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Bathtub Baptism

Winner of the 2019 Jade Ring for Poetry

tires screech; mother sleeps
blood seeps from my forehead gash
broken windshield glass
then blue and red lights flash
across my mother who can’t walk the line
slap on the cuffs; clipped wings of a dove

“safe now,” say the strangers
“tell us everything; trust us,” they urge
like next-day’s vomit rush forth the words
family secrets purged
what a shame; childhood trauma leaves a stain
on the brain of a girl alone in the world

abuela will take me in
next of kin, a grandmother I hardly know
plunged into the tub, water stained
from the gash on my damaged brain
blood red water she pours, her voice mutters low
“en el nombre Del Padre y Del Hijo y Del Espíritu Santo.”

“trauma has a way,” they say, “of surging through
generations of family you never knew”
our people were raped and enslaved
epigenetic fissures in our bones, the Tree of Life shamed,
I was doomed from day one by evil long expired
what a bloody, bloody shame, the way you were wired

what a shame, they say
a bond despite the blood and abuse
strung like a rope—or a noose
a line from the heart of my mother to mine, ripped
in my heart a gaping hole
my mother en route to the county jail

red water pours; I tremble and stare
through wet hair at a painting on Abuela’s wall
of a virgin so full of grace it emanates
like the rays of the sun or the wings of a dove
wrapped in constellations
I am soaked in the eyes of love

these might be mere musings of a damaged brain,
but if evil is so incarnate
“evident in scans of brains and DNA
scars of shame,” they say
then is it so hard to believe
that if evil can wound, love could heal? 

grace pours down like rain
through fissures of bones
pooling in the heart’s hole
washing the stained brain’s shame
love incarnate in the holy water
of a bloody bathtub baptism


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Kayla Knaack and her husband, along with four children (plus one on the way), live in Marion where they own and operate Pigeon River Brewing Company. Knaack’s 2019 Jade Ring-winning poem, “Bathtub Baptism,” was inspired by her volunteer work as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children in protective services.

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