Celeste Doaks

A Mother-Daughter Rite

Because momma’s a germophobe—a woman
obsessed with a dishless kitchen sink, spot-free glass
tables, and clean vaginas—she taught me how
to toilet paper the seat in the public stalls
of rest stops, airports, diners, and all the places
grown ladies put a bright tube of red to lips before
leaving the mirror. Somewhere around age five, I remember
lifting up my dress and slip and pausing for her
to show me the process. You’ve got to pull it down
real steady, like this, so it won’t crinkle. Then measure
four squares each, two long ones, for the left and right sides,
and then a third, shorter one, which you’ll double-fold,
for the middle—it’s the most important. With each layer she moved
gracefully, a ballet dancer over the commode, not stirring any wind
that might send the makeshift seat soaring to the tile
floor. All the while humming a hymn from last Sunday’s
church service. Watching her hands secure the white covering,
I wondered how many other daughters were shown
this rite. How many other mothers went
through all this to protect the Y, this hidden secret,
between their daughters’ legs?

audio of celeste reading this poem.

Copyright © celeste doaks.

celeste doaksPoet and journalist celeste doaks is the author of Cornrows and Cornfields, (Wrecking Ball Press, UK). In 2012 she received the Lucille Clifton Scholarship to attend Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. Her work has garnered a variety of accolades including the 2009 Academy of American Poets Graduate Prize, the 2010 AWP WC&C Scholarship, and residencies at Atlantic Center of the Arts and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her journalism has appeared in the Huffington Post, Village Voice, Time Out New York, and QBR (Quarterly Black Book Review). Her poems have been published in multiple on-line and print publications such as Chicago Quarterly Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Bayou Magazine and Beltway Poetry Quarterly. Celeste received her MFA from North Carolina State University; currently, she teaches creative writing at Morgan State University.

Niki Herd

Niki Herd

Curator’s Notes: This poem brings to mind all the rituals that come with being a girl; how they make impressions that follow us long into womanhood.