What I Eat is a Prayer

By Joyelle McSweeney Joyelle McSweeney
Then in the August of my twenty-seventh year,
naked except for my seaclogs,
I greeted an audience of piers.

After my dip, I came up covered
in salt and sand: hair tough as an angel’s.
Who could disappoint me now among the so-coifed?

Disappointing menus for a banquet of twenty-seven.
The hostess cannot hear the hotelier, walls blow ope’;
lousy with wallets and checkbooks, the air. Naked except for

The checks and the monies flapped like birds.
I partook of the seasonal activity
and caught a check in my hands—to myself from myself—

and was caught; I was smart and dumb.
I hadn’t been clobbered in such a long time!
Now, shoved against the carpeted headrest,

I wondered at its cold and slender neck.

The nakeder I feel the happier.

Camp is over, and the children come out
wearing hats; the children are happy for each other,
each camp having been maximally appropriate.

The ocean grew gritty with proteins. I arose
and clomb to the yard with its spigot.
It looked up and blinked. Above, kite strings wrote

toing and froing was the same motion; tiny sighs above the halls
at the county airport; swung on tiny chains;
my father swathed me in two handtowels,

said nexttime, swim in the sea.
A gold thread falls from an eagle’s towel
onto the beach. A gold face big as a quarter of the sky
looks at us with gold-milk tears in its eyes

and the gold girl goes on brushing the countryside
with a twig-broom big as a tree. When our competitor
finishes third, he approaches the throne

with a gold wheel of tillamook.

Joyelle McSweeney, “What I Eat is a Prayer” from The Commandrine and Other Poems. Copyright © 2004 by Joyelle McSweeney. Reprinted by permission of Joyelle McSweeney.

Source: The Commandrine and Other Poems (Fence Books, 2004)

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Poet Joyelle McSweeney

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Joyelle  McSweeney


Joyelle McSweeney was born in Boston and spent most of her childhood in suburban Philadelphia. She has a BA from Harvard University; an MPhil in English studies from Oxford University, where she was a Marshall Scholar; and an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

McSweeney’s collections of poetry include The Red Bird (2002), winner of the 2001 Fence Modern Poetry Series, and The Commandrine and Other Poems (2004). . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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