Sometimes I stumble upon poems and stories that make me think on the website fictionpress.com, where I have an account -www.fictionpress.com/~saskiatielens). One of these poems is “Prayer”, by Sylvia Woolf (obviously not her real name), and I’d like to share it with you. It’s kind of long, but I thought it was well worth the time it took to read it.
With your narrow shoulder breadth
Across the waves of heads turned to the front
In the teapot tempest holder of the chapel
As we all sang a rousing hymn.
It’s all I know, is what your expression apologized
With to me, as I imagined to hear you sigh.
You were raised on this philosophy baked into
Your crustless bread: the tide will always turn
As sure as your faithful cheek in religious theory
And so this is the highest compliment that you can give me:
I am at one with God, you say, even if I don’t know it yet.
And as the words tangle from your mouth
A wave of peace crashes within the seascape of your eye
As you will me forcefully to see, to see this spiritual
Side of me that you somehow think is there
Despite how I’ve confessed to you I lack
The fiber of a soul to believe in such things.
But you fondly sketch an image of me teaching chapel school,
Illuminating children in a way you wish you had been,
To question, to challenge, to search with a burning urgency
For the Truth, whatever that may be.
I nod, politely, swoon a little at your sincerity
Before bursting your pretty little painted bubble
With a too harsh retort about Bible beaters
And, in an attempt to keep things light, remind
Your falling face of a comment you made long ago:
That you answered in all earnestness upon my query
That according to your laws, I was, indeed on my way
To Hell. But I could not regret my probing more
Once I see the weariness your expression abruptly bears,
And you apologize too profusely for my guilt to hear,
And respond that you could not have been more wrong:
That I am the most righteous person, perhaps, that you have ever known
Despite my foreignness to churches and my ever-questing heart
And somehow, still with Jesus in your eye, you overlook
My sins, my girls, my suicides, my agnosticism and
Inform me solemnly that I will find my road to Heaven
In my own time, even if I cannot see the way.
I’m not sure if I want to laugh at your gravity,
Your childlike guarantee that God is especially fond of me,
Or want to throw my arms about your skinny form,
So uncomfortable to lean upon, with no softness anywhere—
But you were not built for comfort, in body or in view,
And that, of course, is what I love about you,
That you take yourself and me this seriously,
To puff out your breath upon the shattering sky
And stand back to watch the cloud that filled your lungs
Crystallize between us on the wintry air
Before staking out a careful reply to my inquiry
With more faith than I could ever contain.
You got kicked out of Sunday school
For insisting that Gandhi went to heaven
With that same passionate assurance
That you unconsciously wield so disarmingly now
And I long for that much surety in anything
Instead of my uncertain contradictory self.
You can check out more of her work at www.fictionpress.com/~sylviawoolf.