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The Word That Is a Prayer

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One thing you know when you say it:
all over the earth people are saying it with you;
a child blurting it out as the seizures take her,
a woman reciting it on a cot in a hospital.
What if you take a cab through the Tenderloin:
at a street light, a man in a wool cap,
yarn unraveling across his face, knocks at the window;
he says, Please.
By the time you hear what he’s saying,
the light changes, the cab pulls away,
and you don’t go back, though you know
someone just prayed to you the way you pray.
Please: a word so short
it could get lost in the air
as it floats up to God like the feather it is,
knocking and knocking, and finally
falling back to earth as rain,
as pellets of ice, soaking a black branch,
collecting in drains, leaching into the ground,
and you walk in that weather every day.

Poem copyright ©1997 by Ellery Akers, whose most recent book of poetry is Knocking on the Earth, Wesleyan University Press, 1989. Reprinted from The Place That Inhabits Us, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2010, by permission of Ellery Akers and the publishers.
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The Word That Is a Prayer

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  • Poet, children’s writer, and naturalist Ellery Akers earned a BA at Harvard University and an MA at San Francisco State University. She is the author of two poetry collections: Practicing the Truth (2015), which won the Autumn House Poetry Prize, and Knocking on the Earth (1988), which was chosen for the Wesleyan New Poets series. Her work has been featured in former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s syndicated newspaper column, “American Life in Poetry” and in the anthology Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals (1998). She is the author of a children’s novel Sarah’s Waterfall: A Healing Story about Sexual Abuse (2009).

    Plainspoken, Akers’s unflinching poems investigate grief and joy as they explore the human condition. In her essay “On Writing: Feeding the Lake,” Akers stated, “I believe the process of poetry is mysterious. Jung once said that poets carry the soul of the culture, and I think...

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