My hair’s pulled back to disguise the grime,
though maybe it’s well that I’m unclean,
since from dust you came, to dust you will return,
the priest recites, smearing my forehead.
Once, twice, and I’m marked, a lintel in plague years.
I’m invited to kneel and read the fifty-first Psalm,
recalling how David watched Bathsheba bathe.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Merciful one, save me from slight repentance.
I pierced the center of the white orchid, Lord,
and it was mud, blood’s cry, my body’s blighted tender.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.