Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Juvenilia: A Prayer

This poem, under the title "A Prayer From Hell," won me second prize in a contest put on by a minor literary journal in 1996. I was pretty proud of that. It has the same excesses and weaknesses you can see in my current work. More or less. When I was applying to graduate schools and considering attempting to gain entry into a creative writing program, I consulted with one of my undergrad professors about a stack of poems, this one included. He suggested lopping the last few lines off, and I think he was correct. I am including them here as they were published, but running the red line through them, just to let you know. With the whole of the poem, and the constituent parts, as with everything, I am ambivalent.

A Prayer

There are streams dark and viscous that run
behind the moonlight, crosscurrents interwoven
like cords of gallows ropes that could be
fingers extinguishing the stricken head
of a match.
                  If the moon has hands, they are for strangling,
and holding us anxiously, trembling between love and murder.
These two, like the tides, and fortune's wheel,
ebb          flow          lift          plunge          the moon,
some slow motion coin toss, ruled not by luck, but iron-fisted
physics, gravity and weight differentials, lines
and pulleys, dew vaporized from wing an entire continent
          And we know this. And knowing
does not help.

                  What do we want?
Hands to sleep in come in ugly pairs, flame and
flood, blossoming and collapsing like flowers
through our hair, around our throats, they are poison; but the head
of Amaryllis belladonna, named for poison, only begins
to unfold pink petals as its leaves, arms extended in youth,
die, wizen, drop, melt
or are swallowed into the soil below,

as our arms fail us, and our strength withers
when ours are the only hands willing to hold us.
We know of the mysteries of sickness and death.
We know that there will be struggle and loss, that
the odds are enough to crush us, that when the darkness
descends, inevitable, inexorably, we are blind, and prey
for sleep. We draw our water from dark
stagnant pools, push away sunlight with shades
over filthy windows, the air we breathe is death itself,
yet we surprise ourselves now and then

with the blooming. Here
is your answer: listen,
come in close.

We want to believe.

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