A Small Prayer

By: Craig van Rooyen

Featured art: Ce fut un religieux mystère by Maurice Denis

—After Ada Limon

Behind the rotting fence in their first house,
my mom and dad are eating canned mushroom soup
over buttered toast in a one-bedroom Kentucky clapboard
where a turntable spins the same Bill Gaither Trio record,
“Because He Lives,” until they go almost mad
with their stained Formica floor and overflowing toilet
and their longing for heaven, and I love them so.
She is crying at the stove because today
she crashed the rusted Dodge Dart and he has no way
to drive the circuit of his churches in the morning—
preaching at each about the Second Coming
and how to get right with Jesus. I want to offer
her a beer, but there I am in her womb,
kicking to be noticed among their other troubles
and, in any event, she has never had a drink.

He is thinking about his sermon,
the one that will end in an altar call because
he knows people need to walk toward something together
after they have walked away from each other all week long.
First the white church, then the black one across town.
And my father is going to save the country, and then the world
by baptizing its citizens one by dripping one.
Nights, they watch the news on a black-and-white
Magnavox, wrestling with the rabbit ears
to see, through the snow of static
what the world is becoming, believing
it will end in the best way possible.
During the week, she delivers babies
in her starched white uniform, knowing,
in these last days, they will never die.
Years later, some might say their hope
was not a hope, or was not the right kind of hope,
but rather a sort of escape from the reality of their time, but I want to tell you some hope is better than none. Look at them there, on their knees, praying
their small prayer. Not for the healing
of the nation, or for an end to the war,
but something more manageable, more
imaginable—for a car to start, for something
in its crushed innards to turn over and catch fire.


Craig van Rooyen‘s poems has appeared in 32 Poems, Best New Poets, The Cincinnati Review, Poetry Northwest, Ploughshares, Rattle, Willow Springs, and elsewhere. He lives and writes in San Luis Obispo, California and holds an MFA in poetry from Pacific University.

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