My father stiff strums Stella,
plucks her into purring.
She presses her neck into his palm,
her back into his belly.
His fingers arthritis crooked, more glove
than hand. Nails chewn red & eternally dirty.
Thirty years of day shifts & nights spent
scrubbing vinegar into his raw palms.
My father canaries, catalogs his blues.
When I go, he croaks, close my eyes
and set fire to me, naked in the bathtub,
let God take me as I am.
The sun licks our shaved mountain,
slicks air like Ole Girl grooming her pups,
wet tongue and pulp.
My father coats me in his cough.
His fingers freeze on G-D,
spittle quaking as he croons
his nightly prayer,
bless these blue hills, oh God,
the only home I know.
1. hymnals soaked heavy littered the churchyard like big water beetles
2. sunday trousers rolled to the knees,
3. piled collection plates towered the piano, gaudi-esque when throwing shadows
4. a plague of cicadas circled the chancel
as a lonely watersnake slithered
from the rain gutter to the shingles
then dropped beyond the roof’s ridge
5. fish circled the floodwater,
surfaced to collect soggy communion wafers
6. body of the lord, the preacher said,
won’t be the last as he picked mud
from beneath his toe nails
Nikki Ummel is a queer writer, editor, and educator in New Orleans. She is the 2022 winner of the Leslie McGrath Poetry Prize. She has a poetry chapbook, Hush (Belle Point Press, 2022) and a hybrid chapbook, Bayou Sonata (NOLA DNA, 2023). Follow her on Twitter @NikkiUmmel.