Hand to Mouth

by Samantha Schaefer


I exhausted the monkey bars until my hands ripped open. It was a gravel pit there instead of the traditional sand playground—probably something to do with Catholicism. Pebbles the size of rosary beads, I'm still all pain/pleasure. When I got too lonely I'd collect female saints' relics from the gravel on the playground as though it were gravel in a graveyard but never men's remains—only women's—the ovaries of St. Lucy who had her eyes removed with a spoon and carried them around on a golden plate—

"Lucy" means "light" with the same root as "lucid"—Dad says lucid dreaming is a learnable skill, but that's only if you can sleep deep—which is also a learnable skill. He'd try to train me to sleep hard enough saying keep your eyes shut, keep em shut now—and read aloud from manuals on astro-traveling while I slept, hoping to control my dream experience—but I'd always end up back on the playground 

next to St. Dymphna's teeth—knocked out of her head after she refused to marry her own father—the kidney stones of St. Margaret who was swallowed by a dragon. Always thought she'd marry St. George who killed dragons for a living, but like I said, I didn't collect the men. My hands as tithe baskets in this gathering, worried I wouldn't have enough, in a breathing sort of way, gravel dust coated the inside of my mouth and made me dumb. Rocks the color of rotten teeth—spit on to make pretty—I stored the relics in my desk

next to my stash of candy. I'd have contests with myself from day to day to see who could jump from the highest swing height. These heights were recorded in a notebook, also at the back of my desk. The days when I got sent to the principal's office to have rocks plucked out with a pair of pliers—those days won—as a reward I'd let myself eat a piece of candy 

and pray for real on the kneelers that hurt to get down on. In church, the knees were the only part allowed naked. Even our heads got covered. A woman died in there, in church. She wasn't a saint. After the diocese removed the carpeting, the marble floor beneath developed a sense of humor. The woman slipped on her way to get Eucharist and broke her hip. Some people said it was a convenient way to go—that it must have been divine in front of that big blond crucifix—and at least she didn't have to lug around an oxygen tank anymore, not where she was going either way. Father didn't blink an eye. Just kept his hands raised 

placing wafers on tongues. Did you know a priest has to eat any Eucharist that falls to the ground? Any that is left over, any wayward piece—I wonder if he did Eucharist sweeps after mass. I wonder if he had a special broom—the bits-of-god-broom—I wonder if he checked to make sure everyone swallowed—I wonder if he got in trouble when he didn't swallow, when he couldn't even put it in his mouth—the mouth whom he answered to—another man's flesh.


Samantha reads "Hand to Mouth"


Samantha Schaefer recently received her MFA in Poetry as a Follett Fellow at Columbia College Chicago. She is the co-editor of Black Tongue Review, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has attended as Writer in Residence at Brushcreek Foundation for the Arts. Her poetry has appeared in places such as TYPO, Columbia Poetry Review and Ghost Town Literary Magazine