Articles/Essays – Volume 56, No. 1

My Body in the Temple

Listen the Out Loud version of this poem here.

Halfway through the session, I become aware
of a full bladder and nothing else.
All that is holy is eclipsed
by flesh. I pant in claustrophobia
between the lady who snores
and the gum-chomper, suddenly surrounded
by bodies. I remember how,
during my last pregnancy, the gurgle of stomachs,
the smell of the chicken-à-la-king breath around me,
the man clearing his nose into his throat,
sickened me to such devilish and frantic irritation
I had to go on temple hiatus.
Sometimes the body is too heavy.

Like now—my bladder, an overripe melon,
makes it hard to stand and suck in to allow
the matron to pass me in the aisle.
Counting minutes, counting stages
in the ceremony, I pray an apology
to the woman whose name is folded
in my pocket. An ordinance requires a body,
I tell her. This is what you get.

When it’s over—when I’ve changed clothes
with sloppy rush and found the bathroom,
I emerge so much lighter that this place
feels suddenly airy and bright. I love
this liminal circus, this foyer of glory
smelling of polyester, so earnest,
so strange. On my way out,
I take my time, stepping tenderly around
a bright spirit in an awkward old body
kneeling to tie her sister’s shoes.

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