by Jennifer Bartell
Graffiti stained glass windows,
windows so stained, no light shines through:
Spray paint thick like the Holy Ghost.
Jesus looks like a pimp
with smooth waves in his head.
Sundance is the artist who misspelled
my granddaddy’s name.
He wasn’t Sunny like the sun, God of Sky,
He was Sonny like Son of God.
My Black Jesus can do anything.
Watch and see if you don’t believe me.
Watch and see me like Watch Night service
on New Year’s Eve. If I close my eyes tight
I can hear Granddaddy Sonny beating the drums
and see the altar-desk where my ma learned
her letters, her lunch pail half empty with a biscuit
and cold fatback. Pews smell like Pledge and sweat.
I open my eyes and see myself on the front row
of one of those pews, a little girl with Mary Janes
and pigtails. I’m curled up on the front row for a nap.
Bishop Mouzone is yelling into the microphone
he does not need, other hand holding his hearing aid.
And Gawd . . . he booms. The head usher, my mother, wakes
me up. Later we’ll form a half circle around the altar
to take communion, and then there will be the washing
of the saints’s feet. I’ll go home and wonder if
what my cousin does to me in the bathroom at Grandma’s
makes me a sinner. If I’ll go to Hell for fornication or not,
if I could reset somehow and be a virgin again.
I’ll wonder if my God will understand,
if drinking the grape juice and eating the stale wafer
will cleanse me and make me whole,
if I can ever be a saint washing,
towel girded around my waist, drying them
precious sanctified feets.
This is the first time I've published a poem about this subject. I was molested by a male cousin at my grandma's house between the ages of four and seven. I attended a holiness church in the South from birth to eighteen. Growing up I wanted to be a "Good Christian Girl" while battling with the memories of the evil he committed against my body and soul. This poem is part of a series that is a collage of memories that speak as witness to my struggle and survival.