“The Prayer” by Rachel Rose

Rachel Rose


In the morning I prayed the prayer of thanks
for having not been made a man.
I prayed the prayer of the unbeliever
which required that I bite the hand that feeds me.
It was the morning of the first day. I said Kaddish
for the dead and the undead. Which is to say
living. Which is to say my own hand, owned
by mine teeth. How I prayed for belief!
It was the evening of the first day
and I prayed the prayer of thanks
for having been made to bleed.

I lacked the genetic code for piousness.
It was the second day. What do you know? Sunrise!
I prayed the prayer of thanks for having not been made
a Christian. Which is to say known entity.
It was a long day, the second day. No moon.
I prayed in bed with you for the second
coming. I took the Lord’s name in vain.
Which is to say I spake it in passion.
Which is to say I linked my body to the holy war
of creation. Who shall forgive whom?

The third day was a dawn of rain.
All day white mushrooms bloomed in the wet leaves.
My grief was like unto the fungus spreading leagues underground
but all that emerged were those white fingers pressing
through the grave of earth. Let there be sleep, you said
and I slept.

The fourth day was an eclipse in the temple.
I prayed on my knees to the gold circlet of darkness
that had once been the sun. I prayed in the four directions
and burned the four sacrificial hearts, read the ash
for clues. As the smoke rose
the waters rose in the four directions.
No prayer could cool that benediction of heat
and I believed, at least, in fire.

It was the morning of the fifth day
and I prayed the prayer of thanks for having not been born
a lamb. As we ate you wiped my bloodied lips with linen.
We lifted our goblets of light and smashed them on the tabernacle.
Which is to say we prayed the prayer of those who have drunk
to abandon themselves. Which is to say we became unrecognizable
to each other. Which is to say I’m sorry I was unfaithful
though I remember little of the act. Your body was a shrine
but I went through the wrong gate.

We were glad for the sixth day.
We were hungover with effort and joy. Which is to say
we prayed the prayer of children on a treasure hunt.
I said the words of thanks to God for not having made me gold.
Night was a relief. I stared through the darkness
at the domes of mosques.

On the seventh day we could not rest. You paced the dawn.
I sang the scream of beaten women. You wailed at the wall. I kissed
the bronze knife of the Goddess. You ripped the sacred garments.
I served the breasts and miracles
on a platter of relics. You lit the joss sticks
and copied the sutras by hand.
I plucked the eyes from the vine
caught the stones in my mouth. I said the prayer
of thanks for not having to be reborn. Which
is to say Ash. Which is to say Amen.

from Rattle #50, Winter 2015


Rachel Rose: “I am an atheist in ordinary life, but as a poet, I am able to become, or at least access, other selves, including those who grapple with faith and those who simply yearn to believe; in this way, calling upon all these contradictory voices, my poem, ‘The Prayer,’ was conceived.” (web)

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