artwork: ralph murre
by Peggy Trojan
We choose the top shelf where veterans go,
Sixty, in my prime, four, in his.
One hundred seventy degrees coaxes us to sit still,
adjusting to the heat.
We’d partnered before. He knows the rules.
No clothes, no rough talk, no throwing water,
no obvious stares. Church manners.
The room is small. Lined in cedar, three tiers of bench.
Stove in the corner, topped with rocks.
Thermometer, dim light, water basin and dipper.
Birch bough switch for the penitent.
Having shed all visible signs of status at the door,
we sit side by side, equals.
Talk is sparse. No chatter. Quiet observation.
We sense the spirits of my parents, and their parents,
and parents before them. We feel Finn.
We dip wash cloths in the basin between us
to cool our flaming faces. Smile.
Talk becomes confident and wise.
“Did you ever notice, Gramma, that men and women
look the same from the back,
but not the front….?
Then dumps the communal water
on his head.
~ first published in The Finnish American Reporter