by Annabelle Smith

after Lindsay Bernal

The baptismal is dim and dry
             when I strip behind the sanctuary.
                         I find a quiet Eden in the honeyed dark,

guarded by wilting altar flowers
             and COVID communion packets,
                         wafer sealed beneath a wisp of plastic. 

Six springs ago, I was baptized
             six steps to my left. Then, a robe
                         hid my body, clung to peach fuzz

and baby fat as I drowned
             my sins beneath God and chlorine. 
                         Now, I slip out of my jeans and think

about climbing into the empty
             tub, about tricking myself into 
                         a second forgiveness. In Sunday 

School, I was taught to begin 
             every prayer with gratitude. 
                         But I am not grateful for these

ragged cuticles, shorn lips 
             stained scarlet, unspooled doubts
                         pooled in the base of my skull. 

I have never taken the body
             and the blood together, but
                         today, dressed only in my mortality,

I want to pull apart a parcel of the
             eucharist and invite the holy into
                         my stomach all at once. But I don’t.

Because all at once feels more
             reckless than six years ago:
                         plunging beneath the waters,

ripples slipping over my crown,
             begging God to love the girl holding
                         holding her breath beneath the makeshift

Jordan. I tell myself thank you
             in the shadow of stained glass, 
                         skin ripened by crimson crucifixion.

This time, I believe my words. I have
             undressed myself like peeling an orange:
                         desperate, hungry, pulpy carnage sticky
beneath my fingernails. I exhale
             the fear stagnant in my chest—
                         and for an instant, divinity kisses my skin.

Annabelle Smith is a creative writing student based in Maryland. Raised in the church, she finds connection to God in the written word. More of her work can be read in Every Day Fiction and in upcoming publications by TRNSFR and Amethyst Review.

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