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I Bless My Mouth
Childhood Masses
when we crossed ourselves,
I always touched my mouth before I knew what blessings
I might grow to need. 
My tongue was sharp; I asked for the dove
to intercede. The sign of the cross
pulls the long thread of will like a suture
through head and heart
and the two shoulders, diamond zone of the Corpus Christi.
But I didn't feel the trinity sufficient
to sew me into the hem of divinity.
What of speech? To say the heart and the head
would protect it from ill assumed that the tongue
was a domesticated animal, a bovine
installation with no will
to jump the fence. What of the hungers for wine,
cream and skin? The shoulders
could cave in
to what the mouth found delectable. 
And so I gave a fourth stitch
to the sweeping shields we made at Mass
or in the corridors of hospitals,
at school before problematic finals, in the bathroom
before I straightened up to face the bar
and take another drink, in bed
as I watched a sleeping lover's back curve farther
and farther away, a whole earth turning
from the moons of my solicitous eyes.
The holy spirit
is a dove, or might as well be
embroidered that way. The tower of Babel, a dovecote
invaded by passenger pigeons
and sharp-toothed hawks. I know how to hurt
with my tongue, I've always known that
the lovely can become a kind of weapon,
like the rose, the needle's eye, the shepherd's staff.
That the lips could usher in another's body,
blood and semen in the warm, closed bed
of union; or could chap and blister over
in the winters of rejection. Throat could give birth to a 
praise fleshed-out enough to make hard weeks worth living,
or could close on a ragged seed-shell
past germination. My father's final days
were open-mouthed yet drugged and silent;
what escaped from, crept inside that mortal cave?
I wanted his rattle to mean
that he was rallying; but the thundering voice was
fertile plains away.
I am seamy, after all,
a bunch of loose ends reaching out to lick
the static in the air. The priest ascends
the three short stairs and spreads
his arms above the altar. His purple sleeves
begin the gesture and we follow —
upon us.
I touch my mouth
with my right hand, my hand
a dove in liquid, languid flight.
I bless my mouth, I tie it in with what's accountable —
noose or wonderful parabola, I
cannot say.



Ellen McGrath Smith teaches in the U.S. at the University of Pittsburgh and in the Carlow University Madwomen in the Attic program. Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Cimarron, Bayou, Quiddity, Now Culture, Sententia, The American Poetry Review, Cerise, The Same, Kestrel, Oranges & Sardines, Diner, 5 a.m., Oxford Magazine, The Prose Poem, Southern Poetry Review, Descant (Canada), and others. Flash fiction published or forthcoming in Weave, Switchback, Thickjam, Thumbnail, The Shadyside Review, and Atticus Review. Her poetry has been recognized with an AROHO Orlando Prize, an Academy of American Poets award, a Rainmaker Award from Zone 3 magazine, and a 2007 Individual Artist grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

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