by Pattiann Rogers Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become as white as snow. Isaiah 1:18
Under the branches of the elm and the tall, blooming bushes of the black haw, in the wavering jigsaw of the sun, you sit, naked on the bench, waiting. The paraphernalia is gathered, laid out − warm wash water in a stainless- steel bowl, rinse water in the deeper pail, creams, soaps, a sanctuary of flannel and towels.
She begins, holding each foot in turn on her lap, carefully, as if it were a basket of sweet fruits. Her fingers stroke, wetting, soaping. She washes the toes, the tender part of the sole, over the swivel of ankle, the swell of the calf.
A hedge of slender sassafras beside the road sways, almost female in its graces, as you stand and turn and she sponges behind your knees, around each leg (they are pillars), along the inner thighs, without rushing, to the groin, the slick soap lathered beneath her hand, the rag dipped and wrung in rinse water.
She bathes the buttocks next, and to the front, your genitals, slowly, carefully. The sassafras sway, and off in the distance, out of the center of the rice field, a ceremony of sparrows appears, releases, dissolves.
Up the strict hollow of the spine, your torso, your neck, the clean water, ladled and poured through the disciplined light of the afternoon, finds it way back down from your shoulders, following every wrinkle and bead of nipple and joint, like rain through leaves and blossoms of yellow poplar, into the creases of your sex and out again.
This is the form of absolution: your hands in her attentive hands, your arms inside her ministrations.
Listen...elbow, your elbow.
Can’t you hear, in the sound if its name, how it has been innocent forever? And doesn’t the entire body, touched with honor, become honorable? Doesn’t the body, so esteemed and cherished, become the place of divinity?
The face, the hair, laved, toweled, rubbed, perfumed, clean, radiant − you are new, new as high-mountain snow not even yet seen, snow so fine, so weightless, so pervasive, it is one with the white explosions of the wind, one with the tight, steady bursting of the moon, one with the hardest and safest seams of the night, by which you now know and so must declare:
the soul can never be more than what the body believes of itself.