Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Water

Water

By Susan Bergman

Sun through the trees in glimpses, light has a shadow—
self when leaves shift, has a presence in water
as dusty beads strewn around us, displaced.

It was the evening of my baptism. In the shallow end
of the neighbor's pool my borrowed raincoat
clung like the shroud I'd meant it for: to die

in the span of one held breath. Sown in weakness,
raised in power. That first year of babysitting
for the salesman's children, I could not help

slipping his magazines into my notebook
to look at them. Lifting slightly off my haunches,
my hands locked behind my head, I twist

to see them watching our backs' arch, our mouths
O's. Now we lick our fingers. The men must want
us to stroke ourselves. I do. I am the bride

of Christ. Sown in dishonor, raised in glory.
Lying back in the preacher's arms, dusk's late
warmth released itself, unevenly, in air.

I let him press me under, his trouser's full legs
washing up at his ankles, his jacket tails a wake.
In the name of the Father, I heard, and then

inside the Spirit-of-Jesus-cold I opened my eyes.
The virgins had gone under with me, richly
clothed, their trimmed lamps burning. Beauty hath wings

they sang, but chastity is illumination.
Their hands covered my mouth and nose, his hands
held the back of my head and covered over theirs.

It was not mine to dispute; they could feel
my body rising with the water's muscle
against gravity, they had to know, or toward it.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Fall 1993), pp. 93-94

Biography

Susan Bergman (1957-2006) was an author, teacher, and editor. Her stories and poems appeared in many publications, including Books and Culture and North American Review. She taught literature and writing at Northwestern University, New York University, and the University of Notre Dame. Her memoir is Anonymity: The Secret Life of an American Family (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

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