A widow came to my baptism,
a distant cousin of my mother’s.
On her neck she had a port-wine stain
shaped like the palm of a hand.
She said one night before I was born
she spoke my name in another tongue.
She said she knew
what the future held for me.
I heard her tell my mother
and the other women
while they cut a pattern for my baptism gown
out of a linen sheet.
I thought I could see the future too.
I saw myself holding court
for the young hands
in from the fields.
The widow said she dreamt
three nights in a row
of a girl in white
walking behind a plow.
Keeping their eyes
on their hand work,
trying not to prick their fingers
they made no sign they heard.
Too many lean years,
failed crops plowed under;
too many cold nights
had gone before.
The night before the baptism
there was a storm.
By morning water rose
three feet over the bridge.
The preacher held the ceremony anyway.
At his command I leaned back against his arm,
phantom disappearing out from under me,
river coursing through:
I saw a sturgeon cruise
the silt kicked loose by his boots,
I saw myself hanging sheets out to dry
on a night so black no man would come home.
And I saw the woman with the birthmark
touch my dress to her lips
like the dark sheets of her own bed
while the men in the family
dragged the river for my body.