It should be noted that using Fels-Naptha as a punishment for foul language is considered highly dangerous.
My mother kept in a bowl near the tub rainbow guest soaps molded into flowers. Untouched for years by five kids, my father, and grandmother. By the basement washtubs, a bar of Lava and a bar of Fels Naptha sat, two punks waiting to kick our asses. We had no guests. * At an departmental soiree, our top Marxist theorist mocked me when I admitted using Ivory. Why were we discussing soap? I have a theory! He sleeps with a gel mask. “It floats!” I said to him, drifting away into boyhood on Lake Huron, shivering as my father lathered up, tossing the bar to me. * My mother dusted the guest soaps. My father shaved with soap in a mug and a thick, frazzled brush, his mouth carved into an O, styptic pencil at the ready. For work, he rarely shaved, but never missed Sunday morning—a sight to behold, and we beheld it, a ritual we understood, like stopping for glazed donuts after mass. * We beat each other up in the dusty yard. We had no Beaver to leave it to. Dove had ¼% cleansing cream according to TV authorities. We guzzled cold powdered milk the color of cheap paper and overcast sky. We fought to be first to unwrap a new bar of Ivory, pure white square with some God in it. We wore it down to nothing. * At the Ford plant, the soap was sawdust, communal sinks, circular fountains. Greasy to the elbows, we scraped off long hours. Whatever prayers said were obscene or silent. * The time I used a guest soap, just because didn’t cut it. I squeezed the delicate blossom into an ordinary ball, a Biblical transgression that got me expelled from dinner and television, my mouth washed out. My mother, off-the-scale angry, higher than the broken lamp, than the slipped fuck, than my older brother’s hickie. * The soaps stared in pale eyeball silence. Where would guests sleep when even the basement was partitioned? She apologized that one time, later, as I sat beside the basement washtubs and she cut my hair in the dim light of another family ritual.
What’s one little soap flower, she said, in the larger scheme of things? She held my head firmly in one hand, clippers in the other. Outside, the world’s flower blossomed, enormous and unreachable above us, while below, nothing grew but mold. The next day, my mother gave me a bar of Ivory in a blue plastic soap dish that snapped shut. How can I explain the gift of Ivory to those of you from a different faith? I made it last forever.
Jim Daniels' latest publications are the chapbook, Apology to the Moon (BatCat Press, 2015), Eight Mile High, stories (Michigan State University Press, 2014) and Birth Marks, poems (BOA Editions, 2013). Daniels is the Thomas Stockham Baker University Professor at Carnegie Mellon University.