Note: My poems this month continue what is turning out to be my lifelong puzzlement over the largest mysteries, particularly those regarding God, faith, and religion. I was raised in the Episcopal Church, which left an indelible and mostly welcome mark on me in all kinds of ways. But ever since some college courses in religion I’ve mostly teetered uneasily between Atheist and Agnostic. Naturally this puzzlement comes out fairly often in poems. In “Prayer” I found myself remembering, somewhat imperfectly, a quotation from French writer Simone Weil that has been translated as follows: “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.” “Against God” is part of a series still in progress in which I explore various big themes in a deliberately perverse way: denial, mock-denial, or some mixture of both. Other entries in the series include poems “against” the wind, nostalgia, reality, time, memory, innocence, art, and Walt Whitman.
Praying answers prayer
--A. R. Ammons
I've no idea
what prayer is.
When I was a kid
no one ever told me,
or, more likely,
I didn't listen.
In church we recited
what was in
but what about
A God-size mystery.
If it's just begging,
count me out.
with God? Sounds
doomed. And we
know how many
vows burn off
Someone said love
and that sounds
good, if partial—
but maybe love's
a way to approach
as a delicacy,
alertness to wind
the way I imagine
God might move
across this earth,
if God existed,
touching each stone
never sure if
you felt it
truly, or just
God's not dead to me, just a concept,
like honor among thieves, like neutrons,
like progress with its contradictory flags.
I can't even say I yearn to believe,
not with that boyish, tight-in-the-groin ache
that saints report—in which I believe,
at best, the way I acknowledge other
languages, other foods at distant tables.
Praying to God is like talking to a bank.
Still, I'm not denying the storms of glory.
With me there's a wisp of cloud soaking light
from the far end of a loved lake.
There are whispers in the attic, scuttlings
across the cellar floor. There's the tang
of winter breath, the spine-stiffening spasm
of love. A dog snuffling leaves brings me
good news from another territory
where I'll never live and may not ever visit.
With me it's enough, some days, that I lift
my eyes to both streetlamp and vagrant star,
that somewhere in my closet is a coat
owned by my father when he was my age,
long soaked in darkness and his smell,
a coat I can neither discard nor wear.
--originally published in Salt River Review (Winter 2005-6).
©2018 David Graham
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