Read “If I Had a God, I Would Pray” from the new poetry collection, The Receipt, by Trish Reeves (Poetry ’83)

If I Had a God, I Would Pray

I recognize my two outstretched arms, flawed by time,
on the old desk before me, pressed down hard against the crazing

as they explain to me the nature of prayer,
why it takes a body to bear one to a god.

Tucked in at night with parental instructions,
I uttered more prayers than I had cousins to include.

I’d been told by my elders, sitting in cars, at tables,
after a phone was laid back in a cradle,

that people around me would disappear

in greater and greater numbers as I took on years,
and this knowledge I received as coolly as a daily newspaper

dropped open before me to the account of a tragedy
befalling so many whose faces I would never know.

This went on for years.

And now, unable to sleep, I see the vivid faces
of those who once told me this, and are among that number

of those they spoke of in sadness, in sorrow, in failure
to explain the unspeakable dropping away

that would come to me, the faces I would retrace
before sleep, their days my days, now before me midair—

the lash of memory
to replace every prayer.