by Sarah Lilius
I swallowed the brightest blue
mouthwash, tried to coax

strong liquid into my bloodstream.
My teeth sparkled

and my stomach gurgled
cartoon sky colored acid.

Mother said to wash all your parts 
every day, every night.

She kept me hospital clean
without the gown 

and disposable socks scratchy 
with man-made fibers.

She once washed my mouth
out with Ivory soap.

Maybe I said shit or damn
as my sister snickered 

outside the bathroom door. 
Some of the white chunks

became me, lodged behind
my molars, clean.

Years later, his teenage hands weren’t 
sticky or dusty but they held me down 

like an object,
a summer melon, 

something to be broken fresh in half
and that night I showered

hot and sudsy like it was the last time.
Hands shaky in wet hair, 

my legs, two planks of wood
wobbled, splintered a truth 

I wouldn’t speak 
for years.

Decades before, mother 
in her similar situation 

learns to take the hot shower
long before I am born 

so that she could teach me 
the ways of scalding water,

reach your hands up higher 
to touch the source of stripping 

away pain, it’s not real 
but at least it’s clean.

I swallowed the drain cleaner 
in my mind. I wanted to find

the dirtiness of death,
and hover above the cold 

tile floor where the poison 
drilled my organs, 

cleansed me
of the sin of boys. 

Now, I shower every night.
I pull the curtain tight against the walls 

facing each other like giant dominos 
ready to fall into the soaking water. 

I once saw a small girl with blond
curls, she laughed at my naked body,

this spirit of my childhood,
snarky and unkind, clean. 

About the author

Sarah Lilius is the author of the full-length poetry collection, Dirty Words (Indie Blu(e) Publishing 2021) and six chapbooks. Some of her publication credits include Fourteen Hills, Boulevard, Massachusetts Review and New South. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two sons. Her website is

next up...

Year of the tiger

by Kelsi Lindus