On Ritual Washing ¹
Our apartment waits on the third floor like an uphill cemetery
Mami needs to walk up to rest their bodies. She lives
among the dying and she is—grieving. The elevator stops
working so that she must walk upstairs drunk
in grief. Before this, she leaves our dead to celebrate
her sister’s life. Titi is 52 now—30 years older than her son was
when he died. She carries coffins in her chest, the coffin
keeps growing. Mami returns home to grieve
to her youngest daughter. She’s a monster only
tequila can make. She wails remembering their mother.
The coffin she carries cannot be closed or left home.
Grief unbearable like an open casket. She buries
herself next to her mother alive. Her daughter undresses
her. She retches roses on their casket. Her daughter bathes
her. Her daughter is 19. She wails, wet with grief
she won’t remember in the morning Mami, perdóname.
Mami is talking to the dead. Or maybe,
she is talking to her daughter, who sobs after she sleeps, washed.
¹ Ritual washing often occurs when beloveds, or funeral directors, wash and dress a deceased person. It is often seen as an act towards purification.
Here, ritual washing occurs too for a grieving person being eaten alive and washed still.
Gisselle Yepes is a Puerto Rican and Colombian storyteller from the Bronx. They are currently an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University, where they received the 2021 Vera Meyer Strube Prize with the Academy of American Poets. Gisselle is a Letras Boricuas 2022 Fellowship Recipient, a 2022 Tin House Scholar, and a 2023 Tin House Summer Workshop Reader. Their nonfiction piece “On Her Waters Summoning Us to Drown” won december magazine’s 2022 Curt Johnson Prose Award in Creative Nonfiction. Their work has appeared in Gulf Coast, The Academy of American Poets, and voicemail poems. Gisselle holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University, where they earned the Winchester Fellowship, the Sophie and Anne Reed Prize, and the award for Connecticut Poetry Laureate. They are an alum of Tin House Summer Workshop, Juniper Summer Writing Institute, and Anaphora Writing Residency.