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Three Rivers, and Prayer After Refusing to Pray

From: New England Review
Volume 33, Number 4, 2013
pp. 52-54 | 10.1353/ner.2013.0009

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

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

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.

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 refused again, and my father wept.
And You—or so a boy thinks—
did not lift a...

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