My Mother Cleans Our Ears
After the bath water turned lukewarm
we’d approach the altar of her knees,
drying and shivering to goose-flesh.
A towel resting across her thighs,
we’d kneel, turn our faces sideways
to stare at the toilet paper or tub edge,
her hand holding the center of the swab,
—never mind the horror stories
of pierced ear drums, sudden deafness—
swiping outer ear, inner canal
with the white tip, wanting us clean,
baptized nightly, wanting proof
for herself that love could be an attempt
at perfecting what was perpetually dirtied.
I wanted the absolution of the almost-pain,
the not-quite hurt, of her poised, muffled
movement, of rising from the tiles,
of the pat on my shoulder: All done.
Born, raised, and educated in Georgia, Paige Sullivan received her B.A. from Agnes Scott College and her MFA from Georgia State University. At Georgia State, she served on the mastheads of Five Points and New South. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Terminus, American Literary Review, the Bitter Southerner, and elsewhere. Currently, she lives and works in Atlanta.