Ten Plagues Sestina

closeup of wine glass and person's hand holding a haggadah
Not that we didn’t feel responsible, but really it was God
who turned the water red; in Flint, it ran gray from the taps
then bled, but they said, “there’s nothing wrong,”
while the school nurses tended the wounds of failure,
alerted the first-grade teachers. The classroom
decorated for learning. The children unable.
When I was a girl-child, tadpoles swam. We were able,
peering through aquarium glass, to witness how God
hatched out black bodies from tiny eggs in our classroom
each with a stubborn tail wagging, not in water from the taps
(dead tadpoles would turn your grade to failure)
so daily we fetched pond water. Nothing went wrong
though we worried—feeling we somehow might be wrong
imprisoning them as legs grew on dark bodies unable
to leap free. Eager to feed, to nourish, avoid failure-
to-thrive. Be the kind of carers (like the One God)
who provided health and safety, as if it ran from taps
that our small hands turned. Small sinks in the classroom
matched the short desks, the safe space in our classroom
where a teacher could protect us from accidental wrong—
no fire, no flood, no all-night-running water taps
or testing our electric outlets. Deliberate evil unable
to enter; accidental hurts healed; do you think God
felt those chosen people had become a failure
when they wore the slave collars? What did failure
cost us—when the frogs hopped out, across our classroom,
while the teacher combed lice from our hair? God
created clinging ticks that decimate the deer, so wrong!
Wrong that a creator allowed a virus that we were unable
to tame or cure. Wrong to send boils. Or poison from the taps
when all we ever wanted was a quiet drink from those taps
we children learning that the grownups’ failure
spread like locusts under foot. Our parents were unable
to halt the darkness of climate change, posters in the classroom
showing how the ocean looked before it all went wrong
when all along they’d counted on the hand of God
blessing, not performing Taps in our classroom
creation twisting in epic failure, even the day’s light wrong.
We firstborn claimed we’d been unable—yes, we blamed God.
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