Boy Bathing Under a Coco Palm

Every morning I see him
toddling through the long damp grass
with a red plastic pail full of water.
He moves carefully, but quick as he can,
the weight pressed to the nub of his belly,
both hands gripping the crooked wire handle
with a steadiness he’s not had much time to learn.

He’s three and a half, four at most. Every day
I wonder how long he has known how
to carry out this complicated private chore.

He sets the pail down slowly, taking pains
to avoid spilling a drop of the ladle
drawn from the precious reserve
just minutes before. Next, the sponge is wet
and the soap lathered onto it. He starts
at the top of his head, scrubbing hard
with chin pressed low and eyes pinched shut.
Moving the sponge back and forth vigorously,
laying thick white suds into the fine, soft nap
of his hair. Back of the ears, then inside,
plying tiny fingers to get close to the matter.

The rest of the bath is managed with the same sure
stroke, and with care to prevent muddying the water
he will need for the rinse. He concentrates hard to lift
the pail. Pours a thin stream over his head and body.
He does not miss a single spot.

Watching him, I relearn the steps of my own morning
bath: hauling water from a drum, using only what
is necessary, and nothing, nothing more.

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