All traces of foreign mattermust be wiped away:discard dust and debris trapped between toes;soak hangnails and calluses in 1 part vinegar, 2 parts water remove nail polish, also nailpolish remover;inspect feet: tops and bottoms;scrub ankles with coarse sponge to get rid of dirt (note: the most common forms of ankle grime —like doubt—are rarely discernible to the human eye);apply a pumice stone to legsrubbing out hair stubble, old scars, and impurities;focus on areas around, underneath and behind knees, which are particularly susceptible to dead skin;cleanse thighs (folds and creasesrequire unfolding and uncreasing);using a rearview mirror, closelyexamine right buttock, then left; pubic hair, if not shorn,should be scrupulously combed;carefully cleanse vagina, rinse, repeat three times;apply q-tips dipped in peroxide to navel area,keeping in mind that dust is merely a physical manifestation of spiritual iniquities;wash breasts and nipples (*breastfeeding mothers: be sure toeliminate dried breastmilk and scar tissue); handsare to be cleaned in a manner similar to feet —tops, bottoms, fingers in-between—; elbows are like knees,see above; shoulders and underarms are particularly prone to smut, as is the space between collarbone and neck;don’t forget: upper back, behind ears, back of neck, etc. [End Page 107] Take extra care with your face: it representsyour sense of self, which must be obliterated.Remember: the performance of this ritualrequires utter and complete self-abnegation:Do away with makeup, blackheads, whiteheads;clear out eye mucus, snot, earwax;methodically comb all hairsparing no effort, no pain, as youundo knots, which signify the unholy thoughts and words and actionscleaving to your soul,bringing you down, down, down.
You are nearly done:examine yourself, head to toe, front to back,using 3 full-length mirrorschecking for stray hairs, stray thoughts.
Now you may enter,immerse,emerge: kosher.
This poem draws upon the “OCD Mikvah Preparation Checklist,” found at http://www.mikvah.org/article/ocd_mikvah_preparation_checklist. The stated goal of the site, Mikvah.org, is to “educate, inspire and enlighten, revealing the secret to the success of the Jewish Home”; in their words, “observance of Mikvah brings G-d into the marriage, elevating the physical to the sublime.” Credited to the Brooklyn-based psychologist Miriam Yerushalmi, the checklist offers a step-by-step guide for those preparing for ritual immersion in a ritual bath, or mikvah. A core practice of traditionally observant Jews, mikvah immersion is required of married women by Orthodox Jewish law before the couple can reinstate physical intimacy following the cessation of all physical contact while the woman is menstruating and for seven days thereafter.
Shoshana Olidort is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at Stanford University. Her research focuses on performativity in postwar Jewish literature across languages. Her work has appeared in The Jewish Review of Books, The Los Angeles Review of Books and The New Republic, among other publications. She is poetry editor of Mantis, a journal of poetry, criticism and translation published by Stanford University. email@example.com
I am grateful to Nashim’s poetry editor, Kathryn Hellerstein, for her close reading and editorial guidance. [End Page 108]