As a child I often sat in the bathtub with my mother
where, with the tips of her fingers,
she would trace each letter of the alphabet
on my back.
What’s this one?
P. No wait, it’s O.
That one’s an E, I think,
and the next, when you lift your finger,
must be a T.
And then it was her turn to guess
the letters I drew upon her
and to uncode the secret messages
when they were strung together:
This is fun.
I love the alphabet.
I love you.
It was an ancient kind of magic,
mother and daughter breathing water vapor
and learning to become
one again –
mapping language on each other
until touch dissolved into letter,
dissolved into alphabet,
dissolved into soap.
One tap to the spine and
my mind was my body,
my body was my mind
and my skin shivered to read letters
in a way my eyes couldn’t.
It was as if she knew, somehow,
that I would need this knowledge –
that, like a blind person, I would need to feel
the alphabet as braille against my skin
and to know the shape of language,
and to translate that shape into story
and to know exactly what the touch of a finger