Stella’s Bathtime Routine

by Bronte Billings


Black hair leaks, Mama always

found her way through the drain.


Bedtime was about untangling the

bathtub braid. Slick with how many


layers, Stella and her sticky fingers

grasping at hairs, giggling. Oma would


douse her twice. A crone root twisted

wearily, waschen hinter den Ohren. She


would scrub sand between Stella’s toes,

picking broken shell pieces from her webbed


flesh. Night routines were a mystery. Meine Kind,

Ich erzähl Dir noch ein Märchen. Between


the bubbles, Oma had no soft edges, guttural

words that Stella liked to eat. She would bury


herself in the drain, knotted with black hair

and seaweed. A child can only hiccup imitations.


Märchen, fairytales only work after drained

tragedies. Oma spoke of Nixe, sang her old


stories to sweeten the bitter taste of soap

and dirty water. Stella imagined shipwrecks


crusting the bathtub’s porcelain, princes wrangling

stuffed coral pipes for princesses hanging from


faucets in salty drops. There is nothing to fix

old plumbing. Stuff the faucet with sand, Stella made


her mess in beaches. There was no Mutter

to keep from overflowing–Schlaf ’ schön.


Stella only had Mama, her bathtub miracle slinking

up her dirty beach drain to hold her tight.

Bronte Billings is a third year MFA candidate for the NEOMFA. She is a recipient of the 2015 & 2016 Academy of American Poets Prize and recent recipient of the 2017 Leonard Trawick Award. Bronte has work forthcoming in Bone Bouquet. Born and glued to Ohio, Bronte enjoys the alliteration of her own name, binge writing, and the full moon at 2am.