Little Rubin Attends His First Foot Washing At Victory Mill Church of God

by Tara Bray

No, his mama said he couldn’t go,
the mill church outside town drew the ones
who practiced foolishness, spoke the wild
tongues, grew crazed enough to touch
the cold skin of the dead at funerals.
A fire deep within ordered him
to defy his mama’s will. He told himself
he’d take any pain she might deliver
for his wrong as he slipped off to find
his way. Once inside those stone walls,
the usher called for Old Man Oliver,
who had one good leg and a stump, paired him
off with Little Rube. Washing him
scared everyone. That foot brought on a dread
so fierce, those old toes may as well
have spouted dirty ditties, dreaded hymns.

But Rubin took the cloth.
Hesitant at first, he used both hands;
it took a lot of strength to reach the pink
beneath the dirt. Old Man Oliver winked
and offered him a special deal–two for one.
He went to work on Rubin’s feet.
“Son, I’ll make you a little heaven on earth.
You’re going to feel Sweet Jesus in your bones
and then you’ll kneel a new man, perfect
for the Lord to use.” He knew just how
and where to rub, and for a moment Rubin
didn’t care about the dirt-gray water
in the pan, the gritty feel of it,
the sour stink of Oliver’s tired life.
For an instant, the spirits washed over him,
like angels old as dirt, sent down
to comfort fields of believers on the edge of town.

Tara Bray‘s work has been published or is forthcoming in The Southern Review, Puerto del Sol, Atlanta Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Many Mountains Moving, Green Mountains Review and Crab Orchard Review. She is in her final year at the MFA program at the University of Arkansas where she holds the Walton Fellowship in Creative Writing.

Poem from Sacred Dirt