The Bridegroom of My Soul
I am eight years old. I will wear a white dress with a scratchy gauze crinoline to hold the skirt out like a ballerina’s. I will wear white socks and white patent leather shoes. I will wear a veil that cascades lace down to my shoulders. I have a shiny white box pocketbook with flowers under plastic. The pocketbook is just big enough to hold my first Sunday missal. On the inside cover of the missal is a picture of white Jesus with long soft brown hair like a hippie.
We practice the procession. We practice moving out of our row to the middle aisle, up to the altar for a magical bit of wafer, and then back into the row from the other side, heads bowed, hands clasped together in prayer. I love practicing because I love trying to move reverently, fervently, not like the boys who clamber like goats knocking the wooden seats with their shoes. Each time we practice the procession, Sister Hyacinth plays the Communion Song that says Jesus is the bridegroom of my soul.
When you’re lonely and you’re chubby and you feel a little thrill about Jimmy who wears his communion shoes every day, you think because he’s a maverick, not because the family can only afford one pair of shoes, you want someone to accept you even though everyone knows you’re lazy, and you could be doing so much more.
I am going to be His, no more by sin to grieve Him, or fly His sweet control. I am going to fall into bed that night finally cared for, watched over, protected.
My sister, the newly graduated nurse,
came home for just one day—
because she was already done
with our family and that house. my mother?
She handed my baby brother to me
and said: this is how you change him
this is how you test the temperature
of his bottled milk
this is how you burp him
this is how you bathe him.
And then she was gone.
I kissed the bottom of his feet.
I put him in fresh clothes
and held him close to my chest.
It was instinct to nurture him.
I was the one who, after a night
of teenage drinking, got up with him—
the bedroom where we slept still spinning.
My mother lay in the other twin bed
with her body facing the wall.
I was only fifteen.
I tried to soothe myself
with Boone’s Farm Wine
and making out at beach parties
with nameless boys, trying
for a life that was my own.
When my mother said
she wanted to kill herself,
threatened to take the pills
stockpiled in the cabinet,
I flung myself on her,
You can’t do that, I pleaded.
You can’t do that.
I wanted to run away, too,
but how could I?
I was tending,
learning a love I didn’t yet know.
Hold the baby close,
at the heart’s broken door.
After our daughter’s death
we needed something to tend,
so we became gardeners.
Every day now, even in winter,
we go out to see what’s developing,
or needs our attention.
When our daughter was small
all we had in the yard was one tree
with a swing and a place for her to dig
with old spoons from the kitchen drawer.
Now that we have time to dig
and prune and nurture, it’s
growing up around us—
vegetable beds, wisteria climbing the fence,
pink tulips opening,
seeming to reach for our embrace.
As spring arrives, what we love
is finding all the newness—
the first hurrah of forsythia,
the cone of a grape hyacinth,
the heart-shaped lilac leaves.
We love the sense of on-going-ness,
how most everything returns
year after year.
Christine Higgins is the author of the full-length collection, Hallow (Cherry Grove, 2020). Her latest chapbook, Hello Darling, was the second-place winner in the 2019 Poetry Box competition. Her work has appeared in Pequod, America, Windhover, Nagautuck River Review, and PMS (poemmemoirstory). She is the recipient of two Maryland State Arts Council Awards for both poetry and non-fiction. Higgins is a McDowell Colony Fellow and a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars.
Photo Credit: “Two children dressed for First Communion” by simpleinsomnia.