by Wendy Carlisle
Prayer (9th Ward)
Let there be winds, lord,
and let them blow,
you know how
and let there be water, too
and Lord, blinding sun, but make that later on
and standing water and let there be
filth in the water and oil,
and let the dead float up
against porch railings, Lord
with the chigger-rich Spanish moss
and let the chiggers be hungry for blood, Lord,
and let there be busses with broken-out windows
and let the kings of the city commandeer them, Lord,
for Wal-Mart runs and to drive through
the front of Frady’s One Stop
and Dora’s Super Market
and the Winn-Dixie on Almonaster, Lord,
and let, as we know you will,
the ages roll like a river over the levees
and over the dry tongues of the people.
But Lord let there also be song on those people's lips
and in their ears One-A-Chord's harmony on
“Sweeping Through the City”
and the Joyful Gospel Choir’s “O Happy Day,”
and anything by Miss Mahalia from Water Street,
and let there be a walking bass, a cornet
and drumming lord, drumming
and afterward, Please Lord,
let our children like the Children of Israel,
walk through the parted waters,
walk onto dry land.
On the left, the Atchafalaya, that black, that burnt inside,
silent as a pot. Down there, our lips equal silt and common bliss.
Down there, we carry our graves, folded
in our pockets, a hard-cardboard hunger, a box and shards.
The woman beside me in the food stamp line has a skintight skirt,
an underground man. Down south, we have the right
to costumes and secrets, to gossip and lowdown.
Down south, we observe the bendable rules that stand in for bone.
Below Missouri, we have a chicory bias. Low blues and Jolie Blonde
are the national anthem. Down there, I learned
acoustics from Professor Longhair, religion
from the Mardi Gras Gods, patience in February’s saxophone wind.
Like Buckwheat Zydeco and the Meters,
I can adjust my heartbeat to the length of the tune. Despite the hunter
I am the snake half of the gator. Despite the facts of jazz,
I’m as romantic as a bad house band—
I still think of salvation every time I come.
Sugar cane, Night Train, soufflé, etouffé, the key
to certain muddy silence is under my tongue.
Where your world gapes open, darling,’ I shiver in.
The birds fly out,
the wind begins, the wind flies out,
the birds begin and moonlight
sings in your mean white mouth.
Geese move, the rain
leans into snow-
fall, blowing behind the window-
glass and all up on the ridge,
the outside worries to be let in.
Cats go to the fox.
The carpenter with the ruined ankles,
grieves all our losses.
Chapter and verse, catch and release,
he says it’s just the same.
The moon goes dark. The moon flies out.
The broken-legged wind goes flat.
the cold and dark begin.
And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far.
And he touched his ear, and healed him.
Luke 22: 50-51
Was it good luck
to be Malchus,
to stand close enough
to take the opening cut
at the end of the story,
to behold the deaf ear
on the ground
curling toward heaven, then
to be made whole
again, one might almost say holy,
or after the wound, unable to abandon
one life for another, to remain
untouched, back away, fade
into the crowd?
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