Book

“Written with the spare, sensual, and deeply evocative prose of a master, this brave and ultimately transcendent memoir is an absolute gem. What Kelly J. Beard accomplishes here is stunning: by stepping nakedly back into her youth as the daughter of Christian fundamentalists, a life-long couple whose love for one another never seemed to wane, she also steps back into violence and neglect, poverty and the shame of the poor, the striving for one’s very selfhood when few seem to be able to help or pay much attention. And Beard renders all of this, and more, with a poet’s clear-eyed search for the truth. An Imperfect Rapture is a plaintive hymn of forgiveness, and it moved to tears many times over. This is, quite simply, a beautiful book.”
—Andre Dubus III,
author of Gone So Long and Dirty Love

AN IMPERFECT RAPTURE

That’s when I saw her.

She didn’t look like the angels in my Illustrated Children’s Bible, the blondes of indiscriminate gender with billowy gowns and huge white wings folded behind their shoulders. She was my size. And dark. She leaked light from every pore—mouth, eyes, and fingertips. Her voice was wind ruffling a strand of leafy trees. I’d seen adults fall at the altar, seen them bury their faces into gritty carpet and weep, but until that moment I’d never known why. Prism colors encircled her. She leaned her face close enough for me to see through the gauzy veil. When she looked into my eyes, tears and laughter burst out of me—not from how my blood turned effervescent or the shock of lightning sizzling through my veins—but from the deep calm that swaddled me, my heart. Pure gratitude.

I wanted more than anything to give her something. Something precious. I climbed through my parents’ bedroom window and took the bottle of perfume my mother kept on her dresser. It was in a milk glass bottle topped with a round pink cap. She only used it on Sundays. After dabbing tiny spots of flowery scent onto her neck and wrists, she’d rub it between her breasts and on the tops of her thighs before lifting the bottle to the light, measuring the number of indulgences left. When she sailed past Dad in her scented cloud, he stopped whatever he was doing. His dimple deepened on his left cheek.

I slid back out the window. My small angel smiled as I stepped into her light and knelt before her. But as I poured the amber liquid onto her feet she disappeared. With a tricked thief’s despair, I watched my mother’s best perfume spill through thin air.

When I slinked back inside, Mom was ironing in the living room. Smells of spray starch and singed cotton. The slash of stringed dissonance accompanying Perry Mason’s closing credits. Dad’s work shirts hung by wire hangers off the side of the ironing board. I stood in front of her, one hand holding her perfume bottle upside down, the other clutching its pink cap.

Her range of responses to my childhood infractions was more varied than Dad’s. I could count on his methodical manner and cold discipline. But with her, it could be a fast slap in the face, a yank of hair, the belt, a lecture, or an afternoon in my room. I braced for every direction except the one she took: when I told her my story, she opened her arms and gathered me to her. I hadn’t guessed that a woman who saw demons might find comfort in a daughter who saw angels.

AN IMPERFECT RAPTURE

That’s when I saw her.

She didn’t look like the angels in my Illustrated Children’s Bible, the blondes of indiscriminate gender with billowy gowns and huge white wings folded behind their shoulders. She was my size. And dark. She leaked light from every pore—mouth, eyes, and fingertips. Her voice was wind ruffling a strand of leafy trees. I’d seen adults fall at the altar, seen them bury their faces into gritty carpet and weep, but until that moment I’d never known why. Prism colors encircled her. She leaned her face close enough for me to see through the gauzy veil. When she looked into my eyes, tears and laughter burst out of me—not from how my blood turned effervescent or the shock of lightning sizzling through my veins—but from the deep calm that swaddled me, my heart. Pure gratitude.

I wanted more than anything to give her something. Something precious. I climbed through my parents’ bedroom window and took the bottle of perfume my mother kept on her dresser. It was in a milk glass bottle topped with a round pink cap. She only used it on Sundays. After dabbing tiny spots of flowery scent onto her neck and wrists, she’d rub it between her breasts and on the tops of her thighs before lifting the bottle to the light, measuring the number of indulgences left. When she sailed past Dad in her scented cloud, he stopped whatever he was doing. His dimple deepened on his left cheek.

I slid back out the window. My small angel smiled as I stepped into her light and knelt before her. But as I poured the amber liquid onto her feet she disappeared. With a tricked thief’s despair, I watched my mother’s best perfume spill through thin air.

When I slinked back inside, Mom was ironing in the living room. Smells of spray starch and singed cotton. The slash of stringed dissonance accompanying Perry Mason’s closing credits. Dad’s work shirts hung by wire hangers off the side of the ironing board. I stood in front of her, one hand holding her perfume bottle upside down, the other clutching its pink cap.

Her range of responses to my childhood infractions was more varied than Dad’s. I could count on his methodical manner and cold discipline. But with her, it could be a fast slap in the face, a yank of hair, the belt, a lecture, or an afternoon in my room. I braced for every direction except the one she took: when I told her my story, she opened her arms and gathered me to her. I hadn’t guessed that a woman who saw demons might find comfort in a daughter who saw angels.

“Written with the spare, sensual, and deeply evocative prose of a master, this brave and ultimately transcendent memoir is an absolute gem. What Kelly J. Beard accomplishes here is stunning: by stepping nakedly back into her youth as the daughter of Christian fundamentalists, a life-long couple whose love for one another never seemed to wane, she also steps back into violence and neglect, poverty and the shame of the poor, the striving for one’s very selfhood when few seem to be able to help or pay much attention. And Beard renders all of this, and more, with a poet’s clear-eyed search for the truth. An Imperfect Rapture is a plaintive hymn of forgiveness, and it moved to tears many times over. This is, quite simply, a beautiful book.”
—Andre Dubus III,
author of Gone So Long and Dirty Love