts, triangled in bikinis
from our father’s eternal glare.

Knowing the end is coming soon,
we belt out the last verse, buckle sandals, 
tie sashes, tiptoe to church in twilight
to celebrate the resurrection, certain
that nothing will rise but the sun.



Sunday School


Sunday morning and I am washed in nothing
more than light, heat, and guilt
planted deep by my father’s voice, saying,
Get up!  We go to church on Sunday morning.
Not to races, not to ballgames, not to the beach.

Still, I dig my feet into the white powder,
keeping time with the tide and their heads,
two dark like my own, one a sun-kissed mystery,
bobbing like bottled notes on foamy peaks.
free from clip-on ties, patent leather, and tradition.

Sunday morning and I worship at an altar
where my winter whitewash goes golden,
foolish children build houses upon the sand
never knowing, as I once learned in a hymn,
that the house on the sand went splat. 


Traveler’s Chapel
Conway - Myrtle Beach


Last stop before we pressed our faces against 
the Buick’s tinted glass hoping to be the first
to see waves peeking from gaps in the skyline.
The walk from foyer to altar came natural,
our feet programmed by three services
each week in our father’s country church.

In this tiny, roadside chapel we scribbled
names in the Guest Book along side vacationers 
from Atlanta, Raleigh, Columbia, black stars on a map, 
far from the Blue Ridge Mountains that cloistered us,
save for one week each year when grandparents
treated us to summer vacation at Myrtle Beach.

We crowded into Mimi’s green Electra
drying tears, blowing kisses, promising
to attend church on Sunday, the only condition
attached to our reprieve, a promise my mother’s
mother, found little reason to keep. 
We rolled into the chapel’s gravel lot
thirty miles from total immersion.

Sure our sin would find us out, we tithed
Spending money in the chapel’s donation cup,
then I posed on the front step, a sibling on either side,
faces fixed on the camera’s lens, evidence
that we stood together in paradise.


The Chastening


The long-winded preacher said you were taken,
that God will let one stray only so far, but once you cross
His invisible line, He will decide enough is enough, 
take you out of this world so you cannot continue
to dishonor his Holy name, or that of our God-fearing father,
dead too, though by natural causes (he was right with the Lord). 

He cautioned your friends who came to pay their respects
This too will be your price, theatrically gesturing 
to the yellow roses that blanketed your casket, if they carried on
with their NASCAR watching and beer drinking on Sunday
afternoon, instead of joining spirit-filled saints who made laps
around padded pews, stopping occasionally to shake a hand,

hug a neck—just like a six-year-old stranger wrapped tiny fingers
around yours so you could lift her from the burning car,
heeding your instruction to hold on tight so well, you had to pry
her hands loose from your dark, coarse hair, shove her back
through an open window when you looked over your shoulder
and saw the tractor and trailer that struck you down. 






I should have realized when he stopped
at the overlook eager to show me the view
of his mountains, his home—to share
not too distant high school memories

of hiding six-packs from his mother.
When he treated me to a buffet lunch,
timidly pushed his food around his plate
while I ate, I should have known—

but I can’t remember a man courting me.
Handholding and dinner dates gave way 
to the garage and Sports South years ago—
I don’t know the last time someone wanted me,

skimmed my jawline with fingertips
traced the hollow above my collarbone, 
kissed the freckles on my shoulders one by one,
kneaded the length of my spine, small of my back. 

It had been so long, I no longer recognized 
the ritual, the moves—Couldn’t see anything 
but a boy who said finally, I spent the summer
learning the notes to your favorite song—

then he played “Dance Me to the End of Love.”
I watched his lips purse, then part, in a whispered tune,
his hands move along the length of the guitar’s neck,

his fingertips pluck and strum, coaxing a familiar chord. 

Catherine Pritchard Childress lives in the shadow of Roan Mountain, Tennessee. She studies literature and creative writing as a Master's Candidate at East Tennessee State University and edited the 2013 edition of Mockingbird. Catherine's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in North American Review, The Connecticut Review, Cape Rock, Town Creek Poetry, and Southern Women's Review among other journals and have been anthologized in Southern Appalachian Poetry: Tennessee Poets 


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