Because it was a pilgrimage,
we left during the fifth hour of daylight
like the children in our textbooks
marching off to fight with devils.
Not yet women but no longer girls, my sisters and I
marched behind our mother to the river
where a secret society of women holding white sheets
waded into reflections of rose-apple blossoms,
into the icy, black morning water.
We watched our mother drowning sheets,
then men’s shirts, her back bending, straightening,
her arms lifting the white cloth into the air,
a benediction, her arms as fluid as water,
as fluid as a Chancery f written in fresh ink.
I would pull the white shirts from the water
—embarrassed at touching my father, my uncles—
and drape them across rocks to bleach in the sunlight.
Walking home, arms filled with laundry
sweet with the smell of the sun now dissolving in the hills,
I would remember my mother in the dark water.
I would pray motherhood would never find me there.