An Evolution of Prayer

By Stephen Dunn

Featured Art: Genesis II by Franz Marc

As a child, some of his prayers were answered
because he prayed out loud for a kite or bike,
which his mother would overhear, and pass on
to her husband, his father, the Lord.

Later, he understood that when he prayed
he was mostly talking to himself—albeit a better,
more moral part of himself—which accounted
for why he heard nothing back from the void.

Lord, he’d begin, because he was afraid
to alter the language of prayer, Lord, deliver
me from envy and mean-spiritedness,
allow me to love people as I love animals.

Then his father died, and he became the sad Lord
of himself, praying for pleasures immediate and grantable.
Let me tango the night long with Margot the receptionist,
he’d say to no one. Let me do unto others.


Stephen Dunn is the author of 17 books of poetry, including the recent chapbook Seeker Of Limits: The Mrs. Cavendish Poems (Sarabande, 2015). His Different Hours (Norton) was awarded the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. The Room And The World, edited by Laura McCullough, a collection of essays about his work, was published by Syracuse University Press in 2013. He lives in Frostburg, Maryland with his wife, the writer Barbara Hurd.

Originally published in NOR 18: Fall 2015

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