Holy Water

My brothers playing soccer in the garden
and my mother out at work,
I tiptoed upstairs to the attic room 
to explore boxes of books, 
Treasure Island, The Famous Five,
getting lightheaded from the words 
and the smell of creamy paper,

from mites scurrying across old-fashioned 
illustrations, the dust motes floating 
in warm sunbeams through the skylight. 
Then I spotted a gleam behind an old handbag 
full of Mass bouquets and ‘Congratulations 
on your baby boy’ cards. Brave as 
Jim Hawkins I squeezed under the eaves,

risked splinters and the itch of yellow 
candy-floss insulation to get at it.
It was Mary I’d hailed so many times!
She’d appeared in the form 
of a plastic bottle, cobweb white, 
draped in robes of opaque blue. 
I knelt, half in hiding.

Twisting off her crown, I put the thread 
of her open head to my lips,
and knocked back the stagnant water in one. 
This was mine, this was real.
No Silvermints pretending to be
communion in the classroom. 
Finally a direct line. 

It tasted like a muddy puddle. 
I kept it down –  the nausea passed – 
and I waited for the piety to take hold,
for the miracle, the apotheosis. 
Then I hid the empty bottle on 
a rafter in the shadow of the handbag
and crept back downstairs. 

I keep this to myself. 

With thanks to Quarryman where this poem was first published.

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