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Heaven as Olympic Spa

ISSUE:  Summer 2021


       Koreatown, Los Angeles

Gwendolyn Brooks stood stark naked.
I stared into her bespectacled eyes.

Ms. Brooks showed me how 
to tend to myself by scrubbing dead skin

with a coarse washcloth, rinsing 
the body’s detritus down a common drain. 

My flesh was taut, loose, 
and dying. Even in paradise I was dying. 

At first, this surprised me. Oh, the capsized 
boat of the body, Wanda Coleman sighed. 

We keep sailing, even when we believe 
we’re ashore. Coleman drifted to sleep 

on the heated jade floor. Clasping 
my spa-provided robe, I lay on my side 

beside her. Do the dead 
dream? I wondered to myself. 

Wrong question, Coleman muttered. 
I remembered sleeping beside my mother, 

touching her nightgown lightly, 
as if a gesture could restore the cord 

that, in the beginning, tethered us. As if 
I smelled her death in the satin scarf

keeping the plastic curlers in place 
or in the Vaseline glossing her arms. 

In childhood, I pined for my mother 
though she was there.

Here, in the afterlife, I had no mind 
to search for her. I was freed 

from a loss that haunted me
even before it occurred. 

Gwendolyn Brooks hummed a wordless 
song that stripped me of all longing. 

I untied the robe’s stiff belt
and walked amongst the nude women,

my skin brushed smooth and silent.
I was ordinary and motherless.

Because I was not alone,
my nakedness felt unremarkable. 

I didn’t miss my mother— 
I didn’t miss missing her.



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