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Three Rivers, and Prayer After Refusing to Pray
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Three Rivers, and Prayer After Refusing to Pray

Three Rivers

in memory of Sayaka Kanade

The whole house is gone, burned in rainy Pittsburgh, where I used to sit wrapping sticky rice in nori, drinking whiskey, waiting for you and him to come

stumbling up the stairs, your body folded over his thick shoulder—laughing, asleep, crying. My days depended on which. I’d stay seated at the window;

on the table phyllo under a damp paper towel, porcini mushrooms in a bowl, a plastic pastry brush, a sauce pan of clarified butter; four strips

of dough, skin-thin, spaced an inch apart, dressed with brush, layered, dressed with brush, layered and dressed twice more, the table shaking

each time the train steamed along beneath it, each time that felt like forever. This morning, forgive me, I saw you on the blue wing of a raven.

Here, in the mountains of Arizona, the jays look shellacked, tar-stiff crests, black beaks and eyes polished by cinder. This is alpine desert, and it smokes

at the slightest touch of water. I have cooked this summer at the one white tablecloth restaurant for forty miles. Each night I clock out I hold up my apron—always

a new action-painting of demi-glace, butter and oil, blood already browned. No pattern, no theme, no face emerging at last with merciful news—just a pitch-thick

stain, something to be boiled and bleached, scrubbed out with both hands. I won’t ask how you did it. Won’t ask your husband if the police lifted, carried [End Page 52]

your body before he could, or if he could have, given the chance. How the two planes must have lifted from the ground of Rochester, New York, at different times

but on the same path, to take each of you back to Pittsburgh, to bury you where you were born. Forgive me. All I want is to remember you

alive, to wake you from the couch where one night you lay beside me, blind with alcohol, your breath somehow sweet. I remember leaving you there

to wander the streets, the alleys, the hollow below the streets and alleys, then along the bank of the Allegheny, one of two rivers entering the mouth

of a third, the Ohio, deep and wide and a blue so close to black if not for the moon, behind the clouds, the rain. And I thought of you, and him, the short days

under one roof, and how, some nights, winter reaches the point of freezing the mind, like a block of ice in a river that tries to warm the ice, but can only

make it, for a little while, a little less cold. But I did not think any of that. No, I didn’t wander the streets of a rainy city with the sole wish of being

swallowed whole. I simply went outside for a cigarette, and stared up at our dark windows, then down at the train tracks below the bridge.

It might have been ten minutes. Or less than a moment, a pulse. Or I stood there for twelve years. And now, when I turn back toward the house?

My dear, the whole thing is on fire, it is fire, burning itself from the inside out, a furnace, a ravenous blindness. And when I look again:

sunrise on glass. [End Page 53]

Prayer After Refusing to Pray

after Patrick Donnelly

Now, in the summer heat of Texas in February, to the sound of grackles in trees stretching for rain, I pray for a man over a thousand miles away. But You—if You are what he says You are—have sent boys to burn the car that was his home, boys to crack his skull with stones, and now You send a boy to drag him down to a river dark with snow and push him in. Water in his mouth, his eyes, did he think of me? But it was the ocean I’d found myself inside. I had refused to pray all summer, and when I emerged from the salty sting of blindness, my body dripping with the Atlantic, I...