Her youngest daughter’s thick curly hair
should not be washed every night;
she knows this,
but her daughter begs her to do it,
loves the ritual, the smell of the shampoo and cream rinse.
It is becoming a chore, the mother thinks,
the child getting big enough to do this herself.
Her own hair is a large knot of curls
kept at bay on the top of her brown forehead
by a plastic comb, the light streaks she has painted there
spiraling away like sweet pea in the garden
she keeps with her girls.
Every night, she folds the tea towel across her child’s forehead
to keep the sprayed water from her eyes and face.
Don’t drown me, Mama, the girl always teases
and they laugh, but tonight she hears the word from the news,
the one about the way water is used
to simulate drowning.
Her daughter’s neck in her hand feels startlingly strong,
the eyes that look up at her disconcertingly wise,
and below them, the tub water shimmers
with foam infected with light,
reflecting it in pink and purple.
The daughter suddenly splashes the mother
who lets the child go
and threatens to send her to her room for the night.
The girl goes under briefly and emerges sputtering,
wipes her face of suds,
and says, If you try to send me to my room, I will fight you.
The mother taught all three of her daughters to swim
by throwing them in the deep end.
It is how she learned herself.
What can she say to the child,
but Come here; let me rinse you again.